News - 2012

Mar

March

29 Mar 2012. Vehicle Repaired. The Land Cruiser was repaired at Alfons Motors in Swakopmund. After some difficulty in isolating the problem, a call was made to JB Auto Repairs in Cape Town for advice. Johann Meyer is thanked for his expert advice that led to the repair of the problem 15 minutes later. Alfons Motors kindly sponsored the labour and repair costs.

27 Mar 2012. Contaminated Fuel. The problems experienced with the Land Cruiser because of contaminated fuel (that started already on 10 Mar 2012) became extremely bad during the last few days in the Huab River. It is quite remarkable that the vehicle kept going under the circumstances and in doing so, it resulted in the darting of the two Huab lionesses. The Land Cruiser is now being driven back to Swakopmund for repairs. The last of the second batch of BFG Mud Terrain KM2 tires, sponsored by Michelin, finally reached the end of its life at 23,908 km. This remarkable tire (B2) had a total of 14 punctures during its lifespan and performed significantly better than the rest of the batch, where the average lifespan was 5,651 km.

26 Mar 2012. Fantastic opportunity in Huab. The recent observations and work on the Huab lions revealed several significant developments. 1) It is the first time that lions have settled in the Huab River since the reign of Xpl-16 "Miles" & Xpl-23, almost ten years ago. 2) It is the first time in probably >20 years (according to our available records) that a stable pride of lions (males, females and cubs that were born here) have settled in the Huab. 3) This development presents a unique opportunity for the Torra Conservancy and the tourism operators (e.g. Wilderness Safaris - that have two camps nearby, and several others that regularly use the area) to embark on a joint venture of lion eco-tourism, similar to the programme in the Purros Conservancy with the Hoaruseb lions (2006 - 2011). Because of the time spent with the two lionesses when they were younger, they are quite habituated to vehicles and can be approached and viewed by tourists. Without much effort this small pride (especially with the small cubs) can become a high-value tourism product, similar to the Hoaruseb lions. However, as the viewing of the lions by tourists increase, the lions (especially the cubs) will become more habituated to vehicles, which will unfortunately make them more vulnerable to being shot or poisoned during incidents of conflict over livestock of the nearby villages in Torra Conservancy. The benefits that the livestock owners and Torra Conservancy could generate from lion-tourism should far out-way the losses due to livestock predation by the lions. Following the model developed for the Hoaruseb lions/Purros Conservancy, and with collaboration between Torra Conservancy and the tour operators, the Huab lions could become a premium tourism attraction.

25 Mar 2012. The Oryx Carcass. The remains of an oryx carcass that the Huab male (Xpl-68) was feeding on for the past two days was "stolen" from him yesterday afternoon, whilst he was resting in thick vegetation some distance away. The carcass was loaded on a vehicle and driven for 12 km, where it was used successfully to attract and dart the two lionesses (see 24 Mar 12). However, the Huab male was not to be outdone. Miraculously, he arrived at the scene before the lionesses had fully recovered from the anaesthetics (before midnight) and re-claimed his carcass.

Xpl-68 after retrieving his carcass
Xpl-75 - Jun 2009 (top) & yesterday (bottom)
Xpl-76 - Apr 2009 (top) & yesterday (bottom)

24 Mar 2012. The Huab Lionesess. As luck would have it the two lionesses emerged from the gorge before sunset and both were darted during daylight. Darting lions during the day is a luxury that rarely happens in this research project. As suspected, the two lionesses originate from the Obab Pride and are the daughters of Xpl-22. During the past 18 months, photographs of two lionesses in the Huab River were submitted by tourists and local tour operators and their whisker patterns had been matched with the two female cubs of Xpl-22 ( X22/7/1 & 3). They were last seen in the Hunkap River (130 km to the northwest) in June 2009. Their identities were confirmed and both lionesses (now Xpl-75 & Xpl-76) were radio-collared. Xpl-75 received a GPS collar and Xpl-76 a conventional VHF collar. The Desert Lion Project would like to thank everyone that submitted sighting reports and photographs of the Huab lions during the past 18 months.

