NEWS 2009

2009
Nov

November 2009

30 Nov 2009. Hoaruseb lions kill oryx. During the course of the morning the Hoaruseb lions moved upstream, following the Hoaruseb River. They rested for most of the day in a Tamarisk thicket, approximately 5 km from the coast. Just before sundown, they moved through the lower Hoaruseb gorge, and after an elaborative hunt, killed an adult male oryx.

29 Nov 2009. Hoaruseb lions at the coast. On return from Swakopmund, "Morado" (Xpl-37) and the three large cubs were found at the mouth of the Hoaruseb River. During the night they walked along the crest of the highest dunes, overlooking the sea, and moved to Klein Oases Spring at dawn.

View of Klein Oases Spring from the dunes
Xpl-37 at the mouth of the Hoaruseb
Amongst the dune hummocks at Klein Oases

28 Nov 2009. Land Cruiser repaired. The damage to the front differential has been repaired, and the Land Cruiser is currently heading back to the Hoanib & Hoaruseb rivers to investigate the death of Xpl-3 and attend to the Purros lion problem. The right side-shaft and free-wheel hub were replaced, several other snags were repaired and the vehicle received a major service. Mr Adolf Huester and the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa has kindly offered to pay for the repairs (details to follow).

27 Nov 2009. Hoaruseb lions move west. The "blockade" at Purros, held by the Lion Officers and Fillipus Hoeb (Wilderness Safaris) on 24/25 Nov 2009, seemed to have worked because the lions have moved westward. Yesterday, they were observed between 10 and 20 km west of Purros.

26 Nov 2009. Xpl-3 is dead. The Hoanib Male (Adolf) died a couple of days ago on the eastern extent of his home range, not far from human settlements west of Sesfontein. His satellite GPS collar emitted a mortality beacon as he was returning to the safety of the Hoanib River after a brief visit (< 2 hours) to area near the human settlements. As the Land Cruiser was in for repairs at Steckel's Toyota in Swakopmund, I called on Willie Smit (Wilderness Safaris) and Rob Ramey (elephant researcher) to investigate the report and gave them the coordinates of where the mortality beacon was transmitted. They found the spot and the carcass of Xpl-3 (see photos by Willie Smit). The cause of his death is yet unknown and a full investigation will be done as soon as the Land Cruiser is mobile again, but the preliminary evidence suggest that Xpl-3 was shot.

"Adolf" (Xpl-3) was is good condition when he died
Possible bullet wounds

24 Nov 2009. Purros Lion Officers. Last night Xpl-44 (the adult male) & the two young males moved back towards Purros. The Purros Lion Officers (Paulus Kevare, Collin Kasupi & Bertus Tjipamba) are monitoring the situation and will be manning the "blockade" again tonight. Wilderness Safaris have offered to send Fillipus Hoeb and a vehicle to Purros to assist the Lion Officers with the "blockade".

Xpl-44 moving towards Purros
The Purros Lion Officers monitoring the Hoaruseb lions

23 Nov 2009. The right thing to do. During the past 24 days, vast amounts if time, resources and manpower have been dedicated to solving the lion problem at Purros and saving the Hoaruseb lions from being shot. The entire pride was relocated and three individuals (Xpl-37, 38 & 61) were moved twice. The lions were kept under observation for at least 22 hours every day, and a "blockade" was manned at Purros for five consecutive nights in an effort to deter the lions. Surprisingly, the efforts have attracted criticism from some local and international parties. Managing Human Lion Conflict is complex and there is no easy solution. We believe that it was worth trying the various options, although some, such as the "blockade" at Purros, are obviously not sustainable long-term solutions. The fact that none of the lions were shot and that the killing of livestock at Purros have been stopped, make the efforts worthwhile. Many individuals and organisations provided support and they have been acknowledged (see 16 Nov 2009). In particular, I wish to thank Monica Greeff, Willie Smit and Emsie Verwey for their help, continued support and concern for the lions. The Land Cruiser will be driven to Swakopmund today/tomorrow for repairs to the front differential and several other problems.

