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The Hobatere Lion Research Project: reporting October 2013 - February 2014

lioness and cub on the mountaincompleted kraal

The Hobatere Lion Research Project, which runs through the Communal Carnivore Conservation Programme (CCCP), aims to re-establish accurate current data on the demography of lions within The Hobatere Concession Area, which forms a corridor between the northwest and the Etosha National Park and surrounding areas. It will provide data on the movement of lions into and out of Hobatere and aims to quantify both the degree of human-lion conflict and the impact it has on people living around Hobatere.

africat north sept2013

hobatere map

orongurru kraal

Orongurru Kraal - not predator proof.

4 orongurru water point

Orongurru water point for stock.

Driven by an increased food supply, the spatial expansion of lion in the conservancies of the north-western Kunene Region has increased. While numbers of certain large carnivores have remained stable or increased, numbers of lions have steadily declined. The disproportionate control of lion may be due to less tolerance of lion, driven by fear rather than actual negative impacts.

AfriCat’s first lion Research Project was initiated mid-2013, within the 34 000 hectare Hobatere Concession Area which lies adjacent to western Etosha. During the tourism hey-day (the Hobatere Tourism Concession and Lodge ran from 1989-2011), Hobatere was home to a healthy number of lions, with at least one larger, established pride. Sadly, the lodge burnt down in 2011, leaving the lion population without regular monitoring; thus, little information is available regarding the so-called 'Hobatere lions'.

The AfriCat Hobatere Lion Research Project (HLRP) aims at collaring (using GPS-Satellite collars) and monitoring as many lions as possible in order to establish population numbers, dynamics and movements; at the same time, AfriCat’s Communal Carnivore Programme (CCCP) supports farming communities by building strong nocturnal kraals where livestock are protected from marauding lions. The use of such collars will provide data on the lions’ whereabouts, offering the farmers an early warning system when lions move into their areas.

The 'Hobatere lions' are persecuted along the borders of the Hobatere Concession area when they leave this protected area and move onto adjacent communal farmland, following the herds of prey animals who migrate in search of water and grazing or browse; naturally, the unprotected herds of livestock offer 'easy meat', causing serious farmer-lion conflict.

preparing bait for darting

AfriCat Hobatere LRP preparing bait for darting.

spots the lion at bait

SPOTS at bait 3 days prior to collaring.

dr mueller taking blood

Dr. Muller and Tammy Hoth-Hanssen taking blood.

dr muller

Dr. Muller and AfriCat volunteer Steven Swan administering reversal drug.

africat lion guardians

Tammy and AfriCat Lion Guardians Kandavii (left) and Jackson.

lioness with gps collar

Lioness with GPS Satellite collar.

The lioness SPOTS, was collared on 27 October 2013, after months of baiting and a number of unsuccessful attempts at habituating this group of 6 lions (two females and four cubs), to the point where they were comfortable enough to come to the bait on a regular basis.

The GPS-Satellite system took a while to settle into regular downloads and it was rather frustrating not knowing where SPOTS was in relation to the boundaries of the Hobatere Concession area; knowing that a number of farming communities do not yet have effective nocturnal kraals, SPOTS’ safety is not guaranteed despite our regular visits to these affected communities encouraging them to take better care of their livestock.

SPOTS is accompanied by her two 14-month old cubs (born approx. December 2012) and another lioness, 'Black-Collared Lioness' (she wears a black collar fitted by an as yet unknown research project), with two young cubs (under 12 months, born approx. July 2013), termed the SPOTS-pride. When we initially sighted SPOTS during June 2013, she was a solitary lioness with two small cubs; by August, the ‘Black-collared Lioness’ had joined her, bringing along her two tiny cubs – together these lionesses, with a little help from the larger cubs, have become a formidable hunting team within the Hobatere Concession Area boundaries. As our study continues, we shall be able to establish whether or not these lionesses belong to a larger pride in the western part of the Etosha National Park.

