News - 2012

Apr

April

30 Apr 2012. Long Distance. With the aid of powerful telephoto lenses and a spotting scope the Huab male (Xpl-68) was observed lying next to the oryx carcass (killed by the lionesses on 28 Apr 2012) from a distance of 10.8 km. The images below attempt to show a wide (top left), intermediate (top middle) and close-up (top right) view of the lion.

Click "Play" for a panoramic view of the Huab Valley. The position of lion and the oryx carcass is indicated by a red circle.

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29 Apr 2012. Looming Conflict. The two Huab lionesses did not return to their oryx kill after the male (Xpl-68) arrived and claimed the carcass. They moved deeper into the Mik Berg mountain complex and could not be located again. Large numbers of ostriches, springboks and oryx were observed in the area. Several head of livestock, including a breeding bull, also moved into the area at sunset. Efforts were made to inform the owners of the livestock and to deter the animals from moving towards the lions. If the livestock are left unattended and allowed to graze at night in the wildlife/tourism area of the Torra Conservancy, where the lions are currently moving, it is only a matter of time before the lions will find and kill some of them.

28 Apr 2012. Huab lionesses kill oryx. At 09h30 this morning the two Huab lionesses killed an oryx along the southern slopes of Mik Berg (6 km south of the Huab River). At that time the Huab male (Xpl-68) was approximately 8 km further west in the Huab River. In spite of a strong westerly breeze, Xpl-68 must have heard the commotion of the lionesses catching and killing the oryx, because he arrived at the scene 30 minutes later.

27 Apr 2012. Huab Lionesses. A faint radio signal of Xpl-76 was picked-up early this morning. The two Huab lionesses (Xpl-75 & 76) were located in a narrow valley close to Mik Berg. The movement data from the GPS collar of Xpl-75 were downloaded and her movement patterns for the past month is presented below. Visibility in the narrow valley was poor and the lionesses were observed briefly at sunset.

The movement patterns of Xpl-75 between 26 March and 9 April 2012

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The movement patterns of Xpl-75 between 10 and 24 April 2012

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26 Apr 2012. Huab Male. The Huab male (Xpl-68) only emerged from the thick river vegetation at the end of civil twilight. The images below were captured using long exposures and high ISO settings. The whole night was spent searching for the two lionesses and a large area between the Huab River and Gai-Ais spring was covered.

25 Apr 2012. Huab Valley. The Huab male (Xpl-68) was located close to Peter's Pool, where he was lying in a thick reed-bank. The tracks of the two lionesses and their cubs were observed, but they have not yet been located. It appears that they might have moved towards the Ugab River.

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24 Apr 2012. Coast Survey. The coastal area (including all the springs and ephemeral rivers) was surveyed from Mowe Bay en route to the Huab River. No signs of recent lion movements were found and no radio telemetry signals were heard. A sub-adult brown hyaena was observed near the mouth of the Hunkap River.

22/23 Apr 2012. Hoaruseb Springs. The lower Hoaruseb River and the fresh-water springs at the coast were scanned for lion tracks. There was no evidence of lion movements during the past few months.

21 Apr 2012. Hoaruseb. The report of a lion moving down the Hoaruseb River towards the coast was investigated. The tracks, unfortunately, turned out to be those of a large male leopard. His tracks were followed from Leyland's Drift to the Clay Castles inside the Skeleton Coast Park. A young Cape fox was observed near the Khumib River.

20 Apr 2012. Lionesses search for food. The two young Floodplain lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) left the five cubs with Xpl-10 and continued moving in a northernly direction. They were observed hunting for oryx on several occasions. A report was received that the fresh tracks of a lion was spotted in the Hoaruseb River.

19 Apr 2012. Cubs learn about mountains. The Floodplain lionesses patiently led their cubs into the mountains north of the Hoanib River. The cubs are learning quickly. They are a lot more sure-footed now than just a couple of weeks ago when they struggled to cross small sand ridges. The lionesses are also leading them on longer excursions - it is estimated that they walked approximately 16 km over rough terrain (e.g. big sand dunes & mountains) during the course of the morning.

18 Apr 2012. Five Cubs. It required almost eight days and many long hours to finally observe all five cubs of the Floodplain Pride.

17/8 Apr 2012. Floodplain lionesses separate. During the night the three Floodplain lionesses and five cubs moved south of the Hoanib River. At sunrise their tracks were followed for 8 kilometres, but they could not be located. At 13h00 a faint signal from Xpl-69's radio collar was heard in a northernly direction. Five hours later the two young lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) were located 10 kilometres north of the Hoanib River. Xpl-10 and the cubs were not present.

16/7 Apr 2012. Xpl-10 lactating. Observations on the Floodplain lionesses have been difficult as a result of the terrain - the lionesses moved in areas that are not easily accessible by vehicle. Notwithstanding it has been confirmed that the five cubs of the two young lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) are still alive, and that Xpl-10 is lactating and suckling cubs (photos: 2nd & 3rd from left). She also displayed unusual aggression. The Land Cruiser had been stationary for more than three hours approximately 150 metres from the lions, but when Xpl-10 moved past the vehicle (>50 m) at twilight, she became agitated by the stationary research vehicle (whom she knows well and would normally take little notice of) and snarled at it (photo: far left). This type of behaviour is common among lionesses with small cubs.

15 Apr 2012. Cubs alive. The lionesses moved in different directions, which caused some confusion. But, the fresh tracks of the cubs were observed at sunset. It was not possible to determine the exact number of cubs because the rocky substrate.

14 Apr 2012. Cubs? The two young Floodplain lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) left the fresh oryx carcass to (presumably) find their cubs and lead them to the carcass, but they did not return. Xpl-55 was located later during the night many kilometres west along the Hoanib River. The survival of the Floodplain cubs is uncertain.

