Operational & Research Base Camps

The Desert Lion Project is based at Wereldsend (map), a little oasis in the desert, that was first put on the map by the legendary Garth Owen-Smith. Wereldsend is occupied by IRDNC that use it as their field head quarters for the Kunene Region.

Concept of a "Mobile Research Station"
During the past 21 years I have developed and used a variety of base camps and fly-camps for support in remote areas (see text below). The “fly-camps” were generally rudimentary structures, but provided shade, protection from the elements, and a place to store supplies. I would return to a fly-camp every few days or weeks to stock-up on supplies and to process research data. After a year or two, depending on the movements of the lions and the research needs, fly-camps would be dismantled and moved to a more suitable location. The growth of the lion population and the increase in the size of the study area has made it difficult to return to fly-camps regularly. As a result I have lived and worked entirely out of my vehicle for the past two years, and the need for a more mobile research camp has become essential (see photos below).

The quality of compact 4x4 caravans have improved substantially due to the growing tourism industry. A well-equipped 4x4 caravan would be the ideal solution as a fly-camp. If equipped as a functional laboratory, office, and base-camp the 4x4 caravan will provide the necessary facilities and support to run the Desert Lion Project efficiently.

The Ammer Foundation in Germany have agreed to fund such a Mobile Research Station.

Kunene Lion Camp (1999 - 2005)
During the early years of the study we operated from small and movable "fly-camps". But once we had a better understanding of the lions and their movements, there was a need for a more permanent base. The methods and techniques we developed to study the lion population, in the difficult terrain and isolated area, required a central and secure base-camp from which to operate. The Kunene Lion Camp was built in October 1999 near the Urunedis River. The Lion Camp soon formed the lifeline of the study, by providing safe storage and accessibility to research equipment, operational supplies (e.g. petrol, Avgas, spares), water, and food. From this base, that also acted as a field “laboratory” where data & blood samples were processed, the entire study area could be covered by excursions of 2-7 day. During such excursions temporary landing strips were often built and used as rendezvous points, and as fly-camps. The Kunene Lion Camp served the project well for over four years (1999-2004), but the extreme weather took its' toll on the camp and it needed extensive renovations. However, due to the growth and expansion of the lion population between 2002 and 2004, the location of the Lion Camp had become unsuitable. It was decided to build a new base camp in a better location.

Fly-camp during the early days
The Kunene Lion Camp
Fly-camp at temporary landing strip

Wereldsend Camp (2005 - to date)
The best location for a new base was identified at Wereldsend, where IRDNC have their regional station. The location is central to the current lion distribution and the predicted expansion of lions. The security at the Kunene Lion Camp had come into question, after it was burgled in 2004. Large quantities of supplies and most of our research equipment were stolen. The Wereldsend base provide better security. Funding was granted by PCT UK to help with the building of the new research base, and it was completed in June 2005. It consists of a rudimentary building, constructed with local basalt rocks, wood, and shade netting. The building has three subdivisions: an office/laboratory, a kitchen/workshop, and a store room. There is a separate shower and a toilet, that was built with reeds. Solar panels were erected and the camp was wired to supply 12 Volt DC lights and two 220 Volt AC power points, via an inverter. The office/laboratory was supplied with a fridge and other equipment for blood sample processing. A shade-net hanger was erected for the aircraft, and it also serves to store fuel and equipment. A small airstrip, 180 metres long, was built next to the new base camp.

Aircraft hangar
Main camp - office & lab
Wereldsend Camp - May 2006

During routine monitoring and research we make use of "fly-camps" because the study area is too large to return to a base camp every night. Some field trips last as long as 4 weeks and during this period a new fly-camp will be pitched in a different spot every night.

Fy-camp on the banks of the Hoaruseb River (November 2006 ).