News - November 2011

Nov

30 Nov 2011. Hoanib. The 70's lionesses disappeared into the Okongwe mountains. The Hoanib Floodplain male (Xpl-73, "Rosh") was located north of the Hoanib River. He was on his own. The radio-telemetry signals of the Floodplain lionesses could not be heard.

29 Nov 2011. Back to Okongwe. The 70's lionesses returned to Okongwe. They followed the same route that they used to get to the Hoaruseb River. A camera-trap in the southern section of the Okongwe Mountains captured several images of leopards moving through a narrow gorge.

28 Nov 2011. Blow-out. Working with lions in these mountains is challenging and tough on the field vehicle. The radio-telemetry signals of the Okongwe lionesses were monitored from high look-out points as they moved through the mountains. Whilst trying to reach another high point along a ridge, a sharp rock severed the side wall of the left front tire. This caused the Land Cruiser to slip into an uncompromising angle and all attempts to jack the wheel off the ground (to replace the tire) caused the vehicle to slide further down the embankment. An uncomfortable night was spent in the vehicle with the lionesses close by. Okahirongo Elephant Lodge came to the rescue this morning. The Land Cruiser was anchored with a winch and an Hi-Lift jack, and two hydraulic jacks were used to lift the axle and fit the spare wheel.

27 Nov 2011. Hoaruseb update. The 70's lionesses are skittish and avoid vehicles. Many hours were spent near them in the Hoaruseb River, but a brief glimpse of one lionesses amongst the Tamarisk thickets and reeds was all that they permitted. At approximately 05h00 this morning the lions left the Hoaruseb River and headed south through the mountains. The likely route that they will follow through the mountains was anticipated and they were intercepted south of the bigger mountains. Two lionesses were spotted.

26 Nov 2011. Lions return to Hoaruseb. A message was received from Colin Kasupi, one of the Purros Lion Officers, via Wilderness Safaris, that lion tracks had been seen in the Hoaruseb River. The decision was made to investigate the report immediately. The Hoaruseb River was reached at dark and all three radio-collared Okongwe lionesses (the 70's) were located at the narrow gorge 10 km west of Purros. The GPS radio collar of Xpl-72 is faulty, but it fortunately recorded sporadic location data. The map (below) indicates their movements over the past four months (red dots) and the yellow dots are their movements for the past 5 days in the Hoaruseb River.

25 Nov 2011. Camera-trap stolen. Another camera-trap has been snatched in the lower Hoanib River. This brings the number of cameras carried off by people to four. In addition, one memory card was removed (from the same camera that just disappeared) and on two occasions cameras were removed from their mountings and turned off (but fortunately not removed or destroyed). Although tourism is important to wildlife conservation in the region and to the economy of Namibia, there are negative elements that have an impact on the very product that they come to see. It is strongly suspected that the camera-traps were lifted or vandalised by tourists or tour operators that illegally entered the Skeleton Coast Park, where these events occurred. The camera-traps are mounted at strategic locations purely to monitor the movements of lions and other wildlife species, and they provide valuable data. But, they also record vehicles that drive past them, and when in a restricted area, the images are evidence of an illegal activity (see a few examples below). The losses incurred by the theft of the cameras and memory cards amount to approximately N$ 12,500. The Desert Lion Project would like to apologise to the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa, who recently sponsored 8 new camera-traps, for the current state of events.

24 Nov 2011. Uniab dunes. The Obab lions started moving at twilight, but they vanished during a sandstorm that raged until midnight. At daybreak their tracks were followed for 13.8 km into the dunes south of the Uniab River. By midday a southeasterly wind had increased in strength and covered their tracks. The effort to locate the lions was abandoned 8 km east of Torra Bay (see panoramic animation below).

23 Nov 2011. Uniab mouth. The rest of the Obab Pride were located low down in the Uniab River, approximately 4 km from the coast. They were unusually skittish and even displayed aggression towards the vehicle. The radio collar of one of the lionesses has failed prematurely. The expected lifespan of the collar was until Sep 2014.

22 Nov 2011. Upper Barab spring. More time was spent with the Barab lions, collecting identification photographs and comparing vibrisae spot patterns. Following the lions in the rocky terrain of the upper Barab River was difficult because of the dark moon. *Moment*.

