News - July 2011


31 Jul 2011. NOTICE ! On 29 Jul 2011 the BGAN satellite IP modem failed. The unit was used for connecting to the Internet via the Inmarsat satellites and updating the website from the desert. It appears that the harsh conditions finally got the better of the unit as the materials had become perished. This means that for the foreseeable future daily updates from the desert, often with the Land Cruiser still parked next to the lions, will not be possible. The updates will still be done in the field at the end of each day, but the files can now only be uploaded to the website sporadically, e.g., when within range of the GSM cellular network (like at Terrace Bay, Palmwag or Sesfontein).

31 Jul 2011. East Wind. At 03:00 east-winds started blowing and became progressively stronger towards daybreak (see bottom row images from camera-trap). By mid-morning a severe sand/dust storm was raging with winds gusting up to 50 km/h and it was impossible to drive. During the late afternoon, the wind dropped a bit and the Floodplain Pride was located 7 km inside the Skeleton Coast Park. Conditions were still bad and the visibility poor. Can you spot the lions in the two photos below (top left & top middle).

30 Jul 2011. Hoanib Pride. Xpl-47 "Bianca" and other members of the Hoanib Pride were located north of the Hoanib River, between the Mudorib waterhole and Amp's Poort. The tracks of ± 5 cubs, about 8-9 months old, were counted. The radio signal of Xpl-59 was not heard and there is concern that her radio collar might also have failed. A camera-trap was set up at the remains of a springbok carcass (partly eaten by a cheetah and a brown hyaena) to capture images of the cubs and ID photos of the adults. But during the late afternoon the lions killed an oryx in the mountains to the North and did not return to the river. Images were captured of a brown hyaena.

29 Jul 2011. Technology flaws. The recent advances in radio telemetry technology, such as GPS & satellite GPS collars used in this project, have provided fantastic data on the movements and behaviour of lions. However, the reliability of these radio collars is exceptionally poor. A total of ten hours was spent today, carefully approaching the 70's lionesses in an attempt to get close enough to download the movement data from the GPS collar of Xpl-72. Disappointingly, the collar had failed and no data had been recorded since 11Nov 2010. This is the 8th of 15 GPS/satellite collars fitted to lions that have failed. At the costs of € 2,500 per GPS collar and € 4,200 per satellite collar, a failure rate of 53% is not acceptable. Attempting to raise funds for radio collars that don't work for more than half the time, is difficult, but it is the loss of important data that has an impact on the efforts to conserve the Desert lions of Namibia. Two small cubs (4-5 months old) were spotted with Xpl-71 (see photo far right). *Moment*

28 Jul 2011. Dedication. News has just been received that Dr Hu Berry passed away on 26 July 2011. The Desert Lion Project would like to pay tribute to Dr Berry for his contributions to lion conservation in Namibia, and particularly for his role as a mentor for the Desert Lion Project during the 1980s. Were it not for his training, patience and support during those early years, the current research on the Desert lions may never have materialised.

1985 - learning the tricks of the trade from Hu
2010 - Dr Berry introducing a presentation by DLP
Dedicating the DLP presentation to Dr Berry
Hu was always adamant about respect for lions
11 Dec 2010 - the last interaction with Hu Berry
Oct 1987 - the Okaukuejo Pride

27 Jul 2011. "New lions". Recent reports suggesting that "new" lions may have moved into the vacant Hoaruseb area, following the poisoning of the Hoaruseb lionesses, were somewhat premature. The tracks of several lions were observed in the Gumatum River , approximately 25 km southeast of Purros. The tracks were those of the 70's lionesses of the Hoanib Pride. They moved into the Gumatum River from the Okongwe Mountains and spent some time near a settlement where large numbers of cattle and goats are being kept. The location is within the normal home range of the 70's lionesses, and approximately 15 km outside the home range previously occupied by the Hoaruseb lionesses. The lions did not kill any livestock, but their presence were of concern to the livestock owners. Fortunately the lions returned to the Okongwe area and they are being monitored. Wilderness Safaris at Khumib Camp are thanked for investigating and reporting the incident.

26 Jul 2011. Computer problem. The "black screen" problem with the MacBook Pro became more pronounced during the past two days. This may result in irregular or no website updates for the next few weeks.