"Tawny" (Xpl-38) near the mouth of the Hoaruseb River
Monica Greeff & Emsie Verwey
Willie Smit
The rest of the Hoaruseb Pride lazing at the oryx carcass east of Purros

22 Nov 2009. Lions head west. The Hoaruseb lions finally decided to abandon their attempts to cross the "blockade" towards Purros, and started moving westwards along the Hoaruseb River. There were more prey animals in the river today than had been observed during the past week. "Morado" failed to catch a springbok on two occasions, but made no mistake when she spotted an oryx on the northern bank of the river. The adult male (Xpl-44) helped her to subdue the oryx. After they killed the oryx, "Morado" walked 4 km back to where she had left the cubs, and lead them to the carcass.

21 Nov 2009. Showdown. For four consecutive nights we have prevented the Hoaruseb pride from going to Purros and killing livestock. Only "Tawny" (Xpl-38) managed to bypass the "blockade" by crossing over the mountains, but she was darted and moved to the coast before she could kill any livestock. The rest of the lions have now not eaten for nine days, and the "showdown" will likely come to a head in the next 24 hours. The lions will either circumvent our “blockade” to continue killing livestock on the Purros plains, or they will leave the Purros area and the Hoaruseb riverbed in search of prey in the southern section of their home range. In the event that the lions opt for the latter, the efforts over the past four days would be a major conservation achievement.

20 Nov 2009. Desperate measures. The behaviour of "Tawny" (Xpl-38) was noticeably different when she was approached after bypassing the barrier in the Hoaruseb River. She was unusually skittish and avoided the vehicle. It required an enormous effort over ten hours to get close enough to dart her. The Purros community would not tolerate more killing of livestock, and as a last option and desperate measure, it was decided to immobilise Xpl-38 and move her away from the Himba village. The Purros Lion Officers assisted with the darting and the lioness was relocated to the mouth of the Hoaruseb River. The adult male (Xpl-44) joined the rest of the pride at Purros during the night. The "blockade" was manned until sunrise, and again from sundown today, and it undoubtedly prevented the rest of the lions from entering the Purros plains on several occasions. "Tawny" recovered well from the immobilisation and was exploring the area around the mouth of the Hoaruseb River by 11h30 this morning.

The Lion Officers with Xpl-38
Monitoring Xpl-38's pulse and respiratiion
The Land Cruiser bogged-down in soft mud
Monica & Emsie with Xpl-38 at the coast
"Tawny" (Xpl-38) on the beach
The "blockade" on 20 Nov 2009.

19 Nov 2009. Failure. We decided to occupy the narrow section of the Hoaruseb canyon again this evening, in case the lions returned. There were many eager volunteers that came to help. We made three large fires, spaced along the dry riverbed, and there were eleven vehicles (Kunene Conservancy Safaris - 3, Okahirongo Elephant Lodge - 2, Purros Conservancy - 1, Wilderness Safaris - 4). After sundown the lions started moving back towards Purros and at dusk they approached the narrow section and the "blockade". One of the lionesses ("Tawny" Xpl-38) was absent from the group. When the lions were 2-300 metres from our "blockade" we made a lot of noise and they retreated. They stopped approximately 1 km downstream and remained there. At 23h00 the signal from "Tawny's" radio collar suddenly came into range. Expecting her to approach the barrier, we were surprised when it turned out that the signal came from the east - she was in Purros! After our barrier blocked her movement last night, "Tawny" did not return this evening with the rest of the group. Instead, she moved downstream for about 5 km, then crossed over the mountains and approached Purros from the north (refer to map below). Despite the failure of our efforts, we kept the "blockade" up until daylight. The lions tried to cross the barrier again at 01h00, but were scared off by the noise. At 06h00 they moved downstream. "Tawny" (Xpl-38) was then tracked and located 2 km north of the Himba Traditional Village. The Purros-lion situation has now reached a critical level and we have essentially exhausted the available options to manage the problem. To complicate matters further, the accident with the Land Cruiser yesterday morning, has left the vehicle with no spare wheels and without 4x4. The terrain is difficult and it is almost impossible to operate in 2x4 drive mode. The Land Cruiser Club of SA are providing lots of advice and support towards repairing the Cruiser.

