News - October 2011


31 Oct 2011. Guess-work. After abandoning the lion tracks yesterday (because of the mountains), an attempt was made to intercept the lions. This was done by anticipating where they would move and to then access that area from a different direction following an accessible drainage line. The attempt failed. A camera-trap was set-up in a narrow gorge to assist the search effort by monitoring lion movements. The camera captured images of a male leopard at 01:23 this morning.

30 Oct 2011. "Mountain" lions. The tracks of the lionesses were followed for many kilometres, but the effort had to be abandoned when the lions moved into extremely rugged mountainous terrain. Several pairs of klipspringers were observed this morning.

29 Oct 2011. Okongwe area. The fresh tracks of two lionesses were picked-up in a narrow gorge. The tracks are being followed with the hopes of finding the lions before sunset. *Moment*.

28 Oct 2011. Rough terrain. A big effort is underway to locate the 70's lionesses in the Okongwe Mountains. Despite several recent attempts, they have not been observed since 29 Jul 2011 (see News - July 2011). It is important to locate them because: a) there is a technical problem with the GPS radio collar of Xpl-72 and it must be replaced, b) they have on three occasions threatened / killed livestock of the Purros Conservancy in the Gamatum River, and c) they are likely candidates to repopulate the Hoaruseb River. However, the Okongwe area is mountainous and extremely rugged (see satellite images below). It is hard on the field vehicle and difficult to locate radio-telemetry signals. In addition, the lions appear to be spending a lot of time amongst the mountain peaks and gorges towards the Northeast. During the past 36 hours, 187 km were driven in search of the lions and six flat tires had to be repaired. In the more rugged areas, where access by vehicle is impossible, 18 km were walked to search for tracks and radio-telemetry signals.

The search pattern by vehicle (yellow lines) for the Okongwe lions
The search pattern of the NE (red square) by vehicle and on foot (blue)

27 Oct 2011. Okongwe. No further tracks of the "mystery lion" were found in the Floodplain and the Hoanib River. The search was expanded to the Okongwe Mountains, whilst also searching for the 70's lionesses. Another cheetah was photographed by a camera-trap in the Hoanib River. It is possible that this is the same individual that was captured by a camera-trap in the Hoanib Floodplain on 15 Sep 2011.

26 Oct 2011. Male dynamics. The "mystery lion" was photographed again on 23 Oct 2011 by one of the camera-traps on the Floodplain. The tracks of the sub-adult male were found and followed as he moved past the camera-trap (photo: top left). The lion then noticed the camera and came back for a close-up inspection (photo: top left). The Floodplain Pride male (Xpl-73 "Rosh"), has been unusually active (and roaring a lot) during the past two days. Even during an intense sand-storm earlier today, he remained alert and on the look out. Xpl-73 is probably aware of the new male and will attempt to displace him. If this were the case, there is little chance of locating and darting the young male. Nonetheless, this type of social and territorial conflict is an essential part of lion socio-ecology and it is encouraging since most of the adult males in the area have recently been shot (see 2010 Research Report on Male-biased Mortality).

25 Oct 2011. Oryx kill. The Hoanib Floodplain Pride captured an oryx on the southern edge of the Floodplain. Fresh signs of the "mystery lion" (first recorded on 17 Oct 2011) could not yet be found.

Another honey badger was photographed by a camera-trap on the Hoanib Floodplain, along with a brown hyaena

24 Oct 2011. Honey badger. Photographs were retrieved from a camera-trap that was mounted in the lower Obab River during July 2011. There were no images of lions, but several of brown hyaenas and a unique sequence of a honey badger accompanied by a juvenile. Notice the pale, almost white, coat colour of the young badger.

23 Oct 2011. Camera-trap images. A camera-trap was mounted at an oryx kill of the Hoanib Pride on the night of 21/22 Oct 2011. Valuable images were captured of Xpl-47 ("Bianca"), Xpl-59 ("E=MC^2"), their five cubs and the incident with the elephants (see 22 Oct 2011, below). Notice the reflection of the eyes of the lions behind the elephant.

