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AfriCat North - Field Notes 2014

vehicle handover africat north13 david roberts africat vet spots lion

Our field-base, AfriCat North, is home to a team of dedicated and driven conservationists, who, together with the Lion Guards of the communal conservancies, spend long, hot days and long, cold nights collaring lions, monitoring their movement in and out of the protected areas of the Hobatere Concession Area and Etosha National Park, at the same time supporting farming communities in human-wildlife conflict zones along these borders.

2014 has put our skills and determination to the test with issues such as the continuing drought, frustrated farmers and the retaliatory killing of lions, spotted hyaenas and wild dogs; on the up-side, the successful collaring of more lions, positive feedback on the effective AfriCat-sponsored, lion-proof kraals, requests by an increasing number of communal conservancies for assistance and the wonderful first-sighting of SPOTS’ small cubs in November, the past year ended on a proverbial 'high'.

With Nelson Mandela’s appropriate quote, "ultimately, Conservation is about people . . . if you don’t have sustainable development around wildlife Parks, then the people will have no interest in them and the Parks will not survive." foremost in our minds, through our mitigation and community support programmes, AfriCat continues to strive for a change of attitude and 'heart' towards large carnivores in the rugged, unforgiving outback of Namibia’s northwest.

 

Lion Guards – 'Keepers of the Wilderness': as the AfriCat Lion Guard programme enters its fourth year (the first two guards were elected in March 2011), it is clear that German, Titus, Jackson and Kandavii have played a vital role in the gradual change of mindset towards improved livestock protection and greater tolerance in a number of farming communities. Their persistence has fortified AfriCat’s conservation message and encouraged greater networking with farming communities in neighbouring conservancies as well as further afield, with plans to expand our mitigation programmes in 2015. In order to escalate our lion conservation and community support programmes, AfriCat approached the Game Products Trust Fund for a vehicle (GPTF is a Government-supported, grant-giving body); this 4x4 pick-up was delivered to the Lion Guards on 19 November, ready for the annual 'Festive Season' Patrols, when they cover vast distances from mid-December to mid-January, often accompanied by the Ministry of Environment & Tourism (MET) and other Conservancy game guards.

During our regular patrols, undertaken by the Lion Guards, the AfriCat-sponsored kraals are monitored, meetings with farming communities are arranged in order to discuss conflict issues, Hobatere and Etosha boundary fences are checked for holes and breakages (repairs done in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism) and lion movement is reported.

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Lion Guards - Orongurru Kraal handover, March 2014.
 fence patrols
Fence Patrols

 

The AfriCat Lion Guards carry the message of Conservation from the highest authorities to the farmers, encourage and guide farmers to adopt the AfriCat Livestock Protection programme, identify priority villages for kraal-building, report incidents, patrol fences with the Ministry of Environment & Tourism (MET), monitor & report poaching and other illegal activities . Essentially, these Lion Guards, elected by their communities, are assigned to various areas covering the western and north-western Etosha borders and the southern, western and northern borders of Hobatere. These men play a vital role in protecting the Hobatere & Etosha lions as well as mitigating lion-farmer conflict on communal farmland.

 

Lion gaurdian fixing fences
Lion Guard Jackson fixing fences.
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Lion Guards with Francois Roberts.
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Jackson with Spots, September 2014.

 

Livestock Protection Programme completes 15th nocturnal, livestock kraal, including the first 'mobile' kraal (Courtesy of the Hwange Lion Research Project and SATIB Conservation Trust, for their design).

AfriCat is proud to be associated with Stichting SPOTS and their dedicated supporters, who have raised substantial funds for our kraal-building initiative in the communal conservancies of the Kunene Region. Once a so-called conflict 'hot-spot' has been identified by the Lion Guards, AfriCat meets with the traditional leaders and affected farmers to discuss various mitigation options; with the emphasis on commitment to improved livestock protection and no further persecution of carnivores, AfriCat provides a support system which reduces livestock loss and encourages greater tolerance of predators. The unrelenting drought in large areas of the northwest has driven many farmers to sell off or move most of their cattle to areas further afield; this scenario has challenged AfriCat to erect the first 'mobile' kraal, sections of which can be moved to other grazing or watering points when needed. Certain aspects of the SATIB Conservation Trust mobile kraal design have been modified to suit Namibian conditions, the effectiveness thereof will become evident with time. To make things easier, a Mitsubishi Fuso Truck, donated by ING – 'Goede Doelenfonds voor Medewerkers' via Stichting SPOTS, has enabled AfriCat to transport such kraal-building materials and collect rocks and thorn-bush to strengthen the kraal-base against digging and burrowing animals.