23 Mar 2012. Lionesses move West. Seventeen hours (15h00 to 08h00 the next morning) were spent sat in the Land Cruiser near the oryx carcass waiting for the lioness. During the afternoon a slender mongoose moved past the vehicle and presented a rare opportunity for a photograph. The Huab male (Xpl-68) was observed feeding on the oryx carcass during the night, but the lioness was not present. Close to midnight the distant call of another lion was heard and Xpl-68 responded. He then moved off, but returned to the carcass a few hours later and was still there at 08h00 this morning. A comprehensive search for the lioness and her cubs was launched and, with the assistance of Johann Cloete (Wilderness Safaris), the tracks of not one, but two lionesses and approximately five cubs were found. The tracks were followed in a westerly direction along the Huab River for 12 km to a narrow gorge with dense Salvadora thickets. The area around the gorge was scanned for tracks, but none were found and it is suspected that the lions are resting inside gorge. Hopes are to intercept the lions when they emerge from the gorge this evening.

22 Mar 2012. Huab Male. Several wind-blown lion tracks were found in the Huab River at the border of the Skeleton Cost Park. The area east of Peter's Pool where the lioness with cubs had been observed was reached at sunset. The Huab male (Xpl-68) was located during the night. He is feeding on an oryx carcass. The lioness has not yet been seen. The thick Salvadora bushes, where she has been hiding her cubs, and soft rain during the night and morning has made it difficult to confirm if she is with Xpl-68.

21 Mar 2012. Huab. A report was received from Johann Cloete (Wilderness Safaris - Damaraland Camp) of a lioness with several small cubs in the Huab River (see photos by D Lehmann). Despite the mechanical problems experienced with the vehicle, an attempt is made to get to the Huab River and investigate the report.

20 Mar 2012. Heading for Mowe Bay. The mating lions moved into the mountains and could not be located again after sunrise when the thick mist had lifted. A brief search for the Floodplain lionesses and cubs also produced no results. The Land Cruiser experienced problems due to contaminated fuel. An effort is underway to drive to Mowe Bay for repairs. At dusk a brown hyaena was spotted near the airfield.

19 Mar 2012. Mystery lioness. The radio signal of Xpl-73 "Rosh" was located near Amp's Poort and a report was received from Wilderness Safaris of the tracks of two lions. The tracks were inspected and were found to be those of a male (Xpl-73) and a female, and than they had been mating for at least two days. Xpl-73 was located high up on a mountain ridge and he was with a lioness. With all the Floodplain females about 20 km to the Northwest, this was possibly a lioness from the Hoanib Pride. To great surprise the lioness was radio-collared, but the collar was not working. Photos taken with a powerful lens were edited and analysed to identify the female. There are two possible matches: the most likely is Xpl-71 (Okongwe Group - last seen in Nov 2011) and Xpl-57 (Hoanib Group - last seen in October 2010). The entire night was spent trying to dart the lioness to replace the faulty collar and to confirm her identity. But, with the dark moon and thick mist that settled in at 02h00, it was a futile effort.

18 Mar 2012. Females search for food. During the night the three Floodplain lionesses left the cubs to go hunting. The cubs played for a while, but then took to the shelter of a small cave. The lionesses returned early the next morning and were eagerly met by the cubs.

17 Mar 2012. Surprise. At sunrise the three Floodplain lionesses were observed hunting amongst the hills and broken terrain south of Sima Hill. They stalked a herd of oryx and several ostriches, but without success. At 10h00 they returned to the cubs. Many hours were spent finding the cave where they stashed the cubs, and approaching it slowly to avoid any disturbance. The afternoon was spent sitting nearby in the Land Cruiser waiting for an opportunity to observe and sex (how many males & females) the cubs. When the cubs became active at sunset, they played furiously in and between the rocks and it was difficult to keep track of an individual. Most of the cubs that were viewed were males, but they continuously disappeared behind the rocks and the sex composition is yet unknown. A surprising observation was made close to sunset, when a fifth cub suddenly appeared (see photo: bottom right). This cub appears to belong to Xpl-55. The three cubs of Xpl-55 are slightly older than the two cubs of Xpl-69.

