News - April 2011

Apr

30 Apr 2011. Uniab River. It has been seven days since the last rains, but the Uniab River is still flowing strongly. Several of the Agab lions were located in the upper Agab River.

29 Apr 2011. "Nina". After following the direction of distant roars, the Obab lions (Xpl-22, Xpl-45 & their five cubs) were located west of the Urunendis River. Peter & Annegret Sander (and their sons, Jurgen & Stephan) assisted with the darting of "Nina" (Xpl-45). A GPS radio collar was fitted to Xpl-45 (bottom row photos by Peter Sander).

28 Apr 2011. Springbok. The Hoanib lionesses (Xpl-47 & 59) could not be located during the night. Attention was turned to the Obab pride to replace the fading radio collar of Xpl-45 ("Nina"). Large numbers of springboks were observed on the green grass between the Obab and Beacon Rivers.

27 Apr 2011. Bianca's cubs. Large numbers of Hartmann's zebras and springboks were observed between Crawthersquelle and Tamarisk spring. The tracks of the two Hoanib lionesses (Xpl-47 "Bianca" & Xpl-59) and their cubs were found just north of the Mudorib River. The tracks revealed that there are a total of five cubs and that they are between 4 and 5 months old.

26 Apr 2011. Xpl-54. Members of the Land Cruiser Club assisted with the tracking and monitoring of the Hunkap male (Xpl-54) at a small spring south of Crowthersquelle. (Move your mouse over the lion)

25 Apr 2011. Land Cruiser Club. The third Obab lioness (Xpl-49 "Lovechild") was located during the early morning hours and it was confirmed that her three cubs (now 10 months old) are still alive. The radio collar of Xpl-49 has been faulty and it was decided to replace her radio collar. A delegation of the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa, guided by Adolf Huester, joined the Project late this afternoon and they were fortunate to experience the darting of Xpl-49. The "Land Cruiser Whisperer" Johann Meyer was seen whispering something to the lioness.

24 Apr 2011. Urunendis. Several spotted hyaenas fed on the zebra carcass during the night. They pulled the camera trap from it's mounting and carried it off. Four hours were spent searching for the camera, but it could not be found. At sunset two Obab lioneses (Xpl-22 & 45) and their cubs were located in the lower Urunendis River.

23 Apr 2011. Zebra carcass. Most of the bigger rivers, including the Aub (photo: bottom left), were still running, but there was no rain during the afternoon & early evening. A fresh zebra carcass was found on the gravel plains to the north-east of the Urunendis River. There were fresh vehicle tracks that drove up to the carcass and meat had been cut from hind section of the carcass (photo: bottom middle). It did not appear that the zebra was shot, but that it had perhaps died from a disease. Based on the symptoms it could possibly be anthrax, which is not prevalent in the desert, but given the exceptionally high rainfall, it is quite possible. Samples were collected from the carcass and will be sent away for analysis to determine the cause of death. Not only were their actions illegal, but the people that removed the meat from the zebra carcass are at risk if the animal died from a dangerous disease like anthrax. Efforts were made this evening to alert the tourism/conservation bodies that are operating in the area about the danger. A camera trap was set-up at the carcass to monitor any further developments (photo: bottom right).

22 Apr 2011. Ominous weather. After a night of spectacular electrical storms and rain, the entire area was engulfed in thick mist and drizzling rain for the whole day. *Moment*

21 Apr 2011. Big rains. True to the normal rainfall pattern in this part of the Namib Desert, the rains have intensified, with thunderstorms & hail, and fieldwork has become virtually impossible. The Uniab, Agab and many of the smaller rivers are in flood.

20 Apr 2011. Running the Uniab gauntlet. The Floodplain lions could not be located west of the dunes. They are presumably on the Floodplain, or perhaps further east along the Hoanib River. At sunrise a brown hyaena was observed on the beach,10 km south of the Hoanib River. To access the interior area (east of the dunes, including the Obab, Urunedis & Hunkap Rivers) required driving upstream along the Uniab River for 15 km - a risky endevour during this time of the year. When the Uniab River was reached early this morning, it was dry and it appeared safe to drive up the river. But, after 10 kms fresh flood waters were encountered. Despite a few nervous moments, the 15-km mark and a track leading out of the river, was reached without getting bogged down.