13 Apr 2012. Oryx Kill. At 03:52 this morning Xpl-10 and the two young lionesses killed a bull oryx amongst the granite boulders several kilometres south of Amp's Poort. The lionesses fed on the carcass for a while and at sunrise Xpl-55 moved off in a northernly direction (where the cubs are believed to be hiding). But, Xpl-55 did not return to the carcass during the day, and at sunset Xpl-69 also departed in the same direction.

12 Apr 2012. Floodplain Lionesses. During the past 24 hours the three Floodplain lionesses were observed hunting herds of oryx on seven occasions, but without success. Xpl-10 appears to be lactating (see photo far left) and she possibly gave birth during the past two weeks. At sunset the lionesses moved determinately in the direction where the cubs are believed to be hiding.

10-11 Apr 2012. Floodplain Observations. Two breeding herds of elephants were encountered on the Hoanib Floodplain. Although bull elephants visit the Floodplain sporadically, breeding herds rarely do. To observe two separate breeding herds on the Floodplain at the same time is unusual.

The three Floodplain lionesses were located south of the Hoanib River near the border of the Skeleton Coast Park. They were without the small cubs, but both young lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) are still lactating. The lionesses were observed hunting a small herd of oryx. The hunt lasted almost two hours and data were collected on the cooperative hunting strategy and the coordinated roles of each of the three lionesses.

8-9 Apr 2012. Refuel. The area from the mouth of Hoaruseb River to the eastern edge of the Hoanib Floodplain was scanned for lion movements. There was no sign of lion activities and the Floodplain Pride (with their five small cubs) could not be located either. The Land Cruiser is running very low on petrol and it became necessary to divert to Terrace Bay in order to refuel. The camera-traps on the Hoanib Floodplain captured many photos of brown hyaenas and the first record of a caracal on the western edge of the Hoanib Floodplain (photo: far right).

7 Apr 2012. Hoaruseb River. From the northern section of the Okongwe Mountains, the search for the Hoanib and Okongwe lions was extended to the Hoaruseb area. This included the Gamatum River (from the Omiriu settlement) and the Hoaruseb River (from Purros) to the coast. No recent signs of lion movements were found.

6 Apr 2012. Full Moon. Despite the efforts of the past few days, the full moon period came to an end without locating the Hoanib Pride. This could be due to radio collar failures.

5 Apr 2012. Faulty Radio Collar. Efforts to locate the Hoanib Pride have been intensive. More than 680 km were driven in mountainous terrain in an attempt to use the remaining few moon-lit nights for darting. To great surprise, the radio signal of Xpl-71 was picked-up at 22h00 last night. Although Xpl-71 was observed mating with Xpl-73 "Rosh" at Amp's Poort on 19 Mar 2012 (middle photo), her radio collar stopped working less than a year after it was fitted in July 2010 (photo: far right). The signal was followed into the mountains, but after a few hours It disappeared. This is not uncommon in mountainous terrain, because lions can move down valleys and into low-lying areas that will block the signal. The entire night and most of today was spent searching in vain for the signal of Xpl-71. The most likely explanation is that Xpl-71's radio collar is faulty and that it transmits signals erratically, as was also the case with a collar from the same batch fitted to Xpl-38 "Tawny". Whatever the exact technical reason, a lot of time and resources were wasted in the process. The failure of a large number of radio, GPS & satellite collars (fitted between 2008 and 2011) has been a serious set-back to the research project.

4 Apr 2012. Hoanib Tributaries. The Hoanib River and all its main tributaries between Elephant Song and the Mudorib waterhole (excluding the Mudorib River) have been surveyed extensively in search of the Hoanib Pride. Tracks of female lions (1-3 days old) were observed at several locations, but the radio-telemetry signal of Xpl-47 "Bianca" or fresh lion tracks (< 12 hours old) were not found. During the past 36 hours, the camera-traps at Ganamub and Okongwe captured images of a brown hyaena, an African wildcat & a striped polecat.

3 Apr 2012. Floodplain lionesses. The Floodplain lionesses were located to the west of Amp's Poort. Although strong winds and dust storms made observations quite difficult, it was possible to confirm that the cubs were not present, but that the lionesses (Xpl-55 & 69) are both still lactating. The Floodplain lionesses were left in peace in favour of finding the Hoanib lionesses. The radio collar of Xpl-47 "Bianca" is expected to expire on 1 May 2012 (based on the expected battery-life of the collar). Efforts are thus focussed on locating the Hoanib Pride to replace Xpl-47's collar, or to fit a new radio collar to Xpl-59. The tracks of two lionesses (from last night) were found at the Ganamub Gorge. The tracks are currently being followed as they are moving northwards along a narrow wash.

2 Apr 2012. Coastal Survey. The area along the coast, from the Messum River to Mowe Bay, was surveyed for recent signs of lion movements. Emphasis was placed on the areas near the ephemeral rivers (especially the Ugab, Huab, Uniab and Hoanib rivers). There were no tracks or any other signs of lion activity.

1 Apr 2012. New Radio Collars. The first batch of radio collars was received from African Wildlife Tracking. The six VHF / RFID Tag collars have been modified slightly by AWT to meet the needs of this Project and they are expected to run for 4 years. The rest of the collars (4 x satellite and 2 x VHF/Tag collars) are expected to arrive soon. Refer to the News entry of 13 Feb 2012 for a description of the radio collars and how they work. The collars were sponsored by the "Desert Lion - Collar Project" initiative (see Sponsors for more details). A report on the performance of the BFG Mud Terrain tires, sponsored by Michelin, South Africa, was compiled (see Land Cruiser Reports). Several software programmes that were listed under Needs were received from Mac Haas at Princeton University in the USA (see Sponsors).