The GPS-downloads enable us to monitor SPOTS’ movements at 2-hourly intervals, which we plot daily; the information retrieved includes elevation, temperature and time and with the help of Google Earth, allows us to zoom in on their daily movements and favoured spots such as trees, riverbeds or waterholes, hills & valleys. Although we are unable to actually view the lions and their activities on Google Earth, our close monitoring on the ground shows that closely grouped GPS readings for longer than a day, indicate that the SPOTS-pride has made a kill.

spots pride waterholespots pride waterholespots pride waterholespots pride waterhole

Spots - Pride at the waterhole January 2014

The Hobatere Concession Area comprises only 2 functional waterholes at this point, one close to the western Etosha boundary fence at the Hobatere Campsite and the other at the 'Lodge', the latter frequented by the SPOTS-pride. After seven months of monitoring their movements it is clear that this so-called Lodge Waterhole is the pivotal point from which the 6 lions move, either northwards or southwards, following the herds of zebra into the floodplains and along the Kaross ephemeral river. The lack of other available water as well as the fact that the small cubs cannot walk vast distances, has established their range at approximately 15 km2.

Since we fitted the collar on 27.10.2013 until 30 January, the SPOTS-pride has not deviated much from their regular movement pattern, despite the onset of the pre-rain season during November, with intermittent showers and three local downpours which filled the natural dam close the Lodge waterhole.

On 30.01.2014, SPOTS was positioned along the Hobatere northern boundary; although still within its borders, the fact that this group had ventured out of their normal range alerted us to the fact that we would soon have to deal with them leaving their safe haven, venturing onto farmland with the probability of livestock predation! The fence surrounding the Hobatere wilderness area is porous, with many holes and large sections flattened by elephant; this so-called Veterinary Fence is designed such that a high 2.3m fence should prevent bovines (split-hoofed animals) from the northern areas (potentially diseased) from entering the disease-controlled farmland south of the said Vet Fence. Adjacent to and 20 m from this high fence is a lower fence, approx. 1.5m high, creating a corridor or no-man’s-land where no livestock may graze, ideally preventing contact between potentially diseased and healthy animals. Unfortunately, large numbers of drought-stricken cattle, horses and donkeys roam vast distances in search of grazing and this corridor offers the only remnants of edible vegetation – thus, these desperate animals find their way into this corridor and worse still, into the Hobatere park, making for easy prey for the SPOTS-pride.

lions between fences

SPOTS - Pride between Vet fences February 2014.

lions between fences

SPOTS - Pride between Vet fences February 2014.

lions between fences

SPOTS - Pride crosses Vet fences February 2014.

Their first venture from paradise took place on Tuesday morning (11.02) at 07h00; AfriCat immediately alerted three of our Lion Guardians based in farming communities along Hobatere’s northern boundary. Text messages and calls were made to various farmers and herdsmen, informing them to move their livestock away from the Hobatere boundary and to kraal (pen) them at night. At the same time, the AfriCat CCCP Team left base, the vehicles packed with camping equipment and supplies for at least 2 days in the field. Following pre-set GPS-readings Francois Robberts, a recent addition to the AfriCat North Team and our most welcome guests Tanya & Bardo (who hail from Germany and will be assisting us with various projects for 3 months), departed for the Ehirovipuka Conservancy farmland with the intention of locating the SPOTS-pride as well as to ensure that the farmers heed our warnings to protect their livestock.

Of course SPOTS and 'Black-collared Lioness' are seasoned hunters familiar with the terrain and cattle posts along the boundaries, most probably regular visitors drawn out of Hobatere by wandering , unattended livestock!

By late afternoon, the AfriCat Team including the Lion Guardians, had met with a number of farmers and herdsmen in the process of moving their livestock into safer areas; unfortunately, these areas are still drought-stricken with extremely thin, weak cattle and horses struggling to find morsels far from their cattle posts and available water, making the move from the 'hot spots' back home a long and tedious activity. The SPOTS-pride was positioned approximately two kilometres from the Hobatere border in a range of impenetrable (by vehicle) hills and valleys, most probably having killed some form of livestock, remaining in that position all day and most of the night. The AfriCat Team were kindly invited to spend the night at the Concession Hunter’s Camp approximately 3 km from the fence, but not before they had assisted herdsmen drive their cattle further afield before nightfall.

unprotected livestock killed by lions

Unprotected livestock killed by marauding lions.

africat meet with farmers

AfriCat Team and Lion Guardians, meet the farmers.

africat meet with farmers

AfriCat Team and Lion Guardians, meet the farmers.

