Monday, August 15, 2016

Desert Lions Update

One of our favorite aspects of a trip to Africa is the chance to see a lion while on a game drive. We've had some pretty exciting encounters over a few trips. We've witnessed a pride feast on a Cape Buffalo near our camp's gift shop. We watched cubs play tug-of-war with a giraffe's intestine. We've followed lions on the hunt and had them no more than 4 feet from us while in open-air jeeps. We saw a pride of 18 lions filled with cubs, then on a return trip 30 months later, we found the same pride and saw the cubs all grown-up.

A memorable encounter was on our recent(ish) trip to Namibia where we got to see the famous 5 Musketeers. There are approximately 70 desert-adapted lions in the world. These 5 brothers/cousins were the subject of the documentary Vanishing Kings that started airing under the name Desert Warriors: Lion of the Namib on Smithsonian Channel. The documentary focuses on the young five male lions and their struggles to survive and perpetuate the species in a vast location with so few of their species around. At the end of the movie they show two unrelated females nearing the 5's territory. Will they meet up and breed?

We follow the website Desert Lion Project to keep up with the boys and to see some incredible photography. Good news is the lionesses and the males did connect. We do not have information on their success in breeding opportunities. They have encountered each other several times over the last few months. The biggest news of all though is that the lions have been in some unfortunate encounters with farmer/herder settlements. Corralled goats and cows are tempting. The foundation, government, and villagers worked on methods to chase the lions away, including firework trip wires. They worked for a bit. Read the rest of the story in the screen shots below taken from the Desert Lion Project website.

13 Jun 2016. Conflict. When the five male lions (the “Musketeers”) moved past the temporary cattle post (12 km west of Tomakas) two days ago a human-lion conflict incident occurred somewhere between the cattle post and Otjizeka spring (15 km further west). The exact details of the incident are still unclear. Deep inside a Salvadora thicket at Otjizeka spring Xpl-89 “Harry” died of a mortal bullet wound to the chest during the early morning hours on 12 Jun 2016 (photo: bottom right). When the remaining four lions were observed at sunset, two of the males showed signs of injuries. Xpl-92 “Adolf” had a new wound on his right cheek (photo: bottom left) and Xpl-91 “Ben” appeared to have a bullet wound. The photos below suggest that he may have been shot in the lower stomach (photos: top middle & right and bottom middle). It would appear that the bullet passed straight through. The Ministry of Environment & Tourism was informed of the developments. The Purros Conservancy, MET, IRDNC, Okahirongo Elephant Lodge and DLP are all working together to defuse the tense situation.

14 Jun 2016. Xpl-89 "Harry". Finding the carcass of Xpl-89 inside the Salvadora thickets was challenging and required crawling for approximately 30 metres through the thick undergrowth (photos: top row). An autopsy was performed on the carcass and biological samples were collected. The lion died quickly from a single gunshot to the chest. The bullet passed through the heart and lungs. The remaining four male lions were monitored closely and the bullet wound to Xpl-91 “Ben” does not appear to be serious. Two Okongwe lionesses joined the males during the night and after sunrise they were all observed scaling the tall mountains to the south of the Gomatum valley.

19 Jul 2016. Cow. At 03h20 the four adult males approached the Ondudupi village where the cattle were inside a rudimentary corral made of Mopane branches (photo: top left). The lions responded immediately to a display of bright flashing lights / fireworks and they moved away. However, one kilometre south of the village, the lions unfortunately encountered and killed a lone cow that did not return to the corral. At dawn the lions moved to the safety of a nearby gorge.

3 Aug 2016. Tomakas Situation. The human-lion conflict situation at Tomakas and the Gomatum River has become unmanageable. A few days ago a man encountered the four adult males (the “Musketeers”) in a narrow wash 3.5 km north of Tomakas whilst riding on donkey. The man fled into the mountains and walked to Tomakas. The incident was investigated and it was confirmed that the lions killed the donkey. They dragged and left the saddle under a tree (photo: below middle). The saddle was returned to its owner. Thereafter, on 2 Aug 2016, the four males moved past Tomakas and killed two goats. The people of Tomakas have been patient and tolerant of the lions disrupting their lives, but they cannot continue living under these conditions. Removing the lions from the area is necessary. The lions have expanded their range into an area of human settlement that is not suitable lion habitat. Our efforts to deter and cause the lions to vacate the area have failed. The Ministry of Environment & Tourism are being consulted to find an amicable solution.

5 Aug 2016. Xpl-93. The adult male lion Xpl-93 left his brothers and moved to Okongwe Waterhole. The remaining three “Musketeers” yet again approached Tomakas village between 02h00 and 03h00 this morning. They nonetheless responded immediately to a display of flashing lights/fireworks and moved off in an easterly direction along the Gomatum River.

10 Aug 2016. Tragedy. On 6 Aug 2016 the Ministry of Environment & Tourism approved the translocation of the four “Musketeers” from Tomakas to the Uniab Delta as a last-resort effort to solve the on-going human-lion conflict. Several parties participated with the planning of this operation: an aircraft was secured to transport the lions from Purros to Terrace Bay, vehicles were gathered to take the lions from Tomakas to Purros and finally from Terrace Bay to the Uniab Delta as we waited for the three males to return from the mountains and reconnect with Xpl-93.

However, the three males encountered a new and previously unknown cattle post of semi-nomadic pastoralists. The lions killed a donkey and the people (previously from Omiriu and then Ondudupi) retaliated by poisoning the lions. The carcasses and the satellite collars of the lions were then burnt. With this tragic development a difficult decision had to be made about the fate of the lone survivor. With the Ministry of Environment & Tourism we darted Xpl-93, loaded him in the Desert Lion Project Land Cruiser and started the long journey to the Uniab Delta. The convoy of three vehicles struggled through the Floodplain and dunes that were covered in thick fog. We finally reached the mouth of the Uniab River at 05h25 and found a narrow wash with some protection to off-load Xpl-93 (photos below).

11 Aug 2016. Uniab Delta. The last survivor of the “Five Musketeers”, Xpl-93 also known as “Tullamore”, has recovered from the ordeal of translocating him to the Uniab Delta (photos below). The lion was kept sedated for 14.5 hrs and transported in the back of the research vehicle for 279 km from Tomakas to the mouth of the Uniab River. He is currently feeding on an Oryx carcass and his movements will be monitored closely. The Ministry of Environment & Tourism must be commended for their leading role in the operation and thanks also go to Namibia Wildlife Resorts and Wilderness Safaris for their support. The Ministry of Environment & Tourism and the Namibian Police Force have launched a detailed investigation into the killing of the three males (Xpl-90, Xpl-91 & Xpl-92) 12 km north of Tomakas. The developments over the past few days may generate reactions in the published press and on social media. The Desert Lion Project would like to: a) state that the problems of human-lion conflict are complex and b) call on everyone using the information presented on this website to remain objective. The daily movements of Xpl-93 will now be posted under “Obab Lionesses”.



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