On Tuesday, 9 February 2016, AfriCat got a call from a concerned farmer in the Karibib area (western Namibia, bordering the edge of the Namibia desert. The ‘Namib’ is a coastal desert in southern Africa. The name Namib is of Nama origin and means “vast place” ) .
His farm is about 20 kilometers southwest of Karibib. He reported lion activity in the area and that fresh tracks were found that morning in a riverbed; possibly 3 animals but no size, age nor sex could be ascertained.
One of the neighbouring farmers also informed him that the same morning one of their horses had been attacked – possibly by a lion? On Wednesday we got another call from the manager of a local guestfarm, bordering the farm in question, where lion tracks had also been found and lions were heard roaring in that area the previous night.
The M.E.T (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) were also contacted and AfriCat was requested to investigate the situation; jumping into action, on the Thursday a team was sent out to the area. One of our AfriCat team members grew up in that area and therefore knew some the farmers personally, which definitely helped this sensitive situation . . .
The local guest-farm/lodge kindly offered us accommodation and meals for the weekend and we were welcomed by friendly staff. We sat down with the manager who has lived in the area for many years,to discuss the situation.
He indicated where he had seen the tracks and that a security guard at a nearby marble mine ‘Namagra’, claimed to have seen one of the lions at the mine. A few rumours also added some ‘spice’:”Apparently five lions were seen close to town and that the police are chasing some of them out of town. Even a group of 12 lions was allegedly seen by somebody. . .”
We decided to follow all leads the next morning, but went out that evening to set up a ‘calling-station’ at a nearby waterhole, in the hope of attracting the lions, but unfortunately had no success.
The next morning was an early start, commencing at the mine where we found some lion tracks, already a few days old. Hyaena tracks were also found. We then went down a riverbed in the area, where tracks were positively identified, but again we couldn’t find anything fresh; but we had to follow all leads, including a visit to the police in Karibib.
The ‘lions about town’ story was completely untrue, as we had thought, but we had to follow up on it; the next stop was another neighbour, where the horse had been attacked. We inspected the horse, the tell-tale signs were clear and concluded that the lions were probably inexperienced, young lions, possibly forced out of their home range further north in the Kunene Region, north-west of Karibib.
The farm-assistants then informed us that a young calf had been caught and eaten a few days prior; we drove to the area and found two sets of tracks – again old tracks – but at least we knew now that we were dealing with only two, maybe three lions; it was, however, very frustrating that none of the evidence nor tracks were recent.
Poaching is often the reason farmer’s lose their domestic animals, who then blame predators, hence the urgency to find fresh signs!
The next call came from the farmer who had initially contacted AfriCat, informing us that his workers had found ‘one-day-old’ tracks on his farm. This was good news so we decided to ‘stake-out’ that evening, close to where the tracks were found, and play more lion-calls. Unfortunately, a strong wind came up, sending the calls in one direction only, making for yet another long, uneventful night out in the field.
We had to return back to AfriCat base the next day, because our team is thinly spread; missions such as these take man-power and time to investigate and are always dependent on the support of donors and patient, understanding farmers!
Surprisingly, all the farmers were very helpful and really appreciated that we had came out to try to assist. None of them even wanted to try and shoot these lions . . . such a positive sign in today’s world of regular human-wildlife-conflict; here too, our wildlife is often forced out of their territories by man and it was great to know and see first-hand, that there are at least some farmers out there that wish to learn more about these animals and protect them.
This is one of the projects AfriCat is raising funds for: we need to get out onto the farms more often, travel to the ‘hot-spots’ or where the ‘problem’-predators are reported and spend quality time with the farmers on their land; to assist where we can, give more advice on stock protection methods, and try to change mindset, which definitely shifts once they see that AfriCat has come out to help them instead of only trying to give advice via phone. Unfortunately, the lack of funding, which includes salaries for more team members, GPS-Satellite collars, sponsored fuel and vehicles, etc., prohibits extensivetravel to get to the problematic areas.
Farmers also need to know that NGO’S such as AfriCat cannot just ‘remove’ a ‘problem’ predator from the reported area; AfriCat also gathers valuable data concerning where-abouts, reasons for the present conflict and offers mitigation options for long-term solutions. These options range from sourcing well-researched destinations for these so-called ‘problem’ animals once removed from farmland, collaring and left in that area, enabling AfriCat to monitor their movements; and while this happens, livestock needs to be placed into safe-areas and the herdsman should be vigilant.
Nothing is as simple as it may seem, when sorting this kind of conflict between wildlife and the farmer who fears for the safety of his livestock.
A big thank you to Etusis Lodge for accommodating the Team and OK Foods, Karibib, for the lunch packs.
Update: Our friendly farmers have been contacted since our Team’s return, but no fresh sign has been found. We sincerely hope that the lions may have felt threatened by the human activity as well as the ‘lion-calls’, and left the area; we shall never know unless we are able to fit GPS-Satellite collars in order to effectively monitor their movements, also providing an early-warning system for farmers, giving them time to safe-guard their livestock from imminent danger.