26 Jul 2011. Amp's Poort. Reports were received that the tracks of approximately 5 lions were seen in the Gumatum River, 20-25 km southeast of Purros. The tracks are probably those of the 70's lionesses (a sub-group of the Hoanib Pride). The report will be investigated during the next 24 hours. In the meantime, efforts to locate the Hoanib Pride have not been successful. A camera-trap mounted at Amp's Poort has disappeared. It is likely that the camera was stolen. The two camera-traps at the brown hyaena den were recovered. Even though the hyaenas vacated the den in April 2011, the cameras captured a number of interesting photos (see below).

25 Jul 2011. Floodplain lions. During March & April 2011, the Hoanib floodwaters erased the track that ran through the Floodplain. A lot of time was spent finding a way through the thick vegetation and gullies created by the floods. The Floodplain Pride was located on the eastern edge of the Floodplain. Observations were hampered by a severe sandstorm that lasted for 5 hours. Both of the two young lionesses (Xpl-55 & Xpl-69) appeared to have lost their cubs, but Xpl-10 is still lactating and her cubs are hopefully still alive.

24 Jul 2011. Hoanib Floodplain. Several fruitless hours were spent at Mowe Bay scanning the ocean with the hope of spotting and photographing the whales that were observed last night. The dunes and hummocks between the mouth of the Hoanib River and the Floodplain were searched for signs of the Floodplain Pride. Having found no evidence of recent lion movements, the treacherous journey, as the first vehicle to drive through the Floodplain after the floods, was attempted. After several nervous moments, the camera-trap on the western edge of the Floodplain was reached at sunset. The camera-trap had unfortunately been dislodged from its mounting by an unidentified animal (possibly a Ludwig's bustard) on 26 Feb 2011. The rest of the Floodplain will be negotiated tomorrow morning.

Images from the Floodplain camera-trap
The camera-trap being dislodged
Driving through the Hoanib Floodplain
Seals playing in the surf at Mowe Bay

21-23 Jul 2011. Hoaruseb Update. The tissue samples collected from the poisoned lions are being analysed, but the results are not yet available. The investigation by Ministry of Environment & Tourism is ongoing. The local communities in the Purros Conservancy have decided to launch an internal investigation to identify the individual(s) responsible for poisoning the lions. With assistance from IRDNC, several retired "community game guards" have become involved. This is an encouraging development because these elderly men are of high stature in the local Herero community and they have extensive experience. Working closely with MET and Garth Owen-Smith, they were instrumental in curbing the poaching activities during the 1980s.
During the late afternoon a brown hyaena was seen near the Mowe Bay seal colony, and at sunset several humpback whales (+ 5 individuals) were observed about 1 km off-shore. They were swimming in a southernly direction. Large numbers of seals (+-100) appeared to be following the whales as they swam past the colony.

19 Jul 2011. Could lions repopulate the Hoaruseb? The historical records indicate that lions regularly occurred in the Hoaruseb River. However, it is unclear if those lions were permanent residents or sporadic visitors. Between 1970 and 1987, the conservation officials of the Skeleton Cost Park often recorded tracks and visual sightings of lions in the Hoaruseb River. Several years of below average rainfall during the 1980s resulted in an escalation of conflict between lions and the local communities, and the last known Hoaruseb lion was shot in 1988. After an absence of almost 15 years, a young lioness (Xpl-10) dispersed from the Aub Canyon area and settled in the Hoaruseb River during 2001 (see Xpl-10 for more details). Xpl-10 gave birth to two litters in the Hoaruseb River, and it was the two females of her second litter (Xpl-37 "Morada" & Xpl-38 "Tawny") that eventually formed the current/late Hoaruseb Pride.

The likelihood of "new" lions moving into the Hoaruseb River is high. It is simply a matter of time. Xpl-10 (the original founder) currently lives in the Hoanib Floodplain area (+- 70 km to the South). She gave birth to her fourth litter in Feb 2011 (photo below, see News - 22/3 Mar 2011) and she is a likely candidate to return to the Hoaruseb River. In addition, lions from the Hoanib Pride (see Xpl-47 "Bianca") and the 70's sub-group (see Xpl-72) may also find their way to the Hoaruseb River. Research and monitoring efforts on these lions will now be intensified.

17/18 Jul 2011. Hoaruseb lion movements. The location data retrieved from the GPS collar of Xpl-37 ("Morada") have been studied in great detail in an attempt to gain insight into the events that led to the poisoning of the three lionesses. Three movement animations (each consisting of 15 days) for a period of 45 days prior to their deaths are presented below. Similar to the movements animations presented previously, the timeline is constant at 2.5 seconds per day (24 hrs) and the red lion icon moving on the map, accurately represents the position of the lioness at the date and time displayed on the top bar. The total distance moved per day is listed for each calendar day. The borders of the Conservancies and that of the Skeleton Coast Park are displayed by the white lines. Click on the PLAY button to start the animation.

