News - February 2011

Feb

27/28 Feb 2011. Huab River. The rare sight of a Lappetfaced vulture on the beach was observed near the Huab lagoon. The vulture was feeding on a seal carcass. A report from Wilderness Safaris of four lions in the Huab River is being investigated. Crossing the Huab River at Scott Bridge (middle photo) was difficult because of a recent flood, that left the riverbed extremely wet and muddy. The tracks of two lions were spotted inside the Skeleton Coast Park, but soft rain during the night obliterated the tracks.

26 Feb 2011. Low Tide. The trip to the Kunene Mouth and the associated problems with bogged-down vehicles, thick sand and flooding rivers have drained the fuel reserves of the Land Cruiser. A supply trip to re-stock on fuel, food and water has become necessary. Careful calculations had to be made with the available fuel, timing of the low tide, and driving along the beach, in order to reach Terrace Bay.

25 Feb 2011. Hoaruseb lioness. A single lioness ("Tawny" or Xpl-38) of the Hoaruseb Pride was located near the mouth of the Hoaruseb River. It is unclear why she is alone and where the rest of the Hoaruseb lionesses might be. Flood waters were trickling down the riverbed and started to increase in volume by nightfall. To drive up-river in search of the other Hoaruseb lionesses during the night would be unwise, as the Hoaruseb River could come down in full flood. *Moment*

24 Feb 2011. Munutum floods. Flood waters of the Munutum River extended far beyond Okau spring, but finally petered out in between the small dunes and hummocks, 6 km from the sea.

23 Feb 2011. Munutum River. The diverse terrain around Okau spring has been scanned carefully, but no tracks or other signs of lion movements have yet been found. Flood waters in the Munutum River ran through the spring (see photo below). This is an unusual event. Current records (from living memory) indicate that floods rarely extend this far west and that the Munutum River has not reached the ocean. Problems have been experienced with the satellite Internet connection and updating of the website.

22 Feb 2011. South to Angra Fria. The obligations to guide a delegation of the Namibian Police to the Kunene mouth were fulfilled. To save fuel, it was decided to return by driving along the beach as far as Angra Fria during the low tide. Some time will be spent surveying the lower Munutum River and Okau spring for any signs of lion movements.

21 Feb 2001. Kunene Mouth. A convoy of vehicles was escorted from Angra Fria to the Kunene mouth. It was a long and difficult journey. There were break-downs and several vehicles got bogged-down in the thick sand. The Kunene River was reach at 03h30 this morning. Two brief surveys, earlier in the day, of the Secumib and Nadas Rivers revealed no sign of recent lion movements.

20 Feb 2011. Driving to Kunene. The Hoaruseb and Khumib Rivers were scanned for any signs of recent lion movements, as well as the springs at Klein Oasis and Sarusas. Two brown hyaenas were observed at sunrise at Sarusas spring. The radio signal of another brown hyaena, marked at Khumib Camp (Xhb-13), was picked-up north of Sarusas.

19 Feb 2011. Waiting. The trip to the Kunene Mouth will depart tomorrow morning. More time was spent at the seal colony and observing the seals playing in the surf. *Moment*

18 Feb 2011. Mowe Bay. Some time was spent observing the seal colony at Mowe Bay. By scanning the surrounding area for tracks, it was confirmed that the Floodplain lions have not yet found the colony. The Warden of the Skeleton Coast Park requested that the Desert Lion Project accompany them on a trip to the Kunene Mouth with several senior Government officials.

17 Feb 2011. Uniab River in flood. The Hoanib Floodplain is filling up and will not be accessible by vehicle for several months. The Kharugaiseb River also had a lot of rain and floodwaters ran into the dunes. The Uniab River ran through to the sea, but the floods subsided quickly and it was possible to cross the river. Until the area becomes accessible again, a few days will be spent at Mowe Bay.

16 Feb 2011. Hoanib River in flood. The radio-signals of Xpl-55 & 69 could not be found again. However, the search-effort was restricted by rain throughout most of the night. The Hoanib River is now almost in full flood. A few hours were spent waiting on the banks of the river - in an attempt to cross. But the water-level kept on rising and feeding into the floodplain.

15 Feb 2011. More rain coming? After observing Xpl-55 & 69 briefly yesterday morning, most of the day was spent trying to re-connect with them. But they rapidly moved beyond the range of the radio telemetry and could not be located. It must be said that there are very few tracks in the area, and the terrain is too sensitive to drive off-roads. During the late afternoon and at sunset the eastern skies displayed the tell-tail signs of rain further inland.

14 Feb 2011. Sima Hill. At dawn this morning the two young Floodplain lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) were observed hunting on the gravel plains towards Sima Hill. Can you spot the two lionesses on the photograph below?

13 Feb 2011. Floodplain lionesses found. After many weeks of searching the two young lionesses (Xpl-55 & Xpl-69) of the Floodplain Pride were finally located. They were on a rock outcrop 15 km from the Floodplain, where it is possible that they might be hiding their cubs. But it was not possible to confirm this hypothesis. The Project will soon receive a powerfull telephoto lens that will allow capturing usable images of lions from great distances - as was the need today. *Moment*

12 Feb 2011.Desert Rain. This morning saw to the unique experience of driving through the dunes, from the coast to the Hoanib Floodplain, in the pouring rain. It was a fantastic and unique privilege. At sunrise a Black Harrier was spotted hunting on the edge of the dunes near the Hoanib lagoon. The Hoanib River floodwaters reached the floodplain, and by midday the floods had penetrated 10-12 km into the floodplain. The radio-telemetry signal of Xpl-55 (one of the missing young Floodplain lionesses) was located on the north-bank of the Hoanib River. It was not possible to cross the flooding Hoanib River to observe Xpl-55.

