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Namibia Desert Lion Conservation

Dr Flip Stander

  • Namibia 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.

  • 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 2 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.

    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 2 years. Dr Stander has identified an appropriate lioness (XPL-70) 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.

     

  • The ultimate aim of this project is to secure a future for the Namibian desert-adapted lion population.

    Objectives
    • 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.

    Methodology
    Darting  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 subadult lions are captured and individually marked with a hot brand, and several lions in each sub-group are marked with a radio collar.

    Darting techniques
    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.

    Monitoring
    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.