"Bianca" (Xpl-47)
Rare photos of "E=MC^2" (Xpl-59) that lost her radio collar - see 12 & 13 Sep 2011
Images of the cubs. They are now 10 - 11 months old
Elephants (mouse-over for additional image)

22 Oct 2011. Elephants in the Hoanib. Efforts to observe and hopefully dart Xpl-47 ("Bianca") or Xpl-59 to fit new radio collars were spoiled during the night by a group of 12 elephants that approached the Land Cruiser and the lions. A hasty retreat had to be made when the elephants chased the lions and the vehicle. Thereafter, Xpl-73 ("Rosh") was located. He was followed moving towards the Hoanib Floodplain, where he met-up with Xpl-10 and the two young lionesses. Attempts to locate the "mystery lion" have thus far been unsuccessful.

21 Oct 2011. Hoanib Pride. Xpl-73 was observed for 18 hours. He was alone for the entire period and did not interact with other lions. The search for the "mystery lion" was continued further east along the Hoanib River. Strong winds during the past two days have obliterated the tracks and finding the lion will now only be a matter of luck. "Bianca" (Xpl-47) and other members of the Hoanib Pride were located near the Obias River. *Moment*.

19-20 Oct 2011. Tracking mystery lion. At closer inspection of the tracks of the "mystery lion" (photographed by a camera-trap in the Hoanib Floodplain on 16 Oct 2011) it became clear that the lion is a sub-adult male and not a lioness as initially suggested. Under difficult conditions (strong winds) the tracks of the "mystery lion" were followed for 35 km. Xpl-73 ("Rosh") was located near Amp's Poort and he is currently being observed because there is a chance that he might interact with the sub-adult male.

19 Oct 2011. Tribute to Patrick Haredoep. News was received that Patrick passed away in Otjiwarongo a few days ago. He was a colleague and a friend for more than 20 years. Patrick worked for the Ministry of Environment & Tourism and he was a key member of the Desert Lion Project between 1998 and 2004.

18 Oct 2011. Meeting at Mowe Bay. Several of the tour operators that were involved in the generous donation of a new MacBook computer (see 7 Aug 2011 and Sponsors) paid a visit to the Desert Lion Project. Discussions were also held with the Ministry of Environment & Tourism staff to foster collaboration on conservation issues and to improve communications.

17 Oct 2011. Mystery lion. The two Floodplain lionesses were still at the oryx carcass today. One lioness was spotted briefly, but the radio telemetry signals of both lionesses were present. The western section of the Hoanib Floodplain, including Auses spring (see animation below), was inspected for signs of the rest of the Floodplain Pride. The radio telemetry signals of "Rosh" (Xpl-73) and Xpl-69 were not be heard, but a camera-trap recorded two images of a lioness at 06h00 yesterday morning. This lioness does not appear to be Xpl-69 because Xpl-69 has a black radio collar that ought to have been visible on the photographs (see below). Efforts will be made to track down this lioness.

16 Oct 2011. Seals. Earlier this morning the two Floodplain lionesses killed an oryx close to Oasis spring. They were observed with the spotting scope from the same vantage point as yesterday. After the lionesses had settled for the day, the area around the seal colony at Mowe Bay was inspected, but there was no evidence of lions visiting the colony.

15 Oct 2011. Hummocks. The two Floodplain lionesses have been observed from a high vantage point (the top of a dune at Oasis spring) as they moved amongst the hummocks between the dune-belt and the coastline. The movements of the lionesses were followed using a powerful spotting-scope. The red circles below indicate the two lionesses with the sea in the background. At 07h12 this morning the lionesses spotted a small herd of oryx and they stalked towards them. The hunt lasted over an hour, but it is unclear if they captured an oryx, because the final stage of the chase happened behind a set of hummocks.

14 Oct 2011. Oasis. During the night the two Floodplain lionesses (Xpl-10 & 55) crossed the dune-belt to Oasis spring. They continued moving towards the coast after sunrise, but could not be followed because of the sensitive terrain.