19 Apr 2011. Mowe Bay Cabin. The original plans of working in the Uniab area were changed in order to meet with Jen Bartlett at Mowe Bay. The research/film cabin at Mowe Bay, currently occupied by Jen Bartlett, will soon become available to the Desert Lion Project to use as a research base. The cabin itself and its location at Mowe Bay is ideal and will be of great benefit to the Project. Jen is thanked for going out of her way to make the place available and for donating numerous items currently in the cabin to the Project.

18 Apr 2011. Obab lions. It was a surprise when the radio signal of Xpl-54 was picked-up from the main coastal road near Torra Bay (late in the afternoon). It took many hours of careful driving through the sensitive terrain, by following small rivers and washes, before a sub-group of the Obab Pride was located. They were resting at a small unknown spring in a narrow tributary of the Uniab River. The photograph of Xpl-54 (bottom right) was taken in the moonlight, using a long time exposure.

17 Apr 2011. Repairs. Temporary repairs were made to the Cruiser. For the next few days field-work will continue in the areas around the Koigab, Uniab & Obab Rivers.

16 Apr 2011. Ugab Gate. Working on the vehicle and fixing flat tires during the day (yesterday) was difficult because of very strong winds and sand storms. Shortly after nightfall, Joshua Kazeurua and several other staff members of the Ministry of Environment & Tourism (MET), based at Ugab Gate, came to the rescue and the Cruiser was towed to Ugab. Here it was possible to work in a protected area (out of the wind & sand), and with the assistance of the MET staff (and the gear oil they provided) the Cruiser was soon mobile again.

15 Apr 2011. More vehicle problems. Searching for Xpl-68 and the other lions in the Springbok River was hampered by five flat tires that had to be repaired on the spot. Thunderstorms during the late afternoon and early evening resulted in flash floods of many of the tributaries to the Uniab and Springbok Rivers. Due to driving in so much water and getting bogged down in mud during the past few months, the oil seal on the back differential of the field vehicle had been damaged and started leaking oil. During the night the oil leak became worse and work had to be stopped.

14 Apr 2011. Huab Valley. The area around Krone Pos and the greater Huab Valley was scanned today for the radio telemetry signal of the young male lion (Xpl-68, see 7 April 2011) and for tracks of other lions. The regular rain showers during the past few days have covered whatever tracks there might have been. The radio signal of Xpl-68 could also not be heard, and it is suspected that he moved north to the Springbok River, or perhaps even to the Agab River. The northern section of the Namib Desert is known to receive most of its scant rainfall (during normal years) late in the season - from March to the end of April. Even though this area has already seen exceptionally high rainfall for the season, the pattern appears to hold true, because it has been raining every afternoon and evening for the past week. *Moment*

13 Apr 2011. Land Cruiser repaired. With the guidance and advice from members of the Land Cruiser Club (LCCSA) the vehicle was repaired late this afternoon. The problem was due to a standard modification (probably done by the previous owner) that involved the installation of an alarm / anti-theft system. During this process electrical wires were cut, but were not properly mended. This resulted in the connection becoming corroded and it eventually caused a short-circuit and a drop in voltage. Johann Cloete and all the Wilderness Safaris staff at Damaraland Camp are thanked for their support during this period.

12 Apr 2011. Day 5. A lot of progress was made today in finding the electronic problem with the Cruiser. Members of the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa had a discussion forum on their website (initiated by Adolf Huester) and several members offered valuable and expert advice. However, threatening thunderstorms and rain during the afternoon and early evening, delayed the work because the equipment and tools had to be packed away.

11 Apr 2011. 74 hours. Going into the forth day of being stranded, there has not been a breakthrough in identifying the electrical problem with the vehicle. But, the work continues.

10 Apr 2011. Damaraland Camp. The electrical (or electronic) problem with the Cruiser has not yet been resolved. Wilderness Safaris offered their assistance this morning and the vehicle was towed to Damaraland Camp, where the work to isolate & repair the problem continues. The entire dashboard has thus far been dissembled and the electrical wires and connections are being check for a loose connection, or some other problem.

