News - 2012

Feb

February

29 Feb 2012. Rain in the dunes! Xpl-69 was left in peace for a while with her cubs. The Floodplain was scanned for signs of the other lionesses and the adult male (Xpl-73 "Rosh"). The radio signals of the lionesses were heard near Auses before a heavy thunderstorm moved in from the north-east. The search for Xpl-73 "Rosh", who has not been observed since 12 Dec 2011, continued through the dunes to Oasis spring in exceptionally heavy rainfall. There was no sign of the male lion.

28 Feb 2012. Xpl-69. A camera-trap was rigged near a Salvadora thicket where Xpl-69 were hiding her cubs. The camera recorded the lioness on several occasions as she entered the thicket to nurse her cubs, but the cubs remained inside the bush. The lioness then killed an oryx a few kilometres away. The cubs are possibly still to young to join her at the kill.

27 Feb 2012. Okongwe. A large part of the Hoanib River and its tributaries were covered in search of Xpl-73 "Rosh" and the Hoanib Pride (Xpl-47 & Xpl-59). No radio signals were heard and the soft rain during the past three nights have erased all the tracks. The camera-trap in the Okongwe area recorded 1,515 photographs between 29 Nov 2011 and today. There were many interesting records of leopards and spotted hyaenas (see below) as well as other smaller carnivores, but no images of lions.

The radio signals of the 70's lionesses (the Okongwe group) were picked-up near the Obias River. They were located and observed briefly during the afternoon. Can you spot the lion (photo: top right)? One lioness was darted to replace the faulty radio collars and the effort to dart a second lioness lasted throughout the night, but was not successful.

26 Feb 2012. Predicament. At 06h30 this morning Xpl-69 was located in a thick Salvadora bush where she has stashed her cubs. Whilst maneuvring the Land Cruiser to get a visual of the cubs, but not paying sufficient attention to the obstacles in the way, the vehicle became stuck. The rear-axel was firmly lodged on a large log less than 50 metres from the bush where Xpl-69 and her cubs were lying. All effort to free the vehicle failed and the only remaining option was to lift the vehicle off the ground and remove the log. But, that had to be done without disturbing the lioness and her cubs. Fortunately a strong wind came up at 17h00 and the opportunity was used to free the vehicle. At sundown, Xpl-69 emerged from the thicket, apparently unperturbed or unaware of the commotions earlier, and moved casually past the vehicle. Her nipples showed signs of recent suckling. The cubs, unfortunately, did not show themselves.

25 Feb 2012. Rain clouds. There was a serious build-up of rain clouds in the East during the late afternoon, accompanied by lots of distant rumbling thunder. But, a strong west-wind came up from sea and by sundown the threatening storm had all been dissipated. One of the Floodplain lionesses (Xpl-69) was located near the border of the Skeleton Coast Park. She was alone and in the mids of hunting a small herd of oryx. A few brief sightings in the fading light confirmed that she gave birth and is still suckling her cubs (see photo: bottom right). This confirms that both young lionesses gave birth, as was suggested previously (see 17 Feb 2012).

24 Feb 2012. Radio Tracking. At sunset (23rd) a radio-tracking session was launched that extended through most of the night and today. The search included all the radio-collared lions of the Aub, Agab, Barab, Hunkap & Hoanib prides, including the two missing Obab lions. A total of 14 hours were driven, covering sections of the Uniab, Aub, Barab, Urunedis, Obab, Samanab, Kharu-Gaiseb and Hunkap Rivers. No radio-signals were picked up. Photographs were downloaded from a camera-trap in the Barab River and another in the Hunkap River (see photos below). The photo of the kudu bull in the lower Hunkap River is an interesting record as kudus do not generally occur here.

23 Feb 2012. Obab lions. Xpl-22 recovered well from the immobilisation during the night. The day was spent observing the lions from a distance and where possible photos were taken of the whisker-spot patterns of the cubs for their ID files. They became fixated on a black-backed and expended a lot of energy stalking the jackal.

