AfriCat Hobatere Lion Research Project Annual Report


This Annual Report regarding the lion conservation efforts in the Etosha region is reproduced from the latest AfriCat Newsletter, the Cat’s Whisper.

The AfriCat Hobatere Lion Research Project has gained momentum and now boasts seven lions fitted with GPS-Satellite collars (4 males and 3 females). We have been able to deploy more camera traps in the study area and now have a good idea of the Lion population within the Hobatere Concession Area as well as the movement of lions between Hobatere, western Etosha and the surrounding farmland.  Soon we will be expanding the project further afield, into the surrounding communal farmland and other protected areas

Background
The project started in April 2013. In the first year the lion population and pride structures within Hobatere were studied and the extent of lion movement between Hobatere, the Etosha National Park and the surrounding conservancies and farmland.  This was done using camera traps as well as one individual fitted with a GPS-Satellite collar (Hpl-1). Methods to reduce Human-Lion Conflict in the study area such as building lion-proof livestock kraals, were also tested.

AfriCat North Lion Conservation

Project Study Area
The Hobatere lion population falls within the Etosha sub-population and in the medium to high density category according to the distribution maps published by Namibia Large Carnivore Atlas (2012), Figure 1.
The fences of Hobatere and Etosha are far from lion-proof. Lions can freely move in and out, occasionally they cross the southern, western and northern boundaries of Hobatere yet more often move between western Etosha National Park and Hobatere. Lions also regularly move through the Etosha boundary fence onto adjacent communal farmland where they cause conflict with the communal livestock farmers of the #Khoa di //Hoas and Ehirovipuka Conservancies.

Although communal conservancies have added substantially to the network of conservation areas in Namibia, these areas are not fully protected in the same manner as national parks.
In the last few years the range of lions in the Kunene region has increased but lion numbers are declining more than those of other large carnivores. This is mainly because lions are more aggressively hunted as problem and trophy animals than other carnivores when compared with the actual losses that they cause.
The lion population in and around Hobatere is part of a continuous population with a range encompassing most of the Kunene Region from the Namib Desert to the Etosha National Park. The lions in the Western part of this range are well studied but little is known of those closer to Etosha and the population dynamics as well as conservation pressures differ between the areas.

Lion (Panthera leo) distribution in Namibia, Namibia Large Carnivore Atlas (2012)
Lion (Panthera leo) distribution in Namibia, Namibia Large Carnivore Atlas (2012)

The lion population density and activity patterns in Hobatere were studied by Dr P. Stander  before 2007, a number of individuals were collared but little information is available from 2007 to the start of this project in 2013

Project Summary
A study of the Lion (Panthera leo) population within the Hobatere Concession Area and movements between the Hobatere Concession Area, western Etosha National Park and adjacent communal farmland.
MET Research Permit No.:
1938/2014, renewed as 2066/2015
Principal Investigator:
Tammy Hoth-Hanssen

2014-2015
This newsletter reports on the AfriCat Hobatere Lion Research Project (AHLRP) findings during the second study year, from July 2014 – June 2015. We have summarised the study results under the key questions that we have tried to answer.

What is the lion density and population size within the 34 000 ha Hobatere Concession Area?
We were able to get a good understanding of the lions that inhabit the area by the use of camera traps as well as tracking and observing the lions themselves.

Camera Trapping
We started the project by setting Camera traps at the three waterholes in Hobatere.  When more cameras became available some were set up at baiting stations where lions were attracted with meat and others along roads known to be used by lions.
Since then, better quality camera traps have been donated to the project and also positioned at the waterholes, baiting stations and along roads and game trails. The cameras at water and bait sites are far better at capturing regular photographs of lions, which can be used to estimate population size and structure.

Typical camera trap photographs of lions in Hobatere
Typical camera trap photographs of lions in Hobatere

The Lions of the Hobatere Concession Area
We have positively identified 22 lions that frequent the Hobatere Concession Area (34 000 hectares)

The Hobatere Males
Two adult males are regularly seen in Hobatere; they have been fitted with GPS-Satellite collars and named Volkel (Hpl-2), his collar was donated by the Volkel Battalion 313, Netherlands, and Masialeti (Hpl-6 – meaning ‘the last one’ in the Lozi language); these males are most likely siblings, they are regularly solitary, often seen together or with the known lionesses.

