NEWS 2010


July 2010

31 July 2010. K C S. The servicing of the Land Cruiser in Swakopmund could not be expedited, despite the urgency of returning to the Hoanib to investigate the possible poisoning of several lions (photo bottom left - E Verwey). Russell & Tina Vinjevold, of Kunene Conservancy Safaris, kindly offered the use of their Isuzu 4x4. The offer was gladly accepted because it is essential to get to the location as soon as possible in order to make an accurate assessment. Dr Etienne Bruwer also offered the use of his vehicle for the occasion. James Davies & VIRBAC, RSA, are thanked for replacing 30 bottles of anaesthetics, following the problems experienced during the translocation of the Agab Pride on 17 May 2010, and Peter Sander is thanked for facilitating the process. The Website statisctics ia available for July 2010.

30 July 2010. Dead lions. Herman Visser of Wilderness Safaris reported two dead lions next to the road in the Ganamub River, approximately 2 km north of the Hoanib River. The situation appeared suspicious. The Land Cruiser was still undergoing repairs in Swakopmund, but the Ministry of Environment & Tourism sent a helicopter (busy with a wildlife capture operation near Palmwag) to investigate. Manie le Roux (MET) & Emsie Verwey (WS) inspected the scene. They found that one of the lions was radio-collared (Xpl-64 of the Hoanib Pride) and concluded that the lions had most likely been poisoned. Photos by E Verwey.

29 July 2010. Repairs. The Land Cruiser is currently with Steckel's Toyota in Swakopmund for a major service and repairs, a new power adapter for the MacBook Pro was received via an over-night courier service and repairs to the sound system is underway. The weather changed during the night and strong east-winds started blowing at 04h00.

28 July 2010. Vehicle & computer problems. During the past few weeks several problems were experienced with the Land Cruiser, the sound-playback system and the satellite communication system (resulting in limited email and telephone access for +2 weeks). But when the power supply of the new Apple MacBook Pro failed during the night, it became necessary to abandon further fieldwork and head towards Swakopmund for repairs.

27 July 2010. South to Floodplain. With the Hoaruseb lionesses still feeding on the oryx carcass, efforts were turned to the Hoanib. Xpl-10 & the Floodplain lions were observed south-east of Ganias Spring.

26 July 2010. Oryx. The two Hoaruseb lionesses (Tawny & Morada) killed another adult oryx at the lower gorge in the Hoaruseb River. The red circle (middle photo) indicates the place where the oryx was captured.

25 July 2010. Huaruseb dunes. During the past few days the two lionesses (Tawny & Morada) moved through spectacular terrain and scenery amongst the dunes of the lower Hoaruseb River. To view the picture below; start by moving your mouse over the top left corner.

24 July 2010. Jackals & crows. Observations on the two Hoaruseb lionesses continued. Xpl-37's dislike of jackals and crows, and the energy she spends on chasing them away from the carcass, is in stark contrast with that of her sister (Xpl-38, "Tawny"), who takes no notice of them. Both lionesses need to be immobilised to replace their fading radio collars. It was decided not to disturb them now and to delay the exercise by another week or two.

23 July 2010. Morada. The name for Xpl-37 came from the Spanish word for the colour purple. A guest of Wilderness Safaris, Mr Jose Augusto Siluan from Colombia, pointed out that her name should in fact be "Morada" (because of the gender). Tawny and Morada hunted actively all night and they killed an adult male oryx at 04h35 this morning. True to her character, Morada was intolerant of crows and jackals and spent most of the day keeping them away from the carcass.

22 July 2010. Tawny & Morado. For the first time in many months the Hoaruseb lionesses (Xpl-37 & 38) moved west and beyond the part of the Hoaruseb River that is still inaccessible after the rains. When first located the two lionesses approached the Land Cruiser (to within 10 metres), walked around the vehicle, and then lay down beside it. They are in good condition, but they have not eaten well for several days.