 

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SPOTS  supports nocturnal livestock kraals.
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AfriCat nocturnal livestock kraal.
ing sponsored truck
ING sponsored truck.
palmfontein patrol
Palmfontein Patrol.
drought conditions namibia northwest
Drought conditions in Namibia's north west.

 

The AfriCat Hobatere Lion Research Project (AHLRP): Well into its 2nd year, the project has gathered valuable data on lion movement patterns, especially those of the lioness SPOTS, who was re-collared in the early hours of 22 September 2014 (first collared 23.10.2013), and the recently collared male, named 'Volkel 313' (collared 04.10.2014), named after the Dutch Air-force base and Squadron 313, who sponsored the GPS- Satellite collar.

Since the arrival early September of our veterinarian Dr David Roberts, our darting 'expeditions' have increased, still dependant however, on available bait as well as kills; as the Hobatere lions are typically wild and do not allow us within 50m of their position during day-light, the darting attempts are restricted to night-time, with our team in position from sunset to sunrise . . . both SPOTS and Volkel arriving at the bait-site in the early hours of the morning, 02h15 and 04h35 respectively.

Towards mid-September, the GPS function on SPOTS’ original GPS-Satellite Collar had reached the end of its lifespan (approx. 22 months), leaving us with only the VHF Telemetry function to track her whereabouts; this is no easy task in the mountainous Hobatere terrain and as SPOTS is the only collared lion in the so-called Hobatere pride, we were worried that we might lose contact with her and the rest of her pride should she move out of Hobatere onto adjacent farmland. At that point, the SPOTS pride comprised 2 adult lionesses and their sub-adult cubs (SPOTS’ two female cubs approx. 24 months old, and the two approx. 14 month old cubs belonging to the second lioness, named 'Black-Collared Lioness').

 

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Spots movement pattern November.
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Spots cubs December 2014.
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Spots, cubs and sisters.
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Spot's baby cub.


On the night of 21.09., we were positioned at a well-visited bait-site, expecting one of the two 'known' males to appear (trail camera visuals indicated their close proximity), when the ideal situation presented: SPOTS unexpectedly and soundlessly began eating at the bait; once sound asleep, measurements were taken, blood drawn, her new collar fitted and during the general health check, we suspected that she may be pregnant! To our great surprise, approximately one week after we had fitted her new collar, SPOTS moved away from her pride to settle at a secluded spot in a thicket on a river-bank approx. 8 kms from the Lodge waterhole and bait-site; on Saturday 14 November, SPOTS and her three small, healthy cubs were sighted resting out of the scorching heat in the shade of a mopane tree, with the rest of the Hobatere pride.

'Volkel', the first male to be collared since the AHLRP began, moves between Hobatere and western Etosha NP.

volkel lion movements 2014

Prior to his collaring, trail camera visuals have shown that he is often together with his black-mane sibling, both males also intermittently seen with the Hobatere pride; as soon as we are able to draw blood from the four Hobatere pride sub-adults, paternity can be established with one or both of the two 'known' males. According to his GPS positioning, Volkel also roams into western Etosha as well as occasionally along the boundaries with commercial farmland and trail camera visuals of the Hobatere Camp-site waterhole have positioned Volkel with other females; whether the two males remain as a coalition and visit with other groups of females within Etosha or are mostly solitary, is unsure. Once Volkel’s black-mane sibling has been collared, more reliable data will be available on their social structure.

 two lion males at bait
Two males at bait.
darted male lion running off
Darted male running off.
measuring teeth
Measuring teeth.
22 measuring pugs
Measuring pugs.
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Fitting GPS satellite collar.
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Volkel soon after waking up.
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Volkel - note his battle scars.