Volkel (Hpl-2)
Volkel (Hpl-2)

The Hobatere North Lionesses
Two loosely-associated prides have been identified, which spend the majority of their time in Hobatere. Each pride is made up of two adult lionesses and their offspring and neither pride has a resident male.
The Hobatere Lodge pride comprises nine lions at present and consists of two lionesses, presumed to be mother and daughter and their offspring.
The older female was collared as part of another unknown project; she wears a defunct VHF collar and a brand mark ‘T—l’ is faintly visible on her forelegs. She has been named Meebelo (which means ‘born at a place of hunger’ in the Lozi language). Despite numerous attempts to immobilise her and replace her collar, we have been unable to get close enough to dart her. She has raised two female, sub-adults, born in July/August 2013.
The other adult female is named SPOTS (Hpl-1); her collar was donated by the Dutch Charity, Stichting SPOTS. She was first collared on 27.10.2013 at Hobatere Lodge waterhole, the collar was replaced on 23.09.2014 at Hobatere Airfield bait-site. SPOTS has raised two female, sub-adults (estimated born October-December 2012) and three younger cubs (born approx. 03.10.2014). Hpl-1 has been seen with one male, possibly the Hpl-6 (prior to collaring). The two lionesses and their offspring spend time together as a large pride but are often separate.

Meebelo, Hobatere's oldest Lioness
Meebelo, Hobatere’s oldest Lioness
SPOTS (Hpl-1) and her three youngest cubs (Dec 2014 {born Oct 2014})
SPOTS (Hpl-1) and her three youngest cubs (Dec 2014 {born Oct 2014})

Hobatere Campsite Lionesses
The Hobatere Campsite waterhole is frequented by two lionesses who are probably mother & daughter and their offspring (nine lions). The older adult lioness has been named ‘Moola’ (meaning ‘favoured one’), she bears a brand mark ‘X1’, from a previous study. From the start of the AHLRP, she raised 5 cubs (which were born between October and December 2012), to the approximate age of 2.5 yrs; it is suspected that only three of these cubs have survived to the time of writing. The family group is photographed regularly by camera traps at the Hobatere Campsite waterhole and are occasionally seen with the collared Hobatere males (Hpl-2 + Hpl-6). X-1 was seen with two young cubs (born approximately September 2014) towards the end of 2014. At the time of writing, only one of the young cubs has survived. (Post script: we lack much data on these individuals, but one sub-adult and one small cub were trapped on adjacent farmland January-April  2015, we thus suspect that X-1’s offspring were those individuals killed).

Recently the second, younger lioness (Hpl-7 – Liluli, meaning ‘dust’) with three sub-adult cubs (one male, two females), have been seen both on camera traps and by observers at the Hobatere campsite.  Her cubs are younger than those of X-1 (Moola). She was immobilised and fitted with a GPS-Satellite collar on  08.06.2015. The two lionesses and their cubs tolerate each other but we do not have enough information to tell whether they form a closely bonded pride.

A probable family tree depicting the lionesses of Hobatere and their sub-adult offspring as at July 2015. Hobatere pride in Green, Campsite lions in Blue
A probable family tree depicting the lionesses of Hobatere and their sub-adult offspring as at July 2015. Hobatere pride in Green, Campsite lions in Blue

The Etendeka Lions:
Three lions were collared in the Etendeka Concession during May. Two males, one named Gaob-Hampton (Hpl-3), (meaning ‘King Hampton’ in the Damara language) and the other Tara (Hpl-5), as well as a female named Muna (Hpl-4).  Muna and Tara mean ‘Look & See’ in Herero. These three lions were named by the local Herero and Damara people who live in the Omatendeka and Anabeb Conservancies. These lions represent the expansion of the project to the communal areas further west of Etosha.

Recently the second, younger lioness (Hpl-7 – Liluli, meaning ‘dust’) with three sub-adult cubs (one male, two females), have been seen both on camera traps and by observers at the Hobatere campsite.  Her cubs are younger than those of X-1 (Moola). She was immobilised and fitted with a GPS-Satellite collar on  08.06.2015. The two lionesses and their cubs tolerate each other but we do not have enough information to tell whether they form a closely bonded pride

What are the activity patterns of lions located in Hobatere?
We were able to map the activity of the lions using the camera trap photos and the information from their GPS Satellite collars as well as observations by the research team, MET Rangers, Campsite assistants and farmers adjacent to the Hobatere boundary fence.

The Hobatere Concession Area; (Courtesy of Ministry of Environment & Tourism, Etosha Ecological Institute, 2014)
The Hobatere Concession Area; (Courtesy of Ministry of Environment & Tourism, Etosha Ecological Institute, 2014)

Collared Lions
To date seven lions have been collared:

Collared Lions
Collared Lions

Movement patterns of collared lions
The seven lions have been fitted with GPS- Satellite collars;  these record the lion’s location every two hours and send that location via a satellite link to where we can access it almost immediately. The daily movements of the lions are recorded and described by linking the consecutive locations with straight lines, marking not the exact path taken by the lions but the shortest distance between known locations.  The home ranges of the lions can then be described by plotting all the movement lines onto the same map.  The maps below, show the home ranges of SPOTS (Hpl-1) around the Hobatere Lodge from October 2013 to April 2015 and the information for Volkel (Hpl-2) from October 2014 – April 2015, plotted over Google Earth satellite imagery of the study area