18 Nov 2009. Deter lions at Purros. Yesterday, the two adult lionesses searched for prey throughout the day, but were unsuccessful. By sundown they were moving towards Purros with determination. Earlier in the day approximately 100 donkeys were observed in the Hoaruseb River close to Purros. After careful consideration it was decided to attempt preventing the lions from leaving the Hoaruseb canyon and entering the Purros plains, where the livestock are kept. There is a natural "funnel" where the Hoaruseb canyon stops and the Purros plains begin and the lions have to cross this narrow section, with steep cliffs on either side (see red X on map below), in order to get to plains. With the help of Wilderness Safaris we parked three vehicles in the narrow gap and made a big fire. When the lions approached the gap at 01h00, we used air-horns and alarms to generate a lot of noise. This frightened the lions and they stopped. We repeated this a few times and the lions retreated back along the Hoaruseb River. Care was taken not to use the vehicles to deter the lions. At 05h20 the lions moved west along the river and were 6 km west of Purros by late morning. Whilst attempting to observe the behaviour of the lions as they retreated, the Land Cruiser slipped off a steep embankment and the front differential and one tire were badly damaged.

The lionesses moving towards Purros
Map of the terrain near Purros
Waiting for the lions to approach
Land Cruiser slipped off an embankment

17 Nov 2009. Heading for Purros. The lions hunted and searched for prey all night, but were unsuccessful. At 09h30 this morning, when they stopped moving and took to the shade, they were 6 kilometres west of Purros. If the lions do not catch something today or during the early part of tonight, they are bound to end up at Purros.

16 Nov 2009. Leyland's Drift. The Hoaruseb lions moved eastwards during the night and at 09h00 they were resting 2 km east of Leyland's Drift. It was cool and overcast and at 13h00 the two adult lionesses moved back to Leyland's Drift and were hunting oryx for most of the day. There is very little wildlife in the area and the lions have not eaten since they left Sarusas, four days ago.

16 Nov 2009. Summary & Acknowledgements. The efforts to solve the incidence of Human Lion Conflict at Purros were intensive and exhausting. Over a 17-day period the Hoaruseb lions were monitored for almost 22 hours per day. Between 28 Oct and 13 Nov 2009, the number of hours of sleep per day (in sequence) was: 3, 4, 3, 4, 3, 0, 2, 3, 0, 2, 2, 4, 0, 0, 6, 0, 8 (average = 2.5 hrs/day). Sound playbacks were used to attract the lions away from livestock and human settlements, lions were darted on 10 occasions to fit radio collars or to move them away from the problem areas. The translocation of the Hoaruseb lions was a team effort, and many organisations and individuals contributed, in one way or another. An attempt is made to acknowledge all those who helped (in alphabetic order). The list is long and I apologise in advance if anyone is omitted.

Organisation Name Activities
  Tina Green logistics & communications
Felix Fallat monitor lions
Peter Sander organise anaesthetics & sponsorship
Ministry of Environment and Tourism Ben Beytell authorisation
Dr Mark Jago extra darts & anaesthetics
Okahirongo Elephant Lodge Pieter de Wet transport & load lions
Claudia Ciana load lions
Rossela Mauri communications & logistics
Julius Mashimba load lions
Purros Conservancy Lion Officers transport & load & monitor lions
Skeleton Coast Fly-in Safaris Andre Schoeman transport
Wilderness Safaris Ansie Bosman logistics, arrange transport & communications
Emile Visser driving from Palmwag & load lions
Chris Bakkes driving, monitoring & load lions
Monica Greeff logistics, translocation monitoring of lions & data
Willie Smit driving, monitoring & load lions
Gert Tsaobeb driving & load lions
Emsie Verwey logistics, translocation monitoring of lions & data
Skeleton Coast Camp transport, logistics, food & communications
SCC camp staff load lions
Windhoek Head Office logistics & flights

15 Nov 2009. Lions in Hoaruseb. The two lionesses and three large cubs moved east to the border of the Skeleton Coast Park. They spent the day resting and hunted an ostrich at 15h15. The behaviour of the lions appear completely normal after the translocation and associated stress.