21 Nov 2011. Barab lions. Several lions of the Barab sub-group were observed. They are part of the Aub Pride and spend most of their time in the upper reaches of the Barab River and the mountains, crossing over to the upper Mudirob tributaries.

At sunset the sun broke through a narrow gap in the clouds of an otherwise overcast sky. For a few moments the entire landscape radiated brilliant colours of pink, red and purple.

20 Nov 2011. Search for lionesses. An extensive search for the Agab and Obab lionesses produced no results during the past 24 hours. The Obab male was located again lower down in the Uniab River. Hopes are that he will meet up with the Obab lionesses during the next few days.

19 Nov 2001. Uniab River. The Obab male was observed whilst feeding on the zebra carcass. Sections of the Agab, Aub and Urunendis rivers were searched for signs of other lion movements.

18 Nov 2011. Obab lions. A male lion of the Obab Pride was located in the Uniab River. He is feeding on a zebra carcass and appears to be alone. Observations will continue tonight to determine if there other lions present.

17 Nov 2011. Rain clouds. The area between the Hunkap and the Uniab River is being surveyed for lion movements. The first significant build-up of rain clouds for the season was observed this afternoon. Elephant researchers (Laura Brown, Anika and Eva) were photographed by the camera-trap at Hunkap spring.

16 Nov 2011. New BFG tires. The Obab lions were observed at close quarters last night and early this morning. Valuable data were collected on their age/sex structure and some aspects of their behaviour. A set of four new BFGoodrich Mud Terrain tires, sponsored by Michelin Tyre Company, South Africa, were received (see Sponsors). Two of the new tires have already been fitted.

15 Nov 2011. Hunkap River. The lions moved south during the night. They were observed this morning moving along a ridge near the Hunkap River.

14 Nov 2011. Mudorib Spring. During the night the radio signal of the Obab lions disappeared in the mountains north of Hunkap spring. The signal was pick-up again at midday and it was followed for 9.5 km. The lions are currently resting close to Mudorib spring, but they are amongst the rugged and inaccessible mountains southeast of the spring.

13 Nov 2011. Hunkap. Several lions of the Obab Pride were located in the mountains to the north of Hunkap spring. An adult female cheetah was observed on the gravel plains (photo: Henry Cookson). The camera-trap at Hunkap spring recorded many photos of oryx and mountain zebras, but none of lions or other carnivores.

12 Nov 2011. Uniab River. A brief stop was made at Mowe Bay to re-stock on supplies and the Land Cruser was refuelled at Terrace Bay. The Uniab River was accessed from the coast to search for the missing lions of the Obab Pride. A Black Harrier was observed at the Uniab mouth (photo: top right). The view of the dunes was particularly beautiful in the moonlight (photo: bottom left).

11 11 11. Final effort. On the night of the full moon a last effort was made to dart and re-collar the Hoanib lionesses. The moon was a bit too bright and the lionesses refused to come close to the vehicle. It was decided this morning to leave the lions in peace for a week or two. The unusual event of two brown hyaenas was recorded by a camera-trap in the Hoanib River.

10 Nov 2011. Elephants. There are currently a large number of elephants in the Hoanib River. This complicates working with the lions at night. Especially when attempting to dart skittish lions like the Hoanib females, because the elephants have a tendency to approach the vehicle and disrupt the efforts.

9 Nov 2011. Inquisitive cubs. Efforts to dart the two Hoanib lionesses during the night were unsuccessful. The five cubs were very relaxed and allowed the vehicle to approach them. Two of the male cubs walked up to the vehicle for a close-up inspection and they touched the vehicle gently with their noses and paws.

8 Nov 2011. Hoanib Pride. Tracks of the Hoanib lions were found west of the Obias River and were followed for several kilometres until the radio signal of Xpl-47 "Bianca" was heard. The lions were monitored during the night and at sunrise this morning they were observed crossing a 200 feet-high mountain ridge. Both lionesses (including Xpl-59 or "E=MC^2) and the five cubs were present. There are two female and three male cubs. *Moment*.

7 Nov 2011. Xpl-10. Temporary repairs were made to the Land Cruiser. The remaining 5-6 nights, with ideal moonlight conditions, will be used to work in the Hoanib River. A white stork was observed on the Floodplain. Xpl-10 was located south of the Hoanib River. The radio signal of the male (Xpl-73, "Rosh") was close by, but he was not observed.