The cubs (then 2 and 3 months old) and Xpl-22 when they were observed in March & April of 2011

22 Feb 2012. Dart Xpl-22. The entire day was spent sitting in the Land Cruiser near the Obab lions. At sunset the lions became active and the inquisitive cubs approach the vehicle. Xpl-22 was darted at 19h45. She fell asleep within 20 metres of the vehicle and was joined in "sympathy" by her daughter (see photo: bottom left). The faulty collar was removed and replaced with a working VHF radio collar. Several tourists and staff members from the Wilderness Safaris Desert Rhino Camp joined the event after Xpl-22 was asleep and assisted with the operation.

21 Feb 2012. Obab cubs survived. Observations earlier this morning on the Obab Pride confirmed that the five cubs (born in Jan 2011 - see 5 Mar 2011) are still alive. It was assumed that they had died after their mothers (Xpl-22 & 45) were observed without the cubs on several occasions during Nov & Dec 2011, followed by a "false" report that the lionesses were mating with the pride male. The cubs (four males & one female) are in good condition and had been feeding on an adult kudu bull that the lionesses killed in the Uniab River. The radio collar of Xpl-22 has failed and needs to be replaced.

20 Feb 2012. Moving South. With the Floodplain lions in an inaccessible area and extensive rainfall during the night (especially to the North), it was decided to shift the field work further south to the tributaries of the Uniab River. Wilderness Safaris reported sightings of several lions in the Uniab River. Due to the accuracy of these reports, the lions were located shortly after dark this evening. They belong to the Obab pride and it is an interesting observation because the Obab lions have not utilised this section of the Uniab River since the latter part of 2008. The radio collar of one lioness (Xpl-22) appeared to have failed. Attempts will be made to immobilise her during the next few days to replace the collar. The panoramic animation below is a view of the Uniab River approximately 15 km from the coast.

19 Feb 2012. Monitor lionesses. The Floodplain lionesses moved north of Auses spring into an area that, because of the sensitive terrain, cannot be accessed by vehicle. Many kilometres were driven during past 36 hours, monitoring their radio telemetry signals from various vantage points along the northern edge of the Floodplain and from the track leading to Gainas spring (see map). The red circle indicates their estimated current position and the arrows display the directions of the radio signals.

18 Feb 2012. Vehicle tracks. Several vehicles entered the Skeleton Coast Park illegally on 5 Jan & 1 Feb 2012. Some of the vehicles drove up a beautiful valley covered with tiny rose-quarts pebbles. The tracks will be visible for many years. It is alarming that a large percentage of tourist vehicles trespassing in the Skeleton Coast Park, also damage the area by driving off the existing tracks and leaving long-lasting scars on the pristine landscape. One wonders if this is due to ignorance or a selfish disregard for the environment. For it is puzzling why anyone, after enjoying the beautiful vistas, like the pink valley below, would then drive over it and scar the sensitive substrate for decades to come. Two elephant bulls are currently drinking at Auses spring. This complicated efforts to observe the lionesses somewhat, because one of the bulls was agitated by the Land Cruiser and care had to be taken to stay out of his way.

17 Feb 2012. Cubs. On 31 Dec 2011 it was suggested that the two young Floodplain lionesses gave birth at Auses spring and a camera-trap was mounted nearby (see News Dec 2011). The radio telemetry signals of the lionesses, including Xpl-10, were followed this morning and they were located at Auses spring. Photos captured by several camera-traps on the Floodplain confirmed that at least one lioness gave birth and that she was nursing her cubs at Auses spring (see below). On 11 Jan 2012 the lioness moved past two camera-taps, heading towards the East, presumably in search of food (notice the fresh suckle marks). She returned to Auses the following evening and was recorded again by both camera-traps. She was successful in finding food during this period - notice the size of her stomach, compared to the previous day.

