Region: Kunene Region, Namibia
Namibia supports a unique population of desert-adapted lions that survive in the harsh Namib Desert. This “desert” lion is highly valued in Namibia, both aesthetically and financially, as a prominent feature of the growing tourism industry and Namibia has received international recognition for its progressive and successful conservation efforts, such as the CBNRM and Communal Conservancy programmes.
Along with the growth in tourism, these achievements have resulted in a significant increase in wildlife numbers, especially in the Kunene Region. However, conflict between the Kunene lions and the local people is growing too, as lions prey on domestic livestock with increasing regularity. To protect their animals, farmers often shoot, trap or poison the lions, with a resulting negative impact on the tourism industry; at the same time however, the local communities are the ones that have to bear the cost of living with the lions and receive little assistances in managing this conflict.
This imbalance may well create a perception amongst the local people that lions are conserved at the cost of the Namibian people, an attitude which may lead to negative attitudes towards conservation and wildlife as a whole. There is therefore an urgent need for proactive management of the conflict between lions and people in the Kunene Region. The long-term conservation of the Kunene lions therefore depends on the design and implementation of sound and effective mechanisms to manage human-lion conflicts.
Essential to this process is the need for reliable scientific data on the ecology of the Kunene lion population, with applied research with regard to its numbers, behaviour such as movements, dispersal and reproduction. An intensive research project began in 1999 to this end, with the following aims: collect sound ecological data, address human-lion conflicts, and develop a National Lion Conservation Strategy. This research has yielded valuable results. What is clear is that the number of lions has increased and subsequently their range has expanded – both of which has had an impact on the surrounding communities: the frequency of human-lion conflicts has increased significantly.
The value of the unique “desert” lions to tourism in the Kunene Region, and to the Namibian tourism industry in general, is of great significance. However, for the long-term conservation of Kunene lions to succeed, there is a need to monitor their population ecology and to address human-lion conflicts.
The aim of the Kunene Lion Project is therefore to acquire an improved understanding of the ecology of lions. 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.
Options to manage and resolve human-lion conflicts fall in two categories: reactive or preventative measures. Reactive measures are aimed at resolving problems after the conflict has already occurred, and include shooting the lions, trophy hunting or capture and translocation of the lions away from the area. Preventative measures include fencing to keep lions from moving onto livestock areas and proactive livestock management.
Obviously, preventative measures are preferable, and can be very effective if implemented and managed correctly. Killing the guilty lions is often the wrong or inappropriate option, and translocating lions require experience and large resources. An adaptive approach, with clear guidelines, described in the management plan, will be tested and developed to ensure successful management of human-lion conflicts in the two trial Conservancies.
As a species, the lion is highly adaptive and resilient. Our research findings demonstrate that Kunene lions can survive in extreme conditions, feeding on gemsbok, ostriches and seals, and they do not need to drink water. They breed rapidly and under ideal conditions are quick to expand and occupy new areas of suitable habitat. The potential for the Kunene lion population to increase further is good, because of the following reasons: the area has low rainfall and therefore there is little chance of the land being used for farming; the low population density; the prevalence of conservancies; and high tourism potential.
March 2007 – Progress Report
Lion density & population size
Since November 1999 a total of 40 lions were radio collared and 86 lions were marked or were individually identifiable. Population density was calculated in two intensive study areas where all lions were marked or individually known (see Stander 2004, 2006). Using the Kunene Sampling Method (Loveridge et al. 2001) lion densities were calculated at 0.05 – 0.1 lion 100 km-2 for the low density area and 0.38 – 0.62 lion 100 km-2 for the high-density area. The density estimates were then extrapolated to the current calculated areas of low and high density. The population estimates of 9-19 lions for the low density area, and 87-135 lions in the high density area, coincides with the records of known individual lions, and provides confidence to the total estimate of 96-154 lions in the Kunene Region.
In 1999/2000, when the Kunene lions were restricted in their distribution to the central Palmwag Concession area, a core group of 13 lions were marked with radio collars. The life history of these individual lions has subsequently been documented, and forms the basis of assessing population growth and expansion. The population has shown a positive growth rate between 1999 and 2006. The Log exponential rate of annual growth was high initially (1999-2002), but levelled off somewhat thereafter. During the first two years (1999 and 2000) the population increased at a phenomenal rate 22% and 23% per year respectively, expressed by a logarithmic rate of increase. Between 2001 and 2004 the rate of increase remained high (15% p.a.), but dropped to below 5% p.a. in 2005, and increased again to almost 15% by the end of 2006.