Period: 25 May - 8 Jun 2011.

Distance (km)
8.8 km
0.9 km
10.5 km
7.8 km
10.9 km
8.1 km
6.7 km
1.1 km
6.9 km
7.3 km
16.3 km
9.5 km
16.0 km
1.1 km
0.2 km

Period: 9 - 23 Jun 2011.

Distance (km)
10.9 km
14.3 km
12.1 km
2.1 km
17.5 km
14.1 km
4.4 km
2.5 km
7.0 km
15.0 km
3.6 km
6.2 km
7.0 km
4.2 km
4.0 km

Period: 24 Jun - 8 July 2011. On 25/26 Jun 2011, the lionesses moved outside the Purros Conservancy where it is suspected that they may have attacked or threatened livestock belonging to local people from the Okondjombo or Otjikongo areas. They did not stay long enough to feed on a carcass and vacated the area, moving west of Purros on 1 Jul 2011. They returned briefly on 7 Jul 2011 and moved to within 1 km of the border of the Purros Conservancy. Whilst moving back towards Purros, the lionesses were poisoned 13.6 km from the Conservancy border.

Distance (km)
6.0 km
6.4 km
11.0 km
4.7 km
2.3 km
2.1 km
4.0 km
11.6 km
23.2 km
12.9 km
17.9 km
5.6 km
6.6 km
10.3 km
0.4 km

16 Jul 2011. Hoaruseb lion information. The Ministry of Environment & Tourism (MET) have launched an investigation into the poisoning of the Hoaruseb lionesses. A detailed report have been submitted to MET and the poison samples of the three lionesses have also been handed over to them. Advice from poison experts has introduced the possibility that the poison used could also be a carbofuran, like Furadan. Reports that two hyaenas (presumably Brown hyaenas) and two vultures were also poisoned have not yet been confirmed. A brief effort to locate several lions (possibly the Obab Pride) that moved through the lower Uniab area (photo below), produced no results. *Moment*

15 jul 2011. Hoaruseb floods. The two vehicles that were engulfed by the Hoaruseb floodwaters in March 2011 (see News - 27 Mar 2011; and top, left & middle photos below by A Swartz) are still stuck in the riverbed. Efforts the get the vehicles out of the mud have not been successful.

14 Jul 2011. Scenic. The Hoaruseb lions moved over a large area (+- 2,000 sqr km) and they regularly visited the spectacularly scenic area of the lower Hoaruseb River (see panoramic animation below), where they were often seen and photographed by tourists.

14 Jul 2011. GPS collar. The movement data have been extracted from the GPS collar of Xpl-37 ("Morada"). It is fortunate that the GPS radio collar fitted to Xpl-37 on 28 Aug 2010 is one of the few GPS / satellite collars that have not failed prematurely. A vast amount of information on the movements of the Hoaruseb lionesses for the past five months were downloaded. These data will be analysed, using GIS software, during the next few days. The map below displays the area that the lions used between Feb 2011 and 9 Jul 2011, when they were poisoned (see yellow dot). It will take some time to structure and evaluate both the spacial and temporal elements of the data. The lions were poisoned in the Hoaruseb River, 13.4 km upstream from Purros, and well inside the Purros Conservancy. It was interesting to notice that the lions moved through the Wilderness Safaris camp in the Khumib River on 12/13 Mar 2011.

13 Jul 2011. Hoaruseb Update. All the work and efforts that went into the Hoaruseb lions, between 2008 and 2011, have been summarised and can be viewed at "The Hoaruseb Pride".

12 Jul 2011. Setback. The poisoning of the three Hoaruseb lionesses is a serious setback for lion conservation, community-based conservation and tourism in the region. The efforts over the past five years by the Purros Conservancy, the tourism industry (e.g., Wilderness Safaris, Kunene Conservancy Safaris, Okahirongo Elephant Lodge and many others) and conservation organisations to conserve the Hoaruseb lions and develop sustainable tourism activities, were enormous. But, in the end, the efforts were not enough. In April 2010, the Hoaruseb Pride consisted of an adult male (Xpl-44 "Leonardo"), two adult females (Xpl-37 "Morada" & Xpl-38 "Tawny"), a sub-adult female (Xpl-61 "Maya") and two sub-adult males (Xpl-62 "Indigo" & Xpl-63 "Crimson"). All three males were shot during 2010 and the pride was finally eradicated with the poisoning of the three remaining lionesses.