21 July 2010 19h00. Disappointment. Towards the end of the high tide, when the whale was almost afloat and moving his fluke it was felt that the exercise was working. But sadly, the whale died at around 16h00. He was last observed breathing, although rather weakly, at 15h15. The Namibian Police, the Ministry of Environment & Tourism, Wilderness Safaris, Purros Conservancy and all the individuals involved must be commended for a valiant effort.

21 July 2010. Rescue operation. Early this morning with the low tide (05h30) efforts started to get the whale back into the water. There were 22 people working in very cold and wet conditions (Ministry of Environment & Tourism = 3, Namibian Police = 8, Wilderness Safaris = 10, Purros Conservancy = 1 and DLC = 1). A shelter was established that gave protection against the wind, a fire and where two ladies from Wilderness provided hot food and drinks. Attempts were made to dig sand out from around the whale so as to allow the incoming tide to create a "pool" within which the whale could possibly be freed. The conditions were difficult, but by 15h00 it is estimated that the whale had moved about 20 metres towards the sea.

20 July 2010, 22h00. Whale update. Plans are in motion to gather resources for a rescue operation, following the guidelines of the "Namibian Cetacean Live Strandings Protocol of July 2008". At dusk the whale was still breathing well and the incoming tide was keeping it wet.

20 July 2010. Beached Humpback whale. Whilst driving south from the Kunene along the coastline a number of whales were spotted far offshore. North of the Khumib River a beached Humpback whale was discovered. The whale is still alive. Contact was made with John Paterson (Albatross Task Force) and Simon Elwen (MRI, Uni. Pretoria). Based on there advice efforts are underway to try and rescue the animal by getting it back into the sea with the next high tide. The Ministry of Environment & Tourism, the Namibian Police and Wilderness Safaris are currently trying to pool all available resources. The whale is being monitored and kept wet during the low tide.

19 July 2010. Kunene Mouth. The day was spent searching for signs of lion / brown hyaena movements and observing the marine animals. There were no signs of lions, but brown hyaenas appear to be common in the area. Large numbers of Green sea turtles (bottom left photo) were active in the estuary at the mouth of the river (top photo) and a pod of Heavyside dolphins were observed.

18 July 2010. Trip to Kunene Mouth. An invitation from Joshua Kazeurua of the Skeleton Coast Park (Ministry of Environment & Tourism) to accompany them on a trip to the Kunene Mouth was accepted. We departed from the Skeleton Coast Camp at sunrise this morning and arrived at the Kunene River at sunset. The coastline from Cape Fria to the Kunene, including the seal colonies and ephemeral river outlets were scanned for signs of lion movements, and a comprehensive spoor frequency count of brown hyaenas was done. The Kunene Mouth and associated wetlands will be surveyed tomorrow. The last sighting of a lion at this location was in 1990.

17 July 2010. Hoaruseb lions. The Hoaruseb River is still very wet and it is not yet possible to drive along the section west of Leyland's Drift. This complicates searching for the Hoaruseb lions. However, the spoor of two lionesses were found near Leyland's Drift. The tracks are heading into the dunes towards the south-west and are being followed with the hopes of finding the lions.

16 July 2010. Land Cruiser repairs. The Land Cruiser was running very low on fuel, but when the exhaust broke off, the field observations had to be stopped. The noise generated by the broken exhaust made it impossible to get near the lions. Once again Wilderness Safaris staff at Skeleton Coast Camp came to the rescue. Ferdi Molelekeng & Willie Smit helped to repair the exhaust and the remaining 320 litres of fuel, stored at the camp, were taken. An opportunity was also taken to use the gunsmith skills of Monica Greef to adjust the mountings and realign the new Zeiss telescope on the dartgun. During the night the brown hyaena (Xhb-13), recently fitted with a radio collar, arrived at the camp. His movements around the camp were monitored and he was then followed as he moved south during the early morning hours.

