OCTOBER 2017 FIELD TRIP PART ONE: DOG GONE DEAD DONKEY GONE

At last we could, after the usual delays, set sail for the North to visit our beloved Damara and Kaokoland and breathe freely, away from telephones, computers and keyboards!

With old Bosluis, our trusty steed of 18 years, packed and ready we were off as usual with no idea where we d be going first. We headed for the Huabriver initially but one sms later we changed course for the Uchabriver. We received a report of potential existing for conflict near the Brandberg White Lady Lodge and a request for assistance and to deliver more shadecloth. We first went to deliver shadecloth to the De Rust Farm about 11 km downriver from the Lodge on the Northern bank. The farmers reported that although they had seen Lion tracks all was calm and in order and that the extra lights added and the upgraded kraals held firmly and had discouraged the Lions to try their luck thus far.

We headed back to the Lodge where we learnt that a Donkey had been killed near the Lodge the previous night by Lions. We got to meet the new managers, Tertius and Sarah and discussed the issue at hand. There were Donkeys roaming freely all over the camping grounds and it resembled a buffet specially prepared for the Lions. It became very obvious and crystal clear why the Lions ventured so far East of their normal home range. With the help of the more than co-operative and very helpful and friendly, not to mention generous Lodge management the Donkeys and their owners were reunited and the aforementioned evicted from the camping and Lodge grounds.
That night a very confused Nkosi, a 4 year old uncollared male from the Huabvalley, and Cheeky, a 6 year old uncollared female who moved from the Huabvalley to the Uchab around December 2013 and who has three almost sub-adult offspring, returned looking for the carcass of the Donkey they had left near the Lodge.
The confusion and disappointment could be clearly seen on their faces when they discovered that the victim of the crime have upped and left.. However they were in a very sensitive area and if allowed to feed on livestock it would most probably sign their death warrants! The owner of the Donkey killed by the Lions was not impressed at all!

The Lions were fortunately chased off successfully with a few powerfull fire-crackers. The very next night they came only up to the Western perimeter of the Lodge and camping grounds and it seemed that their courage failed them to try again. With the Donkeys/incentives gone and the chase off episode fresh in their memories it seemed to have shifted their minds and they upped and moved West. This after they had been sticking around for over a month in the swamp West of the Lodge...! Two of the almost sub-adult males, Cheeky's sons, followed the couple at a safe distance without engaging, keeping at least one kilometer between them. From this we assume that Nkosi chased them off in order to induce Cheeky to go into estrous for him to deliver on what nature programmed him for, establishing his very own pride.

We anticipated that XPL 99, last seen in the Huab, where he chased Nkosi off and claimed the pride of Angela XPL 75, her sister XPL 76 and Minky, would return to check on his Uchab harem and in the process chase the bejeezus out of Nkosi again, but strangely this did not happen. From the Lodge Cheeky and Nkosi went West downrivier and travelled right up to the SRT camp in two nights. Cheeky's 23 month old large cubs/sub-adult offspring consisting of two males and one female seemed to have been left to fend for themselves, as is normal and so determined by nature. They will typically be clumsy hunters battling to down natural prey initially, which often leads to sub-adults going for easy prey like livestock and which is also the reason why they are the ones usually shot in conflict situations. They are hungry, still clumsy going through a period of hardship while they hone their hunting skills taught by their mothers. During this time they are at their most vulnerable. It is during this time their resilience shine through but it is also a critical time during which they should not be tempted by livestock left outside of kraals overnight as this will turn them into so called problem animals as they might become repeat offenders if it is made easy for them. This re-iterates the point that problem animals are not born such they are conditioned and groomed to be problem animals through poor farming practices and poor husbandry by farmers.

Plans to mitigate the situation and prevent this was immediately implemented by the White Lady Lodge management and a solid kraal will be built to contain livestock overnight a distance to the East of the Lodge. The swamps nearby afford the Lions a safe, inaccessible for humans, base, and is also a great ambush position as many Kudu and Zebras drink from the nearby waterholes.
We are therefor convinced that, with the right management and conflict prevention measures in place, the Lions can peacefully co-exist and become a major tourism attraction in the Uchab for the first time in about 14 years again by which the local community can and should benefit directly. Initiatives to optimize this are underway and under discussion. Each tourist attracted will undoubtedly contribute to the welfare of the local communities.

However, it is of paramount importance that the local farmers and communities are also safeguarded and we are confident that this is definitely possible. Of course the most important tool needed to reach this goal remains the GPS collaring/monitoring/early warning system of the Lions which up to now still has not been done by those authorized to do so, the Desert Lion Project and MET. Recent developments suggest that this might happen soon, fingers crossed!

Author: Izak Smit, Founding Member of DeLHRA