 

14 Nov 2009. Early success. The Hoaruseb lions left Sarusas Spring and moved back to an area they regularly frequent in the Hoaruseb River (see map). It is early days, but the translocation appears to have had the desired effect. The lions did not return directly to Purros and will hopefully continue utilising their main home range. Apart from the adult male (Xpl-44), who moved ahead, the rest of the group stayed together.
A map showing the translocation from 10 km north of Purros to Sarusas Spring (black line with arrow), and the return route of the lions to the Hoaruseb River (dotted line).
Sarusas Spring
Crossing the gravel plains to the Hoaruseb
In the Hoaruseb, west of the Clay Castles

13 Nov 2009. Operation rescue: lions at Sarusas. The adult Hoaruseb lions and the young lioness (Xpl-61) spent two days around Sarusas Spring, before the young males arrived. They explored the area immediately around the spring and appeared relaxed, whilst spending a lot of time staring at the abundant prey animals (oryx, springbok & ostrich) that utilised the spring. During the early morning hours the adults and Xpl-61 moved to the southeast.

12 Nov 2009. Operation rescue: step four. More images from the last night of the rescue operation.


12 Nov 2009. Operation rescue: step four - SUCCESS. The shipment of anaesthetics from South Africa (arranged by Peter Sander) arrived in the late afternoon. We returned immediately to Purros, where Willie Smith and Chris Bakkes have been keeping an eye on the remaining two young males. Both males were darted and loaded on the Wilderness Safaris vehicle. Before leaving for Sarusas at 21h30, we took the lions to the Traditional Himba Village and to Purros, so that the local community could see and touch the lions (more details & photos will follow tomorrow). Moving the lions to Sarusas was quick and efficient, because everyone knew exactly what to do by know. The young males (Xpl-62 & 63) recovered well and by 03h00 the Hoaruseb Pride was once again re-united.

11 Nov 2009. Operation rescue: step three - Near Disaster. The young lioness, "Maya" (Xpl-61), was disoriented when her mother (Xpl-38) walked to the coast, and she left Sarusas, By the time "Tawny" (Xpl-38) returned and met up with "Morado" (Xpl-37) and the Xpl-44 (see 10 Nov 2009), she had disappeared. After a long search she was located in the Khumib River, 22 km to the east, and eight hours later she was darted and returned to Sarusas. She recovered quickly and joined the rest of the lions, feeding on an oryx carcass.

"Maya" (Xpl-61) moving east along the Khumib River
Darting "Maya" (Xpl-61)
Xpl-61 recovering at Sarusas Spring
Feeding - notice cotton wool in her ear

10 Nov 2009. Operation rescue: step two. Most of the day was spent monitoring the two lionesses at Sarusas Spring. In a disoriented state as they recovered from the immobilisation the two females got separated. "Tawny" (Xpl-38) moved west, following the course of the Khumib River, to within 800 metres of the sea, whilst Xpl-61 (renamed "Maya") wandered around aimlessly amongst the dunes, but she eventually returned to Sarusas. A new batch of anaesthetics arrived, courtesy of Wilderness Safaris, by early evening and we returned to Purros at 22h00, where Willie Smit and Chris Bakkes have been monitoring the lions. By 02h00 both the adult male (Xpl-44) and "Morado" (Xpl-37) had been darted and were ready to be moved to Sarusas. One of the young males were also immobilised and fitted with a temporary radio collar, so that they can be located when the next batch of anaesthetics arrive on Wednesday morning. The translocation of the male and female went well and they started waking up at sunrise. "Tawny" (Xpl-38) returned from her visit to the coast and appeared to be very happy to meet her sister ("Morado") at Sarusas Spring.