16 Mar 2012. Hoanib Floodplain Cubs. During the past 24 hours more than 350 kilometres were driven in search of the Floodplain Pride. The route started in the lower Hunkap River and continued to the Hoanib Floodplain, Amp's Poort, Sima Hill and back to the Hoanib River. In the late afternoon the adult male (Xpl-73 "Rosh") was located in the granite hills north of the Hoanib River (photo: top left). But he was alone. The search continued and at sunset, Xpl-10 and the two young lionesses were found several kilometres south of Sima Hill. The lionesses were accompanied by four small cubs and this marks the first observation of Xpl-55 with her two cubs (photo: top right). The cubs were observed playing for more than an hour.

15 Mar 2012. Western Plains. The Hunkap River was followed to the dune-belt that lies a few kilometres from the ocean. The area was searched for signs of lion movements and for the radio signals of the Hoanib, Floodplain and Obab Prides. A surprisingly large number of zebra, springbok and oryx were observed. A few wind-blown lion tracks were spotted, but no radio signals or fresh tracks were found. A family of Bat-eared foxes were observed on the grassy plain east of the dunes.

14 Mar 2012. New Spring. As a result (probably) of the high rainfall in recent years and the flooding of the Hunkap in 2011, a significant spring developed in the lower section of the Hunkap River. It is currently a substantial source of water that is utilised by large numbers of antelope (mainly oryx & zebra) and birds (thousands of sandgrouse were observed this morning). The tracks of lions, cheetahs and brown hyaenas were also recorded. Whilst surveying the area around the spring, a brown hyaena arrived and ID photos were collected (see below). The Land Cruiser's insurance, sponsored by the Bennie Meiring Trust, has recently been renewed (see Sponsors).

13 Mar 2012. Lower Hunkap. The area towards the Hunkap River and up to the Hunkap spring was covered early this morning and produced no results. The search was continued westwards along the Hunkap River. There was a substantial increase in the observed numbers of wildlife (oryx, zebras & springboks), and several sets of lion tracks were spotted. The soft rain that fell during the night unfortunately covered the tracks. It was therefore not possible to determine if the lion tracks were made recently (several hours or a few days ago) or several weeks ago. The lower part of the Hunkap River had not been driven since the floods of April 2011 and the track had been washed away. A new route must now be made whilst trying to follow the course of the original track.

12 Mar 2012. Heat. The upper reaches of the Mudorib River was searched for signs of the Hoanib lionesses and several other radio-collared lions that utilise this area. A camera-trap (removed from Amp's Poort) was mounted at a small spring in the mountains where the tracks of several lions, a leopard and a group of three cheetahs were observed. The thunder storms of yesterday was replaced by high ambient temperatures (41° C inside the Land Cruiser at 14h52). But, it cooled down significantly towards sunset. The valleys leading down to the Hunkap River are being surveyed with the aid of the waning gibbous moon. *Moment*.

11 Mar 2012. Mudorib Mountains. The search for the Hoanib lionesses has been expanded to the mountains north of the Hoanib River. The Mudorib River and several of its major tributaries were covered up to the Mudorib spring, and further south to the water-divide with the Hunkap River. The radio-telemetry signal of Xpl-47 "Bianca" was not heard, but fresh lion tracks were found close to Mudorib spring. The search was hampered by big thunderstorms and heavy downpours during the afternoon and evening. The electrical storms caused considerable electronic interference to the radio-telemetry receiver, which made it difficult to identify a possible radio-telemetry signal. Furthermore the heavy local downpours, and especially those further inland, pose the risk of sudden flash-floods. As a result, the search effort and pattern had to be adapted to avoid being trapped by unexpected floodwaters.

10 Mar 2012. Lionesses. The tracks of Xpl-73 "Rosh" were followed for more than 20 km to the Mudorib waterhole in the Hoanib River, where he met-up with the three Floodplain lionesses. Both young lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) still appear to be suckling their cubs. No sign of the Hoanib females have yet been found.

On 28 Feb 2012 the camera-trap in Okongwe captured photographs of three lionesses that belong the 70's group.
An ultra-violet torch has been used to avoid scorpions when walking around at night. With a normal white light, scorpions are difficult to see (left photo), but under a "black" light they appear luminous green and are easy to spot, as the photos of a highly poisonous Parabuthus species demonstrate.