15 July 2010. Tsuxub. After the darting of Xpl-71, it was decided to leave the Hoanib sub-group in peace. Attention was turned to the Hoanib Floodplain pride. They were located east of the Tsuxub River in the granite outcrops, where they were feeding on an oryx carcass.

14 July 2010. Evaluation of the Okongwe Group. Xpl-71 recovered from the darting and earlier today allowed a rare opportunity for a photo (see below). The data gathered on the Okongwe group during the past four days were analysed and scrutinised carefully, including comparison with the lion ID database and photographs submitted by tourist and other interested parties. The findings were quite conclusive and proved (somewhat embarrassingly) that all the earlier predictions were wrong. The lions belong to the Hoanib Pride that, as lions do with their fission-fusion grouping patterns, happen to form a temporary sub-group that did not include any of the other (radio-colarred) lions. A brief summary is presented below. Interestingly, Xpl-71 had 6 nipples, instead of the expected 4 (see normal example - photo bottom right).

Photo by Ben Cranke (2007): XF-11 identified as Xpl-71, and XF-12 is "Bianca" (Xpl-47) Three points of identification (see below) - photo by Ben Cranke (2007) Xpl-22 - an example of the four nipples of a normal lioness

The Desert Lion ID database and photographic records were invaluable to identify the "Okongwe" lions as part of the Hoanib Pride. Photographs taken by Ben Cranke in the Hoanib River in 2007 (above: bottom left & middle) proved to be critical in piecing it all together. From those photos, both of the newly marked "Okongwe" lions (Xpl-70 & 71) and three of the Hoanib Pride lions ("Bianca", Xpl-57 & 59) were identified. As an example, three identification points (above: bottom middle photo) of linking Xpl-71 with XF-11 are presented below. All the photos along the top row (below) are of the lioness named XF-11 in the ID database (Ben Cranke 2007). The photos along the bottom row were taken last night during the darting of Xpl-71.

Unique ear-notches of XF-11 (B Cranke 2007) Whisker spot patterns (XF-11) Unusual presence of a third nipple (XF-11)
Right ear (Xpl-71) Left ear (Xpl-71) Xpl-71 Xpl-71

13 July 2010, 23h00. Dart second lioness. After 81 continuous hours sat in the Land Cruiser, the second lioness of the new Okongwe Group was darted this evening. The new Zeiss night telescope mounted on the dart gun made the darting possible without using any lights. Much was the surprise when the lioness (Xpl-71) turned out not to be a sub-adult, as expected (see comment from earlier today), but 8-9 years old. This changes our understanding of the group and where they originate from. More observations are needed.

13 July 2010. Okongwe Group. The "long-distance" observations on the four lionesses were continued. The terrain, with high ridges and valleys that extend for many kilometres, made observations possible with a spotting scope without disturbing the lions. Four hunts on oryx were observed. The lionesses appear to be of the same age and are possibly siblings from the 2007 cohort of cubs born in the Hoanib Pride. They may have separated from the Hoanib Pride and are referred to as the Okongwe Group. In the event that they are dispersing and that they may separate, attempts are made to dart and fit a radio collar to a second lioness. But they are extremely skittish and the efforts are further complicated by the new moon. The latest Camera Trap photos have been updated.

12 July 2010. Xpl-70. The young lioness recovered well from the immoblisation and was joined by the rest of her group at 02h42. At first light the radio signal of Xpl-70 was tracked and she was located 4.8 km south of the darting location. Care was taken not to disturb the lions and they were observed using a spotting scope from distances of up to 1.52 km (see photos: left & top right). The group consists of 4 sub-adult/adult females. When comparing Xpl-70's whisker spot patterns with the records on the ID database, it was found that there was already an ID file for her. She was born in early 2007 in the Hoanib River and there are several photographic records of her and her siblings with the Hoanib Pride (photo bottom right - Ben Cranke).