"Tawny" moving towards the coast
Gert Tsaobeb helping to carry Xpl-44
Monica and Emsie on lion duty
"Morado" recovering at Sarusas Spring
"Tawny" meeting-up with her sister
Sarusas Spring

9 Nov 2009. Operation rescue: step one. Extra anaesthetics had to be ordered from South Africa to dart and translocate all six lions, and these will only arrive on Wednesday. With the situation growing increasingly tense, it was decided to start moving some of the lions to Sarusas Spring, in the Khumib River, with the available anaesthetics, and to keep them feeding on a bait until all the lions had been moved. Sarusas Spring falls just outside the home range of the Hoaruseb lions: it lies 5 km from the coast (50 km from Purros) and there is plenty of wildlife. It is expected that the lions will walk back to the Hoaruseb, but hopefully not immediately back to Purros. The experience will also expose them to new areas where there is sufficient prey, which they could turn to in difficult times. Two lionesses (Xpl-38 and 61) were immobilised this evening at 22h00, transported in a closed vehicle, and started recovering at Sarusas Spring at 05h30. The remaining lions will be captured during the next two nights and moved to the same spot. Many people provided help and support and they will all be acknowledged at the completion of the rescue operation. Wilderness Safaris, however, provided vehicles and logistical support for tonight's activities.

Xpl-61 fell asleep whilst feeding
Monica Greeff, Emsie Verwey and Willie Smit helped with the monitoring of the lions
Recording data at Sarusas Spring
Xpl-38 at Sarusas early the next morning

8 Nov 2009. A solution to the Purros problem. The situation with the Hoaruseb lions has become critical and a decision has been made to dart and translocate the entire pride. The purpose of this action is not to relocate them to a new location, but only to move them away from the area inhabited by people and livestock. It is expected that they will return to their home range, but hopefully not to the Purros area (see Translocation Paper for more details on the approach). If the current situation continues the Purros community will eventually shoot the lions, which is their right by Namibian law. Last night the lions killed another two donkeys. This afternoon a group of cows had to be chased away before the lions got wind of them. Xpl-38 ("Tawny") hunted a male giraffe and chased a group of donkeys into the mountains.

7 Nov 2009. More donkeys & more problems. After more careful investigation yesterday afternoon, it turned out that the lions had killed three donkeys between 03h00 and 06h00 on 6 Nov 2009. The difficult terrain prevented these events from being observed. In addition, the adult male (Xpl-44) has displaced the young males, and they are no longer with the pride. This creates another problem because they are unmarked and can therefore not be radio-tracked and monitored. To complicate matters even further, the adults moved separately during the night, and only the movements of "Tawny" (Xpl-38) were monitored. The lions did however re-group at 05h00 and are now resting together in thick vegetation.

6 Nov 2009. Beyond Purros. Following the Hoaruseb River, the lions moved a long way north of Purros. It was very difficult to follow and observe them during the night because of thick vegetation and broken terrain. As far as it was possible to discern from tracks and listening for sounds of feeding, they did not appear to have killed any livestock. They are currently resting 14.6 km north of Purros.