9 Apr 2011. Electrical problems. Last night the field vehicle suddenly developed an electrical problem. There was a lot a rain during the day that delayed working on the vehicle somewhat, but It has not yet been possible to identify or repair the problem. This is an unfortunate turn of events, because of an agreement to provide support to Anette Grobler (see 28 Mar 2011) in the Hoanib and Hoaruseb area, where she is most likely to encounter lions.

Photos of lions were received from tourist visiting the area (see bottom row). The images provided valuable information on the Obab Pride (bottom left photo) and especially on the Hoanib Pride, with the images of Xpl-47 ("Bianca") and one of her cubs (bottom middle & right photos).

The Obab lions - photo by F Brixler
Xpl-47 and one of her cubs - photo by Cees Passchier & friends

8 Apr 2011. Reliability of ID technique. Observations confirmed that it was only a single lion that killed the donkey at Krone Pos. The value of the photographs of lions submitted by tourists was once again demonstrated, as well as the accuracy of identifying lions based on whisker spot patterns and other unique features, when Xpl-68 was captured last night. This young male lion was photographed by a tourist in the Huab River on 3 Jan 2011 (see News - 3 Feb 2011), and he was then identified as Xpl-68. Most of the day was spent observing Xpl-68.

7 Apr 2011. Back to the Huab. An email message was received this morning from Wilderness Safaris at Damaraland Camp that the lions have returned to the Huab River. The lions killed a donkey at Krone Pos last night. After a nine-hour drive, the location (Krone) was reached at sunset. The lion(s) killed the donkey late in the night and had only eaten a small portion of the carcass, but unfortunately the entire carcass had been removed by the local residents. This meant that the lion(s) were unlikely to return to the scene. With a great deal of luck a young adult male lion (Xpl-68) was darted at 03h53 and fitted with a radio collar.

6 Apr 2001. Rain at Mowe Bay. During the past weeks Mowe Bay has seen more rain than has probably been recorded for the past 20 years. Large pools of rainwater are scattered throughout the area. The Floodplain lions could not be located. They have mostly probably moved onto the floodplain and perhaps further east. But the area is not accessible at the moment.

5 Apr 2011. Mechanical problems. At sunrise the two Obab lionesses (Xpl-22 & 49) were observed again. During the night they had left the cubs and the male (Xpl-54) behind and were actively hunting zebras in the rocky terrain. A fuel pump on the Land Cruiser (used to transfer fuel from a 200 litre spare tank to the main tank) seized and it was necessary to drive to Terrace Bay to get more fuel. The Uniab River was still flowing and the journey was risky and difficult.

4 Apr 2001. Obab Pride. The Obab lions, including Xpl-22, Xpl-49, their five cubs (see 5-7 Mar 2011) & the Hunkap male (Xpl-54), were located at the lower Urunendis spring during the night.

4 Apr 2011. Agab Pride. The three Agab lionesses were observed for most of the night whilst feeding on a springbok that got trapped and died in the veterinary fence. The rain showers caused the Uniab River to flood and crossing the river has been difficult. *Moment*

3 Apr 2011. Khoabis River. A detour of more than 100 km was necessary to bypass Peter's Pool and continue searching for the Huab lions. The radio telemetry signals of several of the Agab lions were picked-up late last night. Three lionesses (Xpl-36, "Fay" & "Ansie") and a 4 month-old cub were located and observed in the upper Khoabis River this evening. There were heavy thunderstorms and rain during the afternoon.

2 Apr 2011. Huab progress. After many hours of fruitless efforts, some progress was made this afternoon when fresh tracks of two lions were found moving westwards along the Huab River towards Terrace fountain. This was the first substantial bit of information gathered since arriving at the location three days ago. However, it was not possible to follow the lion tracks because the passage-way at Peter's Pool has been blocked by the recent floods.

1 Apr 2011. Uniab. An avid mountain biker approached a group of lions in the Uniab River, but escaped miraculously with only two flat tires (see full report).