12 July 2010 (03:00). Unknown lions. Shortly before midnight a group of 4-5 lions were found east of Okongwe. They were very skittish, but due to a bit of luck a young lioness was darted. Xpl-70 is 3.5 years old and was fitted with a VHF radio collar. The other lions could not be observed with the new moon, but there were no radio-colarred lions amongst them. It is suspected that the group dispersed from either the Hunkap or Aub prides. They will now be monitored.

11 July 2010. Elusive Hoanib lions. Despite extensive efforts during the past 48 hours the Hoanib Pride have not yet been located. The Okongwe mountains are proving to be more difficult than expected. On two occasions lions have walked over the Land Cruiser's tracks and yet no radio signals have been picked-up. An immature Gymnogene was spotted and observed this afternoon.

10 July 2010. Search for Hoanib Pride. Efforts to locate Xpl-47 ("Bianca") and the rest of the Hoanib Pride have been exhausting. Their tracks were followed into the mountains east of Okongwe. The rocky and broken terrain is a difficult area to survey and there are few roads.

9 July 2010. Lion's satellite collar goes to town. Efforts to have the expensive satellite GPS collar of "Leonardo" (Xpl-44) returned, or even to have it turned off, after he was shot on 21 April 2010, have failed. After being stationary for 47 days, the satellite collar suddenly became active. It found its way to Opuwo (a town in the north-west of Namibia) on the evening of 6 July 2010. It was presumably driven there by vehicle. The collar spent the night in the town - until 08h00 the next morning (7 July; see bottom left photo). It then arrived in Windhoek later the same day (20h01) and it moved around a bit in the north western part of Windhoek, where it also spent the night (see photos: 3rd & 4th from left). The following morning (8 July 2010, 09h00) it travelled south along a major road (photo: far right).

8 July 2010. Floodplain lions remain at Sima Hill. Due to a large numbers of prey animals (oryx, springbok & giraffe) concentrating in the undulating terrain near Sima Hill, the Hoanib Floodplain lions have remained in the the area.

7 July 2010. "Leonardo". There are new developments regarding the shooting of the Hoaruseb male (Xpl-44) and his expensive satellite GPS collar, which is still at large. An update will be posted soon.

6 July 2010. Xpl-69 recovered. The Hoanib Floodplain Pride killed an oryx and consumed it during the night. Xpl-69 recovered well from the anaesthetics and was mobile at 21h41.

5 July 2010. Dart Xpl-69. A sub-adult lioness of the Hoanib Floodplain Pride was darted this evening and fitted with a radio collar. It was a privilege to share the experience with major sponsors of the Desert Lion Project. The bottom-right photo shows Adolf (Snr), Michael, Adolf (Jnr) and Bastian Huester with the darted lioness.

4 July 2010. Sima area. The Hoanib Floodplain lions were observed hunting oryx on four occasions during the night. It was not possible to follow them and continue observations, because of the difficult terrain and sensitive substrates. They were located south of Sima Hill during the earl;y morning.

3 July 2010. Sima Hill. With more favourable weather conditions the Hoanib Floodplain lions were located in the maze of canyons that lie west of Sima Hill. It is a difficult area and there was much luck involved when they were spotted at dusk, after spending almost 24 hours trying to observed them.

2 July 2010. Extreme heat. The east-wind started blowing again at 03h30 this morning. By mid-morning the conditions were atrocious, with strong winds, sand storms and soaring temperatures. It was impossible to do any work and even driving was difficult because of the poor visibility and the heat. At 13h51 the Land Cruiser's thermometer measured a (maximum) outside temperature of 41.7 Degrees Celsius, and 46.0 Degrees inside the cab. By contrast, this morning at 01h20 (before the east-wind) the outside temperature measured 9.8 Degrees Celsius.

1 July 2010. Camera trap. Images from a camera trap on the Hoanib Floodplain were retrieved (see below) and several photos of carnivores that were captured by the camera traps of Save the Rhino Trust were received from Bernd Brell. A summary of the images will be presented shortly under the Camera Trap page.

30 June 2010. Statistics. The website statistics for June 2010 can be viewed under Statistics.