Updated GPS-readings sent via sms from the AfriCat base camp reached Francois and team early the following morning - the SPOTS-pride had moved away from their kill to a position approximately 5 kms south of their point of exit. En-route to SPOTS’ new location, the AfriCat Team met with disgruntled farmers who had discovered a number of livestock carcasses whilst herding their cattle back to base . . . this being the most challenging part of AfriCat’s Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWCM) programme: how to convince these farmers to tolerate lions when they suffer losses to predators?

Despite the fact that the Communal Conservancy Policy requires farmers to 'live with the wildlife' most communal farming communities struggle to find suitable herdsmen and do not have the means to erect strong kraals. In addition, the continuing drought and subsequent lack of grazing and browse encourage livestock to move closer to and into areas such as Hobatere, where they WILL be killed by lions . . .  !

The Lion Guardians’ role at this point is to convince these farmers to take better care of their livestock in order to reduce their losses and to establish whether the farmers or herdsmen have poisoned carcasses or set leg-hold traps; this is, however, extremely difficult to follow through in such rough terrain, especially during drought conditions and we applaud our dedicated staff for their loyalty to the lions and to AfriCat’s programmes.

spots pride mountainspots pride mountain

SPOTS Pride November 2013

By midday, the SPOTS-pride was located at an elevation of approx. 1140 m, along the side of a mountain a few hundred metres from the fence, seemingly on their way back into Hobatere. Whilst observing their movements from a distance, taking care not to send these skittish lions running back into farmland, the AfriCat Team watched as SPOTS and 'Black-Collared Lioness' moved back and forth across and under the two sets of Veterinary fences, calling to their cubs to join them back on the 'safe side' of the fence. Interestingly, at least two more lions, one of which was a large male, were observed on the mountainside; it remains to be seen if these 'unknown' lions will join the SPOTS-pride in Hobatere or remain on farmland. By 15h00, the GPS-readings positioned SPOTS approximately two kilometres inside of Hobatere, resting under large Acacia trees, with the temperature souring to 40 degrees Celsius.

Exhausted, yet exhilarated at the fact that SPOTS was safely 'home', the team returned to a number of villages informing them of developments, noting that many cattle were still roaming close to the fence and inside of the Vet corridor!

Back at the AfriCat North base camp, plans have been finalised for the 2014 nocturnal kraals, the first of which will be erected early March at the Orongurru Village, approx. 7 kms from the Hobatere fence, close to where the SPOTS-pride spent their 2-day forage.

A week prior to this expedition, the AfriCat North team accompanied by Lion Guardians German & Kandavii, visited the Onguta and Orongurru communities (two farming communities along the northern Hobatere boundary, ear-marked for nocturnal kraals) for meetings regarding their commitment to the AfriCat Livestock Protection Programme; support from AfriCat will only be considered if such communities agree to adapting their livestock management accordingly and refrain from persecuting lions!

livestock protection kraal

Completed livestock protection kraal.

completed livestock protection

Completed livestock protection kraal  - Ehirovipuka Otjenova Kraal.

completed kraal

Completed livestock protection kraal  - Khoa di Hoas Community Kraal.

repairing kraals with community help

Team AfriCat repairing kraal fences with community support.

ehirovipuka ojtenova kraal

Ehirovipuka Otjenova Kraal

28 assisting the community

Conservation Through Education AfriCat 'scholars' assist community - Ehirovipuka Otjenova Kraal

Since 2011, funds raised by Stichting SPOTS of the Netherlands have been allocated to kraal-building in the communal conservancies. In order to establish effective livestock protection, giving the farmers living in these wilderness areas a sense of security against predators, AfriCat has tabled plans for at least ten kraals to be erected during 2014, funding permitting. At the same time, AfriCat’s team of dedicated Lion Guardians and assistants will be available to offer support to both lions and farmers such as was undertaken over the past few days.



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