"Morada" and "Leonardo"
"Morada", "Maya" & the two young males
Xpl-38 "Tawny" at the Hoaruseb mouth
The end of an era

10/11 Jul 2011. Hoaruseb Pride poisoned. The Desert lions suffered a big blow when the entire Hoaruseb Pride was poisoned on 10 July 2011. The three lionesses (Xpl-37 "Morada", Xpl-38 "Tawny" and Xpl-61 "Maya") died a few metres from each other in the Hoaruseb River. Samples were collected for analysis, but the poison appears to have been strychnine.Two black-backed jackals were also found dead at the scene. The radio collars were retrieved and the sculls of all three lionesses were collected. Their carcasses and those of the jackals were then burnt to prevent more animals dying from the poison. Wilderness Safaris are thanked for their help and support. This tragic event marks the end of the famous Hoaruseb lions. More detailed reports will follow. (Photos by E Verwey)

8/9 Jul 2011. Hoanib mouth. The coastal area between Terrace Bay and Mowe Bay was surveyed for any signs of lion movements. Several herds of oryx and springbok were observed, but there was no indication that lions recently visited the area and the radio telemetry signals of the Hoanib Floodplain pride could not be heard. *Moment*

7 Jul 2011. Petrol & tires. Further efforts to observe the Obab lioness (Xpl-49) during the night was hampered by three flat tires, a broken radio telemetry antenna, and the Land Cruiser was also running very low on fuel. Field work had to be stopped briefly to refuel at Terrace Bay, restock on supplies and for some basic maintenance & repairs on the vehicle and equipment.

6 Jul 2011. Obab lioness. The radio signal of Xpl-49, one of the Obab females, was picked up during a radio tracking session south of Hunkap spring. The lioness was tracked and located in the upper Kharugaiseb River. The vehicle got bogged down in soft mud during an attempt to get a visual sighting of Xpl-49 and her cubs. Several Booted Eagles (both dark & pale colour forms) have been observed during the past few days.

5 Jul 2011. Beacon River. Images were retrieved from a camera trap that was mounted at a spring near the Beacon River on 28 Apr 2011. The camera was removed because large numbers of small birds, visiting the waterhole during the day, triggered the camera hundreds of times per day. This drained the camera battery and filled up the memory card.

4 Jul 2011. Search for Obab lions. The Agab Pride killed a Mountain zebra in one of the Agab tributaries. Both males ("Lez" & Xpl-51) were present and they dragged the carcass into a mopane thicket. Attention was turned to locating the Obab lions further west and to continue searching for the missing lioness (Xpl-18).

3 Jul 2011. Mountain bikes vs. lions. Mountain bike tours in the area started off as fundraising events for Save the Rhino Trust, but they are becoming increasingly popular. Concerns over the safety of the bikers, in the event that they encounter lions, have been discussed. Whilst monitoring the Agab Pride, a unique opportunity presented itself to observe the reaction of lions to mountain bike riders. In preparation for the "Challenge 4 A Cause" fundraising event for SRT (see Rhino Africa website), two bikers from Cycletec, Namibia, surprised both the Desert Lion Project and the Agab lions when they suddenly appeared over a ridge. Resting amongst thick vegetation, the lions were not visible, and the bikers headed straight for them. The Land Cruiser was parked several hundred metres away and there was no time to react or warn the riders. When the lions noticed the mountain bikes they crouched, but when the bicycles were 12 metres from them, they ran off. From these observations it is suggested, however, that if the same lions were to encounter mountain bike riders more than once, they may become less frightened and take an interest in the moving objects.

2 Jul 2011. Search for lioness. A big effort was make to try and locate the lioness that was heard roaring yesterday evening. The tracks of a lioness was found and the remains of a zebra kill. The amount of grass and other vegetation made it difficult to find and follow the tracks and there is still a lot of water in some of the riverbeds. One of the camera-traps sponsored by the LCCSA was mounted in a narrow gorge where several sets of tracks were found (see photos below left & middle).

1 Jul 2011. Distant roar. Observations on the Agab Pride continued with the hopes that, if Xpl-18 were still alive, she might rejoin the group. This evening the distant roar of a lioness was heard towards the West. It might be one of the Obab lionesses, but an effort is underway to locate the lioness.