Home range of Hpl-1 (SPOTS) October 2013 to April 2015
Home range of Hpl-1 (SPOTS) October 2013 to April 2015
Home range of Hpl-2 (Volkel) October 2014 to April 2015
Home range of Hpl-2 (Volkel) October 2014 to April 2015

From the home range maps it can easily be seen that SPOTS (Hpl-1) has a home range that covers most of the Hobatere Concession, especially the North and Western parts. Since collaring, as far as we can ascertain, she has never entered the Etosha National Park. She spends most of her time in close proximity to the Lodge Waterhole, the Tree House Waterhole or moving between the two.  At no time did she spend more than 36 hours outside of the Hobatere fence, i.e on communal farmland.

Hpl-2 (Volkel) has a far larger home range. He spends most of his time near the Renostervlei Waterhole and the Otjovasando Airfield in Western Etosha. Occasionally, he moves further afield visiting the Hobatere area and other parts of Etosha. He has moved out of the protected areas of Hobatere and Etosha on three occasions. Twice onto the farm Ermo, and once onto the communal farmland near Werda.
The map below, shows SPOTS’ movements between the 24th of September and the 11th of November 2014, while she had cubs in her den. During this time, she spent up to three days in the den between quick journeys straight to the nearest waterhole and back (approx. 16km return). The denning period lasted approximately 81 days.

Hpl-1 (SPOTS) movements while she had cubs in the den
Hpl-1 (SPOTS) movements while she had cubs in the den

Where do the lions go in and out along the southern, western and northern boundaries and why?
The southern boundary of Hobatere, which stretches from the south-western corner of the Kaross Block (western ENP) to the Kamdescha Veterinary Control Gate, is approx. 18-20 km in length and large sections of this fence have been flattened by elephants and not repaired, providing easy entry and exit for wildlife, including predators and livestock.
2007-2010 saw the start of the AfriCat Livestock Protection Programme (LPP) along the Hobatere southern boundary, whereby eight nocturnal livestock kraals were upgraded or built in order to provide a safe-haven for cattle, horses, donkeys, goats and sheep.
Livestock is often seen within Hobatere during the day and at night and most often the cattle are not kraaled, despite lion activity in the area. Lions move out of Hobatere after livestock, the most common ‘hot spots’ being along the C35 between Kaross Block and Hobatere, Marienhoehe-Pos, Kameeldoring-Pos and Kamdescha 1+2 (farms along Hobatere southern boundary). Farmers & herdsmen set gin-traps (leg-hold) and wire snares, killing any trapped animal found.

The western and northern boundaries of Hobatere form part of the Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF or Red Line); the farming communities of Werda and the ‘Sesfontein farmers’ are settled against the fence, whilst Onguta, Orongurru and Arisona villages are based 1-10 km from the fence.

From visual inspection of the fences, monitoring of lion spoor and with the use of satellite collars, it is clear that there are multiple areas where lions can easily cross all of Hobatere and Etosha’s fences.

Are the animals found outside Hobatere still part of a pride within the Hobatere or have they established a viable population outside of the area, and if it is a viable population, how much movement takes place back into the area?
During years 1 and 2 of the AHLRP, no lions were found outside of Hobatere for any length of time; the SPOTS-pride spent 2 days outside of Hobatere, then returned. Individuals, mostly males, were observed either along the western or northern boundaries, as well as in the Veterinary Cordon corridor, but returned to Hobatere soon thereafter. We have no evidence to suggest that any lions in this area spend more than 36 hours at a time outside the protected areas of Hobatere and Etosha National Park.

Have the lions found within the Hobatere, established a viable population within the area and do they move between western Etosha National Park (ENP) and Hobatere?
The SPOTS-pride, comprising 2 adult females, 4 sub-Adults and 3 small cubs (born October 2014), infrequently visited by the two collared males, have successfully hunted and raised 4 cubs to above 12 months of age. There is no evidence of their movement into western Etosha National Park.
Lioness X-1, her 3 sub-Adults and one small cub are intermittently seen at the Campsite Waterhole. Because they are  absent from the campsite waterhole for extended periods of time, we believe that this group moves back and forth between Hobatere and western ENP.

The collared males (Hpl-2 & Hpl-6) and Liluli (Hpl-7) move regularly between the Etosha National Park and Hobatere.

Determine whether the ‘problem’ lions found on a farmland are coming from western Etosha or from the Hobatere?
Lions are known to move from Northern Hobatere and Western Etosha to the Werda community and farmland where they have killed livestock.