Xpl-55 heading east - 11 Jan 2012 at 19:54
Xpl-55 is lactating and suckling cubs
Xpl-55 move past second camera at 20:16
Xpl-55 return to Auses - 12 Jan 2012 at 20:13
Full stomach on 12 Jan 2012 at 20:13
Empty stomach on 11 Jan 2012 at 19:54

16 Feb 2012. Painting. A beautiful painting of two lions at the mouth of the Uniab River (by Paul Augustinus) was donated to the Desert LIon Project by Rob Moffit of Wilderness Safaris. The paining was framed and is now hanging in the Mowe Bay Cabin (see top photo). The mouth of the Hoanib River and the hummocks west of Oasis spring were scanned, but there was no sign of the Floodplain lions. The camera-traps near Mowe Bay and at the mouth of the Hoanib River recorded many images of brown hyaenas.

15 Feb 2012. Mowe Bay. En route to Mowe Bay a survey was done of all the major ephemeral rivers for signs of lion movements. No radio telemetry signals or fresh track were found.

13 Feb 2012. Radio Telemetry. The Land Cruiser was serviced in Swakopmund during January 2012 and most of today was spent arranging funds and payment of the account. The Cruiser will be collected tomorrow morning. An order of 11 new radio collars was finalised today, based on available funds raised by the "Desert Lion - Collar Project" initiative (facilitated by Peter Sander) and the Facebook Group "Who killed our Namibian Lions?" (details of the donations will be listed when finalised). Three satellite and eight RFID Tag / VHF collars were ordered from African Wildlife Tracking in South Africa. In addition, African Wildlife Tracking offered to sponsor an addition satellite collar. The new and advanced technology used in the design of the collars is exciting. The satellite collars will transmit "realtime" GPS location data at pre-programmed times of the day/night when the likelihood of logging onto satellites is highest (using data collected from the GPS and satellite collars of desert lions over the past three years). This will save battery power and increase the lifespan of the collars. Only one lion in a group will be fitted with a satellite collar. The others can be fitted with Tag collars (at a fraction of the price). When the lions with Tag collars join the lion with the satellite collar (< 300 metres), the Tag will transmit data to the satellite collar, which in turn, will be sent to a server on the Internet.

12 Feb 2012. Return. After a productive, albeit extended, trip to South Africa the return to the desert was sweet. Several springboks were spotted near the beach north of Swakopmund. The Land Cruiser has been serviced and will be collected today. A new Budget for 2012 has been finalised and the Sponsors page has been updated.

9 Feb 2012. Durban. The final talk on the Desert Lion Project was presented to members of the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa in Durban this evening. It was a special event because it was the first occasion where the Desert Lion Project could interact with, and give feedback to, the Durban-members of LCCSA. Despite the heat and near-stifling humidity, its was a memorable experience. The audience was very well informed and it was a privilege to be there. Shaun Cullen is thanked for arranging the event. (Photos by S Cullen).

7 Feb 2012. Die Burger. Following the presentation held in Cape Town, a regional newspaper (Die Burger) published a supporting article by Eben Human.

5 Feb 2012. LCCSA Talks. The Desert Lion Project would like to thank Adolf Huester and Phil Meredith for arranging the presentation in Kempton Park (see photos below by Siggi B). In Cape Town, Giscard Pieters arranged the venue, whilst Johan Buys and Pierrre Bester provided transport and accommodation. The hospitality and support from members of the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa has been exceptional.

4 Feb 2012. LCCSA - Gauteng. A second talk on the Desert Lion Project was presented to members of the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa in Kempton Park this afternoon.

3 Feb. 2012. LCCSA - Cape Town. A talk on the Desert Lion Project was presented to members of the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa in Cape Town this evening. The presentation was well attended and further details will be presented soon.

1 Feb 2012. Cape Leopard Trust. A valuable opportunity to meet Quinton Martins and the research team of the Cape Leopard Trust was orchestrated by Johan Buys (of the LCCSA) during a brief visit to Cape Town. Photo by Eben Human of Die Burger.