9 Mar 2012. One male lion. The tracks of a male lions was found at the Obias junction in the Hoanib River. The tracks were followed in an easterly direction. Eventually Xpl-73 "Rosh" was located inside a dense Salvadora thicket close to the Ganamub Poort. It is unsure if he is alone or with other lions from the Hoanib Pride. The afternoon & evening was spent waiting for him / them to emerge from the thicket. During the early part of the night Xpl-73 roared occasionally, but by 01h30 he was still inside the thicket.

8 Mar 2012. Search for Hoanib Pride. The Floodplain lionesses were located this morning, but little time was spent with them, in favour of locating the Hoanib Pride. There is an urgent need to replace the dysfunctional radio collars of the two adult lionesses (Xpl-47 & 59) and the remainder of the full-moon period will be committed to that. At sunset there was a big build-up of rain clouds to the east of the Ganamub River.

7 Mar 2012. Search for Xpl-55. Whilst the two lionesses (Xpl-10 & 69) were still with the cubs, attention was turned to locating the third lioness (Xpl-55) that is presumably with her cubs somewhere north of the Floodplain. Xpl-55 was located north of the Hoanib River, moving eastwards towards the other lionesses. She is still lactating. During the late afternoon the lionesses met-up and they continued hunting into the night. The Land Cruiser was running low on fuel and observations were stopped to refuel at Terrace Bay.

6 Mar 2012. More on Xpl-60's cubs. The lionesses (Xpl-69 & Xpl-10) remained with the cubs throughout the night. The cubs explored the rock outcrop and under the guidance of their mother found a suitable cave. Here they'll have to hide in safety when the lionesses leave shortly to hunt for food. Below is a panoramic view of the landscape to the east & south of the cave (indicated by the red circle). The photographs of Xpl-69 and her two cubs were captured at sunrise this morning.

5 Mar 2012. First sighting of cubs. The three lionesses returned to the Hoanib River late last night. Xpl-55 continued moving westwards to the Floodplain (presumably to her cubs) and Xpl-69 & 10 remained behind near the border of the Skeleton Coast Park. Xpl-69 was located early this morning where she had stashed her cubs in a thick Salvadora bush. At 10:00 she led two cubs out of the thick river vegetation and into the desert. They were approximately 5 weeks old and struggled to follow Xpl-69 over the rough terrain. They were especially uneasy in the soft sand had difficulty crossing the smallest of sand dunes (see below). The lioness was attentive and guided her cubs over the obstacles for roughy 2 km to a rocky outcrop, where they were joined by Xpl-10.

Click on Play to view a short video-clip of Xpl-69 encouraging her cubs to traverse a small sand dune.

Care was taken not to disturb the lions by monitoring their activities from a healthy distance (> 600 metres). The cubs soon started exploring their new rocky environment.

4 Mar 2012. Lionesses still at large. The search for the Floodplain lionesses continued with the same intensity. At midday the fresh tracks of two lionesses were found crossing the Hoanib River, but no radio signals have yet been heard. The adult male (Xpl-73 "Rosh") was observed again this afternoon. He also appeared to be looking for the lionesses.

The camera-traps in and around the Hoanib Floodplain captured interesting images (see below) of a porcupine and several small carnivores (honey badger, striped polecat, African wild cat, Bat-eared fox and aardwolf).

3 Mar 2012. Search for Lionesses. During the night the three Floodplain lionesses disappeared and left Xpl-73 "Rosh" behind. They presumably returned to where they had stashed their cubs. An extensive search was launched, covering almost 200 km over difficult terrain, but they could not yet be located.

2 Mar 2012. Floodplain Reunion. The radio telemetry signal of Xpl-73 "Rosh" was picked-up far north of the Hoanib Floodplain. After following the signal for some distance, the Floodplain Pride was spotted through the heat-waves. They were resting under an overhang several kilometres away (photo: top left). This is the first time in several weeks that the three lionesses and the male have been together. All three females are lactating and show signs of recent suckling by their cubs (bottom photos).

Xpl-55
Xpl-69
Xpl-10

1 Mar 2012. Monitoring cubs. A camera-trap placed on the northern bank of the Hoanib River captured several images of the lioness (Xpl-69) at the location where her cubs were hidden. Surprisingly, a brown hyaenas also visited the area and was photographed by the same camera. The hyaena did not appear to have been a threat to the cubs because the data recorded by the camera suggested that Xpl-69 was with the cubs at the time.