5 Nov 2009. Assessment of the Purros problem. In an attempt to understand why the Hoaruseb lions are regularly returning to Purros and killing livestock, they have now been observed for 21 days (24 hour periods) during the past 30 days. Since the lions returned to the Hoaruseb River in 2001, the problems at Purros only started to occur in mid 2009, and I believe that it is due to a food shortage. There are two reasons why the lions are struggling to sustain themselves. Firstly, the exceptionally high rainfall during the past few years (especially during the 2008/9 season) has resulted in a general dispersal of the prey animals (i.e. oryx) and significantly fewer animals visit the Hoaruseb River for food and water. This fact is substantiated by comparable game counts that have been done along the Hoaruseb River since 2005, following the same technique of counting all animals along the course of the River, starting at Purros at 10h00 and ending at the coast at 16h00 (see map below). During 2006 between 200 and 477 oryx were counted during 8 surveys, with 80% of the oryx occurring between Purros and the border of the Skeleton Coast Park. During the past month (3 counts) a total of 28, 47 & 32 oryx were counted, respectively, with 90% of those found 10 km from the coast. Secondly, the food requirements of the lions have more than doubled. The large cubs, and especially the two males, each eat as much (or more) than an adult lioness, and they do not participate in the hunting. Instead of moving out of the river and into the surrounding plains and mountains in search of their prey, the lions have unfortunately discovered Purros and an abundant supply of easy-to-catch livestock.

5 Nov 2009. Stressful night. The Hoaruseb lions reached Purros by early evening. They fortunately bypassed the village and continued along the Hoaruseb River. At around 01h00 they walked through the Purros Community Campsite. There were several tourists staying at the campsite, but they were fortunately all asleep in their rooftop-tents. A few hundred metres north of the campsite the male (Xpl-44) and the three large cubs attacked a brown hyaena. There was a huge and very noisy commotion. The hyaena managed to escape briefly, but the lions got hold of it again in thick river vegetation. It is unsure if they killed the hyaena, but it is likely. They continued moving up-river and at 03h30 killed a donkey near the Traditional Himba Village. At 07h45 they had consumed the carcass and moved into a dense Tamarisk thicket, where they are still resting.

The lions approaching Purros
Moving through the Purros campsite
Xpl-44 in pursuit of the brown hyaena

4 Nov 2009. Hoaruseb lions on suicide mission. After seven days of hovering just west of the Purros settlement, and despite the darting/relocation of Xpl-37 and using sound playbacks to lead them way from Purros, the Hoaruseb lions started moving back to Purros with great determination this evening. There are few remaining options left to try and save them from being shot as problem animals.

3 Nov 2009. Dart young Hoaruseb lioness. By sundown, only the adult Hoaruseb lions had been observed. The large cubs had not been seen since last night. After dark, the adults started moving towards Purros, and met-up with the large cubs, 2 km further up-stream. It was decided to dart and radio-collar the young lioness, because they were starting to move independently of the adults.

The young lioness: "Tan" or Xpl-61
The Purros Conservancy's Lion Officers & Felix Vallat assisting with the darting

3 Nov 2009. Tension mounts as lions relax near Purros. Another 24 hours have passed and the lions have not moved. They seem undecided whether to move down-river (as is expected, based on their previous movement patterns), or to return to Purros. This is a critical time for the lions. One has the feeling that whatever decision they make tonight (to move down-river, or to return to Purros) will have serious implications on their future in theHoaruseb River. A female caracal was observed for several hours (see photo below).

2 Nov 2009. Dart Xpl-37 in Purros. Yesterday afternoon "Morado" (Xpl-37) moved eastwards, hunting a pair of oryx, whilst the rest of the lions remaining in the Hoaruseb River. By 21h00, Xpl-37 had not yet returned and it was decided to investigate what she was doing. To great surprise, she was located almost inside the Purros village and busy hunting. In a moment of desperation, it was decided to immobilise her and move her away from the danger area. The help of Okahirongo Elephant Lodge was called upon to load and move the lioness back to the area where the remainder of the pride were resting. The cubs joined the lioness as she recovered from the anaesthetics and ripped apart the pillow, sponsored by First Ascent, that was used to support her head.

1 Nov 2009. Lions still near Purros. The Hoaruseb lions remained in the same area (5 km west of Purros) for the past 24 hours. The cubs were observed playing in the riverbed this morning, but the lions were inactive and sleeping for most of time. The number of visits to this website has increased substantially during the past month - see Statistics for the October 2009 summary.