6 Nov 2011. Mechanical problems. The Floodplain male (Xpl-73, "Rosh") was captured on two camera-traps in the lower Hoanib River and the Floodplain on 31 Oct 2011. He walk passed the fist camera at 05h56 (< 1 metre from it — photo: top left) and the second camera at 06h28 — a distance of 2.7 km. An interesting close-up photo was recorded by one of the camera-traps, but it was not possible to identify the species. It was mentioned on 28 Oct 2011 that the rugged terrain of the Okongwe Mountains is hard on the field vehicle. After ten days (and nights) under these difficult conditions, the Land Cruiser performed remarkably well. But, towards the end, probably when extra effort went into trying to dart the lionesses amongst the rocks, damage was done to the rear back wheel and several of the wheel-studs had snapped off. Repairs are underway to replace the broken parts.

An unidentified animal caught on camera
Repairs to the rear wheel of the Land Cruiser

5 Nov 2011. Towards the Hoanib. For the next 7 days leading up to the full moon, attention has been turned to the Hoanib River. Many hours were spent testing the darts and the dart gun to identify and correct the problem that occurred on 2 Nov 2011. A total of 82 darts were fired at targets that ranged from 15 - 45 metres. A few minor adjustments were made, but there was no major flaw that could explain the failure on 2 Nov. Many images were downloaded from some of the camera-traps mounted in the Hoanib area (see below).

Testing the dart gun
Oryx and a porcupine in the Hoanib River
A brown hyaena inspecting and rolling in scent-lures that were placed at a camera-trap

4 Nov 2011. Into the mountains. The 70's lionesses remained in a "relatively" accessible area and another attempt was made to get close to them. But, only the two cubs showed themselves . The group then moved into the mountains. The efforts to dart the lionesses (other than Xpl-71) will be continued at a later date. The failed activities of the past few days have disturbed the lions and it is best to give them a break.

3 Nov 2011. Cubs. Another full night was spent with the Okongwe lions. There were two perfect darting opportunities. But in both cases, unfortunately, the lioness in-view was Xpl-71. She has the only functional radio collar (of three) in the group. Nonetheless, the observations at dawn this morning were valuable. They confirmed that Xpl-71 is the mother of the two cubs, that they are both males, and that the unmarked lioness is a young adult of approximately 4-5 years (photo: far right).

2 Nov 2011. Misfortune. The fresh carcass of a young oryx was found. The 70's lionesses must have killed it early yesterday morning. It presented an ideal opportunity to replace the faulty GPS collar of Xpl-72 and dart the unmarked lioness. The Land Cruiser was carefully tucked behind a thicket at 16h00 to wait patiently for the lions to return to their kill. Similar to the Hoanib Pride, the 70's lionesses are extremely skittish. They were reluctant to approach the carcass, even though no lights were used and care was taken to remain still and silent. It was a long night. The first sighting of the lions was at 05h00 when the unmarked lioness came up to the carcass. Xpl-72 was darted at 05h17. But, for some unexplained reason the dart failed. It appeared to have disintegrated, because only the tail-piece was found. Whilst (optimistically) searching for the "darted" Xpl-72 at the break of dawn, the lionesses were observed moving away from the vehicle. Xpl-72 was spotted (see far left in top photo) and this confirmed the dart malfunction.

1 Nov 2011. A bit of luck. A decision was made yesterday to spend the next few nights driving from sunset to sunrise along the existing tracks whilst scanning for radio-telemetry signals. The plan was to start at one point and cover all the known tracks in the Okongwe area, and then to repeat the procedure until a radio signal of the Okongwe lions is found, or until the Land Cruiser's fuel supply runs out. This was a good decision, because the radio signal of Xpl-71 was picked-up at 01h20 this morning (see map below). The blue graphics indicate the position of the Cruiser and the direction of the signal. It was not possible to cross the ridges at night and the signal disappeared quickly. But the tracks of the lions were located this morning and their movements were reconstructed (red line) to the point where the signal was picked-up (red 0). The radio signals of all three 70's lionesses were heard today and they are currently resting at the "X" point.