 

The Namibia African Wild Dog Project (NAWDP) - During Phase 1 of the Project, pilot surveys on African Wild Dog presence, prey availability, conflict potential, landowner attitudes, and interface with domestic dogs were completed. The Project partners also contributed to the draft formulation of Namibia’s Conservation Action Plan for the African Wild Dog. The Project’s findings were shared with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) to supplement existing efforts towards study of the species.

A total of 36 verified African Wild Dog observations were recorded in the greater Mangetti Complex during Phase 1. The sample includes 22 sightings, 8 independent trail camera records, and 6 confirmed reports. Of the total sample, 8 observations (22.2%) occurred in a conflict context of livestock depredation. Moreover, 2 records (5.6%) involved road collisions with African Wild Dogs, including 1 possibly fatal incident. An additional 11 occurrence reports were rejected because they could not be substantiated objectively. Auto-correlated observations were also excluded.

The spatial distribution of observations demonstrates that African Wild Dog utilise communal (n=6), parastatal (n=10), freehold commercial (n=7), and government protected (n=13) areas and, therefore, all land tenure systems in the greater Mangetti Complex. The species is therefore assumed to be resident in the study area.

Reported African Wild Dog group sizes varied considerably during the pilot survey, ranging from 1 to 17 individuals. This is mainly attributed to the fact that African Wild Dogs rarely can be observed for prolonged periods or be counted accurately during opportunistic encounters. Although preliminary research indicates the greater Mangetti Complex appears to support, entirely or in part, at least 3 distinct groups of African Wild Dog, further research is required to better understand this. There are repeat observations of a group consisting of between 4-8 adult African Wild Dogs in Mangetti NP, which also utilise the communal farms east of Etosha National Park (ENP), and possibly parastatal land west of ENP as well. This group was positively identified from 3 independent trail camera records inside ENP and is believed to have denned successfully on communal farmland east of the ENP in 2013.

In addition, repeat records of a group ranging between 9-17 adult African Wild Dogs suggest the presence of a larger pack on Kavango Cattle Ranch (KCR) and on adjoining properties southwest of the Ranch. Anecdotal information indicates successful denning of this group in the area of Mangetti West in 2013. Finally, a group of 2-5 African Wild Dogs (AWD) has regularly been recorded in several locations on the eastern farms of KCR as well as on the freehold properties south of the Ranch. The group is assumed to split into 2 smaller units of 2 and 3 adults occasionally.

 

At present, the Mangetti Complex supports at least four resident groups of AWD, three of which reproduced in 2014. Due to successful sub-adult recruitment in 2013, these groups have also increased in numbers.

Pack 1, last assessment October 2014, est. total number 18 , total adults 3, yearlings 5, pups 10, with main activity area being Kavango Cattle Ranch and commercial farmland;

Pack 2, last assessment October 2014, est. total number 16, total adults 3, yearlings 4, pups 9, with main activity KCR and commercial farmland;

Pack 3, last assessment October 2014, est. total number 23 +, total adults 11, yearlings 2, pups 10+, with main activity area Mangetti West + KCR and commercial farmland;

Pack 4, last assessment March 2014, est. total number 4, total adults 3, yearlings 1 and zero pups, with main activity area Mangetti NP + commercial farmland; (Pack 4 disappeared in 2014 and its status is currently unknown).

Pack 5, last assessment November 2014, est. total number 6, adults 6, yearlings 0 and zero pups;

At least two of the resident groups predominantly utilise communal farmland areas east of the Mangetti NP, where they come into conflict and are actively persecuted.

 

The next phase of the project will be to fit a GPS-Satellite collar onto one Wild Dog in each pack. This will allow us to monitor conflict and movements, how far they travel and what territories each pack occupies.
We plan to start this phase over the denning season, mid-2015.

namibia wild dog pupsnamibia wild dog pups29 namibia wild dognamibia wild dogs waterhole

 

 

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