IntroductionNamibia supports a unique population of desert-adapted lions that survive in the harsh Namib Desert. The “desert” lion is a prominent feature in Namibia and is highly valued, both aesthetically and financially, by the growing tourism industry. Namibia has received international recognition (e.g. CITES) for successful conservation efforts, such as the Communal Conservancy Programme, which has lead to significant increases in wildlife numbers, especially in the arid areas.
With the growing wildlife populations, however, the conflict between lions and the local people has intensified as lions are killing livestock more regularly. In protection of their livestock, farmers often shoot, trap, or poison lions. These local communities bear the costs of living with lions, but do not share equally in the benefits from tourism, and they receive little assistance in managing conflicts.
The value of the unique “desert” lions to tourism in the Kunene Region in particular, and to the Namibian tourism industry in general, is of great significance. However, for the long-term conservation of desert lions to succeed, there is a need to monitor their population ecology and to address human-lion conflicts.
This long-term study therefore aims to learn more about this unique lion population and assist local communities with conflicts whenever and wherever they occur. This knowledge will help in the successful conservation of the species will benefit both the tourism industry and the local communities which generally bear the costs of living with these predators. Both lions and people will thus benefit from the project.
Researcher: Dr Flip StanderRegion: Namibia
Organization: TOSCO Trust
The Desert Lion Conservation Project was started by Dr Flip Stander in 1998. He worked for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for 23 years, studying the ecology of large carnivores. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in 1994, and his thesis on the evolution of sociality in felids, was awarded the “T H Huxley Prize” by the London Zoological Society. He is considered the Namibian “lion expert,” especially when it comes to desert-adapted lions, which he has studied full time for the last 14 years.
- Collect baseline ecological data on the population dynamics, behaviour, and movements of lions.
- Monitor the key ecological and biological parameters of the desert lion population.
- Monitor the frequency and impact of conflicts between people and lions.
- Develop and implement human-lion conflict management plans at local community level.
- Develop and promote specialised “lion eco-safaris” and other forms of sustainable utilisation.
- Collaborate with Government, local communities, and NGOs to further lion conservation.
- Make important information available to the world, through publication and the Internet.
MethodologyDarting and measurement taking is the primary technique used. Large carnivores, such as lions, are generally difficult to study, especially in a desert environment such as the Kunene Region. Lions, like all other felids, are “stalkers” – they make use of cover and camouflage to stalk up to their prey, followed by a quick final rush. As a result, lions are difficult to locate and spot in the vastness of the Namib Desert.
The study area is covered systematically by tracking spoor, setting out bait and using sound playbacks to locate and capture individual lions. Adult and sub-adult lions are captured and individually marked with a hot brand, and several lions in each sub-group are marked with a radio collar.
A method was developed to use the reticle of the Zeiss [Diavari V3-12x56T] telescope, mounted on a dart gun, to estimate the distance of a lion from the dart gun. Accurate range estimation is crucial to successful dartings, especially under low-light conditions or in darkness, when most of dartings occur. Detailed measurements were collected from several adult lionesses of the perpendicular view of body length, chest height and shoulder width.
A shape of a lion was constructed with these measurements and placed at distances ranging from 20 to 50 metres from the dart gun (at 10 metre intervals). The images observed through the telescope were photographed.
A light aircraft is used to systematically locate radio-collared animals. Aerial locations are followed up by ground observations to record group composition in relation to individuals and age/sex structure, and the ratio of marked to unmarked individuals. Life tables are constructed and updated to compute survivorship and mortality rates. The population dynamics of lions are evaluated by monitoring, since 1999, a core group of 13 radio-collared lions. These analyses include several population parameters, such as birth rates, mortality, fecundity, exponential rate of increase, and age-specific survivorship. Home range analyses are based on locating the daytime resting spots of lions by radio telemetry, with at least 24 hours between fixes. Home range size is calculated using the Minimum Convex Polygon (MCP) and Kernel Contour methods.
On the 10th of April, one of the collars donated by the Wilderness Trust was fitted on XPL-104 “Margaux,” a six-year-old lioness living in the Okongwe mountains. She has been seen mating with some of the Musketeers and often causing Human-Lion conflict in the nearby village of Tomakas.
Two lion satellite collars were placed on a male and a female respectively in 2015 sponsored partly by Wilderness Trust, thus allowing a better study and protection of the Namibian desert adapted lion population.
The Desert Lion Project is sad to report that the “Terrace Male” (Xpl-68) was killed near Tomakas village on 24 August. An autopsy performed concluded that he was shot, dying quickly after the bullet entered his heart. A detailed analysis of the findings and a summary of all data collected on Xpl-68 will be compiled and presented to the local authorities and to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
The Terrace Male was a remarkable lion. With the aid of new technology, such as satellite radio collars, we had a window of opportunity to learn a vast amount about lion that live in extreme environments like the desert. While we may not yet fully understand the significance of his activities and behaviour, he certainly changed our views on lion movements and social dynamics. Importantly, the information also helped us to appreciate the variability and complexities of lion behavioural ecology.
Xpl-68 wore a satellite collar for 762 days, with 12 265 location data points recorded. During this period he moved over an area of over 40 000 sq. km, including a trip into Angola. He walked 12 838 km at a phenomenal average of 17.1 km per day. He regularly walked over 50 km per day, with a maximum of 71.2 km on one day. These statistics exceed all known records of lion movements anywhere in Africa by a significant margin.
The collar provided through the Wilderness Trust and fitted to the lioness from the Okongwe Pride, XPL 70 is working well. Her position is published online daily and is checked by the lion rangers situated in the area. If she is close to human settlements, the rangers are able to anticipate the conflict by warning the herders. No lion have been shot or poisoned since the programme was implemented two years ago.
Dr Flip Stander has also collared two additional lion with funds channelled through the Trust. These lion live close to human settlements so the collars will help with monitoring and anticipating potential conflict.
A lion-proof boma has been built at Slangpos in the Huab Valley. Phase 2 will now be implemented with the installation of a net around the boma. Phase 3 will be introduction of a flashing light system.
These efforts will lead to be better lion tolerance in this crucial human/lion conflict area. Without this pilot programme, several lions of pride could have been legally taken out. Instead we are building on a long-term project involving local communities, conservation organisations and tour operators.
April 2013: Donation for a female satellite collar
The provision of suitable satellite collars plays a vital role to better understand lion behaviour. The collars could also play a role as an early warning system for the farmers and herdsmen in areas that were prone to human-predator conflict as a result of lions killing livestock as a source of food.This contribution will therefore be another major boost for the project in that it has enabled the purchase of a new satellite collar as well as pre-paid air time for two years.
Dr Stander has identified an appropriate lioness (XPL-70, picture below) posing a potential threat to the livelihood of the farmers and by attaching this collar, this will hopefully avert the inevitable livestock losses and subsequent elimination of the desert adapted lions as the necessary precautionary steps can be put into place in time to prevent these.The satellite collar provided by Wilderness Trust through TOSCO to the Desert Lion Conservation was fitted to Xpl-70 – a lioness of the Okongwe Pride – on 17 Feb 2013. The daily movements of Xpl-70 can be viewed on the Desert Lion website under the Hoanib Pride (along with the movements of “Rosh” Xpl-73): http://www.desertlion.info/gpscollars/gps_73.html This will significantly anticipate local conflict with communities and make a real positive difference on the field.