13 Oct 2011. Giraffe hunt. Two white storks have been observed on the Hoanib Floodplain throughout the dry season - this is unusual as they are generally summer visitors to southern Africa. Two lionesses of the Floodplain Pride (Xpl-10 & Xpl-55) were located at Auses spring. At sundown they started an elaborative hunt on a small group of giraffes. After 52 minutes the hunt failed. The lionesses started moving towards the coast.

12 Oct 2011. Male lion. The spoor of a male lion was located on the gravel plains west of the Hoanib Floodplain. The tracks were followed for several hours, but the lion crossed the dunes to the northeast of Oasis spring. It is likely that the tracks belong to Xpl-73 ("Rosh"). Fieldwork was hamperred somewhat by flat tires that, in the absence of spare wheels, had to be repaired on the spot.

10/11 Oct 2011. Mechanical problem. The Land Cruiser's auxiliary fuel pump (used to transfer fuel from the spare tanks to the main fuel tank) failed. A second-hand fuel pump was acquired and after some minor modifications it was installed successfully.

9 Oct 2011. Repairs. A new mounting on the roof-rack of the Land Cruiser was designed for the radio telemetry antenna using an old ice hockey stick. It is hoped that the hockey stick will be able to absorb the vibrations of the vehicle traveling over the rough terrain.

8 Oct 2011. Raptors. A strange raptor was observed perched on a hummock at the mouth of the Huab River. The bird could not be identified and whilst taking a photo of it (for identification), the following sequence enfolded (see photos below). The photos were sent to Steve Braine (a local expert). The initial assessment is that the darker bird may be a hybrid Augur/Jackal Buzzard and the other a sub-adult Augur Buzzard, but the images are still being reviewed.

7 Oct 2011. Cabin. Since Mowe Bay became available as a base-camp for the Desert Lion Project in early May 2011, visits to the Cabin have been sporadic. A total of only 9 days (out of 160 days) were spent at the Cabin. Notwithstanding, the benefits of the new base-camp - such as improved communication with the Ministry of Environment & Tourism staff in the Skeleton Coast Park and easier access to important sections of the study area as well as the fuel depot at Terrace Bay - have already become noticeable. The panoramic animation (below) displays a view of Mowe Bay from the north-east to the north-west, as seen from the Cabin.

6 Oct 2011. Hoanib Lagoon. Movement data downloaded from the GPS radio collars of Xpl-10 and Xpl-73 "Rosh" revealed that they were at the mouth of the Hoanib River between 25 and 27 Sep 2011. They spent a few days close to Oasis spring (photo: top right) and then moved towards the coast and into the reeds at the Hoanib lagoon - a few hundred metres from the sea. The two maps below indicate the locations (red crosses) recorded by the GPS collars. *Moment*.

5 Oct 2011. Xpl-10. A camera-trap in the lower Hoanib River captured the following photos (below) of Xpl-10 in the midst of hunting. The images were recorded on 29 Sep 2011 at 07:15.

4 Oct 2011. "Rosh" During the night Xpl-73 moved westwards along the Hoanib Floodplain and he was observed this morning on a dune just south of Auses spring.

3 Oct 2011. Hoanib River. The Hoanib Pride and Xpl-47 could not be located during the day, but the Floodplain lionesses were found a few kilometres west of the Mudorib River.

2 Oct 2011. Male lion. The intensity of fieldwork during the past month has had an impact on the Land Cruiser. A mounting on the steering shock was dislodged and the rooftop-mounting of the radio telemetry antenna broke off. Temporary repairs were made, but both items need to be welded and a trip to Mowe Bay or Swakopmund will be required soon. The spoor of a male lion was found in the Mudorib River. The tracks were followed for several kilometres and Xpl-73 "Rosh" was eventually located just north of the Hoanib River. A camera-trap at Hunkap spring recorded a cheetah on 3 Sep 2011 and also captured an interesting image of a small bird (possibly a chat or a lark) flying past the lens. This photo has been sent to local experts for identification.

1 Oct 2011. Cheetahs. Hazy skies and poor visibility during the past few days may be due to veldt fires ignited by all the lighting observed further east. Three male cheetahs were spotted near Swartmodder spring.