Black Harrier in the dunes
The dunes - darkened by rain
The Floodplain - engulfed in a rainstorm
A herd of oryx crossing the dunes before the rain
Flood waters in the Hoanib floodplain

11 Feb 2011. Oasis Spring. Xpl-10 was located this afternoon at Oasis Spring, near the mouth of the Hoanib River. Several hours were spent observing the area with binoculars and a spotting scope, but Xpl-10 was not seen. Based on tracks and the behaviour of several pied crows, the hypothesis was formed that Xpl-10 was feeding on an oryx carcass inside a reed thicket on the northern edge of the spring. None of the other Floodplain lions were present.

10 Feb 2011. Towards the Uniab. The search for the two young Floodplain lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) extended far to the south of the Hoanib, past the Hunkap River and almost as far as the Uniab River. No signals or any evidence of recent lion movements were found. If access is still possible (due to the flooding rivers) the search will now be focussed to the north of the Hoanib River.

9 Feb 2011. Xpl-73. A five days ago one of the camera-traps recorded Xpl-73 ("Rosh") moving from the Floodplain towards the Mudorib River. It is possible that he is on one of his excursions to the Hunkap River, because there has been no sign of him around the Hoanib/Floodplain area for many days.

8 Feb 2011. Searching for Xpl-55 & 69. The threatening weather continued to build towards the East. Whilst avoiding the main Hoanib River, an effort was made to search for the Floodplain Pride in the areas around the floodplain. Of particular interest is the whereabouts of Xpl-55 & Xpl-69 (the two younger lionesses) because they might be giving birth to their first litters.

7 Feb 2011. Lower Hoanib. It has become necessary to avoid the major drainage lines and to focus on areas that do not become isolated or impassable during major floods. The lower Hoanib River was covered looking for the Floodplain lions.

6 Feb 2011. Spectacular thunder clouds. An ominous build-up of rainclouds and associated electrical storms have called for a hasty retreat. Because of the mountainous terrain and steep slopes, this area south of the Hoanib River is prone to flash-floods during heavy rainfall. *Moment*

5 Feb 2001. More mountaineering. Another fruitless night was spent trying to locate the two Hoanib lionesses (see entires below). Their likely movements were "anticipated" by waiting near a natural passage through the mountain ridges that, judging by the tracks, a lot of animals use. Instead, they moved over the mountain ridges (they could not possibly have been aware of the vehicle). Their current whereabouts are unknown since the satellite collar has not yet transmitted the daily locations - probably because they are moving through narrow gorges where the collar does not have a clear enough view of the sky to locate satellites. A brown hyaena moved through the passage at daybreak. Later this morning six Bat-eared foxes (2 adults & 4 pups) were seen further west, at the boundary of the Skeleton Coast Park.

4 Feb 2011. Namibia's Mountain lions. There is an old myth, from the fist European farmers that settled in the north-west of Namibia, about "Mountain lions" - a different species - that live in the Kaokoveld. During the past four days the efforts to locate and observe the two Hoanib lionesses (Xpl-47 "Bianca" & Xpl-59) have produced nothing other than a few faint radio signals. Were it not for receiving daily movement data (via satellite) from the GPS collar of Xpl-47, we would not know that there were lions here. The satellite data revealed how they criss-cross the most rugged mountainous terrain, and sometimes at astounding speeds. That such a myth of "Mountain lions" developed in the region, can be appreciated. Rain clouds, thunder and lightning during the night suggests that floods of the ephemeral rivers can be expected. A spotted hyaena was the only visitor during the night.

3 Feb 2011. Huab lions identified. Photos were received today, from Bernd Brell (SRT), of two lions that were seen by tourists in the Huab River on 3 Jan 2011. After careful analysis of the images and comparison with the lion ID database, both lions were identified. The lioness (see top 2 rows, below) is Xpl-22/7/3, originally from the Obab Pride and a cub of Xpl-22. The male (bottom 2 rows) is Xpl-68 of the Agab Pride.

Lioness - Huab River, 3 Jan 2001

Xpl-22/7/3 of the Obab Pride

The whisker-spot patterns of the Huab lioness (far right) matched those of Xpl-22/7/3. She was last observed in the Urunendis River in April 2010.

 

Male lion - Huab River, 3 Jan 2011

 

Xpl-68 of the Agab Pride

The brand-mark on the shoulder of the Huab male (left photos) matched the brand of Xpl-68. Missing lower incisors of the Huab male also matched that of Xpl-68, recorded when he was darted on 15 May 2010. Xpl-68 was last seen at Springbokwasser in Nov 2010.

2 Feb 2011. Survival Skills. The reason why the two Hoanib lionesses (Xpl-47 & Xpl-59) are still alive and produced their second litters of cubs, whilst many lions of their pride have been shot or poisoned, is because they are exceptionally wary of humans. They shy away from any form of human activity. Not surprisingly therefor did the efforts to observe them last night and to determine if their cubs are still alive, fail miserably. Fortunately the tracks of the lionesses were followed this morning and the spoor of several small cubs were observed. The cubs are estimated to be between 2 and 3 months old. Several small groups of elephants have been observed feeding in the side tributaries to the Hoanib. The Hoanib River came down in flood yesterday. The flood waters had reached the Obias River by late morning.

1 Feb 2011. "Bianca". The two Floodplain lions (Xpl-10 & "Rosh") moved north of the Hoanib River towards Sima Hill. The substrate is sensitive in this area and they could not be followed by vehicle. Attention was turned to the Hoanib Pride. Using the latest satellite download from Xpl-47 "Bianca" as a guide, she and Xpl-59 were located in the Mudorib River. *Moment*