AfriCat has erected a fence enclosing the entire village of Werda, in order to protect both humans and livestock, as the lions that have moved through this village have become habituated to human presence, showing little fear. Reports from the Ehirovipuka Event Book (01 April 2013 – 28 February 2014) indicate that at Werda Village, five lions killed a horse and four lions killed 2 cows between 17.03-31.03.2103; tracks indicate that these lions came from Hobatere (report AfriCat Lion Guardian German Muzuma).

Since collaring Spots in October 2013, as far as can be ascertained, she has only been involved in a single case of livestock predation.  This occurred in June 2015, near the Werda Village.  Her GPS position was noticed outside the Hobatere boundaries, within 2km of Werda.  She moved out of Hobatere close to 01:00 AM and had returned to the park by 6:30 AM the same night.  When the lion guardians inspected the place where she had spent the intervening time, they found the carcass of a heifer which had clearly been eaten by lions. Tracks of more than one lion were seen re-entering Hobatere.
Since collaring Hpl-2 (Volkel) in October 2014, he has also only been involved in one instance of livestock predation outside the protected areas. He also killed a cow near Werda, crossing the fence of the Etosha National Park approximately 2km north of Werda.

Lions are also known to move out of the Kaross block of Etosha and Southern Hobatere and kill livestock around the settlements of Hartseer and Marienhoehe.

What conservation strategies and mitigation methods can be implemented to protect these lions as well as reduce livestock loss?
Until the numbers and population dynamics of the so-called Hobatere lions have been established, the lion hunting quota should be put on hold; despite the fact that only 2 lions (one male and one female) were on quota 2013 for Thormaehlen & Cochrane Hunting Safaris and only one male lion for 2014, there is no research data yet available to establish whether or not this off-take is sustainable. Observations thus far indicate that only two males frequent the 2 waterholes, 2 females (Hpl-1 and T—l) have been resident since 27.10.2013 and two adult females (X1 and Hpl-7) may move back and forth between western ENP and Hobatere.  At this point in time, two of the known lionesses have young cubs; should one of these lionesses be shot as a trophy, the cubs have little chance of survival. We do not know which of the males is dominant, thus random off-take may remove the stronger male, leaving the weaker males as mates.
In order to establish greater tolerance of lions, their value to the conservancy member, farmer and child has to be established. For the farmer trying to survive along the Hobatere borders where the boundary fences are porous, lions move from a protected area onto farmland to kill their livestock; a lion has no value unless there is proof that the Conservancy lions generate revenue.
With the development of two Photographic tourism ventures within the Hobatere Concession area, the Campsite / Roadside Concession and the main Lodge Concession, the small number of known lions within Hobatere should be protected and regarded as high photographic tourism value; these lions will only become valuable to these communities once the revenue gained filters down to the individual.

AfriCat’s Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation measures include:
1.    Erecting strong, 2m high nocturnal kraals or repairing and upgrading existing kraals, for use when the lions are in the area: 16 kraals have been built in the Ehirovipuka and !Khoa di //Hoas Conservancies;
2.    Re-instating herdsmen to take care of the livestock during the day whilst in the field;
3.    Conservation Education, whereby the youth as well as the adult community member accept the lions’ role in a balanced ecosystem and understand the value as a sustainable tourist attraction.

The AfriCat ‘Lion Guardian’ Programme: these men monitor & report on lion whereabouts, encourage and guide farmers to adopt the AfriCat Livestock Protection programme, report incidents, patrol fences with Ministry of Environment & Tourism (MET), monitor & report poaching and other illegal activities, identify priority villages for kraal-building and carry the message of Conservation from the highest authorities to the farmer. Essentially, these men are assigned to various areas and play a vital role in protecting the Hobatere lions and mitigating lion-farmer conflict on communal farmland.

Do the lions leaving Hobatere fall into the categories of “occasional or habitual” stock raiders?  
As far as can be ascertained through the monitoring of the SPOTS-pride and Hpl-2 (Volkel), these lions would be regarded as occasional stock-raiders. Further studies will establish the regularity of movement onto farmland.

Acknowledgments
Ministry of Environment & Tourism, Etosha Ecological Institute, Ministry of Veterinary Services, Ehirovipuka & !Khoa di //Hoas Conservancies, Dr Sam Ferreira (Large Mammal Ecologist at SANParks, Kruger National Park), Dr. Adrian Tordiffe (Research Veterinarian, Department of Research & Scientific Services, National Zoological Gardens of South Africa).
This Project is supported by The Okorusu Community Trust, The Hampton School, UK, The Amersfoort Wildlife Trust, Netherlands, Stichting SPOTS, Netherlands the ING ‘Goede Doelenfonds voor medewerkers’, Netherlands, The Putman Group, Netherlands, ‘Stichting Vrienden Beekse Bergen en Dierenrijk’, Netherlands, AfriCat UK, AfriCat America and the AfriCat Foundation, Namibia as well as donor individuals.

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