NORTHWEST NAMIBIA LION POPULATION SURVEY
5 November – 15 December
PROJECT AREA: Core lion-range communal conservancies (Anabeb, Doro! Nawas, Ehi-rovipuka, #Khoadi-//hôas, Omatendeka, Puros, Sesfontein, and Torra) and concessions (Etendeka, Hobatere, Palmwag) Kunene Region, Namibia
SUMMARY This will be the first-ever population survey of lions across northwest Namibia. Overseen by MEFT, and bringing together researchers, government practitioners, and community Lion Rangers, the primary goal is developing a baseline population estimate, through repeatable methods, to serve as the foundation for evidence-based lion management. Northwest Namibia is among the few areas worldwide where human land-use and positive lion conservation outcomes align, a baseline population survey is critical to securing and managing the population going forward. Because this will occur almost entirely on communal land, it contributes to community-centered lion conservation, as well as insights for regional and pan-African lion conservation. AMOUNT REQUESTED N$ 568,200
BACKGROUND Northwest Namibia supports a unique population of free-ranging desert-adapted lions living alongside rural communities. However, the success of Namibia’s communal conservancies has led to intensified human-lion conflict and subsequent lion mortalities in recent years.
In the mid-1990s, as few as 20 lions survived across northwest Namibia. With the development of the communal conservancy system, by the mid-2010s this number had increased to a population estimated between 112-137. During this recovery, overlapping lion ranges and communal farmland generated a high frequency of human-lion conflict. From 2000-2010, retaliatory killings accounted for 89% of lion (non-cub) mortalities. Since that time lion killings have decreased, due primarily to the mobilization of the Lion Rangers program. Experts now estimate the population at 60-90 individuals. However, without a comprehensive survey, data deficiency is hampering effective conservation and interventions to support community conservation.
Northwest Namibia has been upgraded to the status of a “Lion Stronghold” (National Geographic 2018) also known as a “priority lion landscape” (WWF 2019). However, according to the IUCN’s Guidelines for the Conservation of Lions in Africa, this population qualifies as “unknown”, due to a deficiency in long-term data (IUCN 2018). In 2017 MEFT published the Human-Lion Conflict Plan for North West Namibia (GRN 2017). This document identifies the importance of comprehensive lion management on Kunene communal lands. Since then, multistakeholder teams have dramatically up-scaled monitoring and conflict response capacity to catalyze evidence-based lion monitoring.
We will pilot the first lion population survey across the area, and use resulting data to upscale monitoring and contribute to an updated Human-Lion Conflict Plan. This feeds into the primary goal of evidence-based management of the lion population, with an eye towards sustainability and local benefits.
METHODOLOGY Adapting state-of-the-art methods (Elliot et al 2021) the Northwest Lion Survey focuses on individual lion identification and the use of spatially-explicit capture-recapture (SECR) analysis. Three teams will perform semi-structured surveys of more than 25,000 km2 over a six-week period. Each of the three teams will consist of three vehicles (1 research; 2 tracking teams), consisting of approximately ten staff members (30 in total), deployed for the entirety of six weeks. Each team will be overseen by an MEFT-permitted researcher (Dr. Stander, Mr. Muzuma, and Dr. Heydinger). Dividing the vast and rugged area into three focal areas draws on the deep knowledge and experience of the Lion Rangers, local government staff, and researchers to build on the existing core of 30-plus GPS/satellite collared lions, to probe into the hardest-to-reach remote areas of the northwest, to individually identify previously unknown lions throughout the landscape. By intensively covering their areas of expertise, the teams will combine to provide the first ever lion population survey spanning northwest Namibia.
Drawing on decades of researcher and local practitioner expertise, as well as a recently completed GPS-collar lion occupancy modelling exercise, and last year’s area-wide Rapid Lion Body Condition Assessment, this operation brings together the right teams and techniques to execute this survey. The anticipated outcomes include not only a baseline population estimate, but also a foundation of repeatable methods – subject to the necessary review process of adaptive management – that may be replicated, developed, and built upon in years to come. Analysis of survey results will contribute to Namibia’s National Lion Population Management Plan, and will also contribute towards ensuring local communities receive sustainable benefits from their living alongside and proactively conserving this ecologically unique lion population.
IMPACTS Across the area, approximately 19,300 rural residents suffer the costs of human-wildlife conflict. Communal conservancy residents living alongside lions and other large carnivores have lost livestock totaling an average value of US$ 2,839 to lions and US$ 10,151 to all large carnivores per household. 84% state they do not benefit from having lions in their conservancy. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority (75%) state it is important to continue having lions in their conservancy (Heydinger et al. 2019).
Our research has already developed new approaches to producing lion-derived benefits. These include supporting the forthcoming Wildlife Credits program in partnership with WWF and CCFN. Further data for sustainable management and benefits are needed. A population survey will contribute to limiting human-lion conflict by providing a comprehensive picture of lion spatial ecology and demographics across the northwest. This provides MEFT and conservancies a clearer picture of lion presence in specific areas, which is critical to implementing proactive human-lion conflict mitigation measures. Additionally, a full population survey provides the needed baseline for MEFT to adjust lion trophy hunting quotas, also contributing important lion-derived benefits to local communities. With methods structured around Lion Rangers’ participation, conservancies are also taking the lead in executing the survey, which contributes to feelings of community proprietorship of lions.
Additional stakeholders include the local tourism industry and its estimated 4,000 employees, as well as the Lion Rangers themselves, all of whom are local community members. When the survey is completed, Lion Rangers and project partners will report survey results to conservancy residents, as a central part of information dissemination and building tolerance and awareness around living with lions.
Project partners, undertaking the field and already contributing operational expenses and man-power include Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (Directorate of Scientific Services and Regional Services), community Lion Rangers, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), the Namibian Lion Trust, Desert Lion Conservation Trust, Tourism Supporting Conservation (TOSCO), and the University of Minnesota Lion Center.
Project activities are oriented towards transforming the enabling conditions of lion conservation in the region. We aim to increase knowledge of the lion population for sustainable, evidence-based management and local benefit. Surveys will inform the updated Human-Lion Conflict Plan. This will target the gap between the costs of living with lions, and the limited direct benefits received. In Namibia, 100% of direct benefits from wildlife inhabiting communal land accrue to the conservancies themselves. Through the Lion Rangers, process-as-result is an important component of this project. The Lion Rangers will play a central role in conducting the population survey. This will foster open communication among project partners and stakeholders, while contributing to the repeatability and longevity of positive project outcomes. Moving forward, results will be made accessible to conservancies and local stakeholders, and to the international conservation community. Ongoing practitioner training will emphasize incorporating robust social and ecological data into decision-making.
|Activity/Equipment||Estimated cost per unit (NAD)||Number of Units||Estimated Total Cost|
|Food per team for six weeks||12,000.00||12||144,000|
|Daily Subsistence Allowance (MEFT Staff x10)||260.00||42||109,200|
|Fuel (150 km/day x 42 days x 9 vehicles)||35,000.00||9||315,000|
|Vehicle wear-and-tear (150 km/day x 42 x 9)||70,000.00||9||630,000|
|Researchers’ daily rate (2 x 42 days)||2,500.00||84||210,000|
|MEFT staff daily rate (10 x 42 days)||800.00||420||336,000|
|Lion Rangers Rate (20 Rangers x 1.25 months)||2,250.00||20||45,000|
|Technical Equip (cameras, computers, etc x 3 teams)||79,500||3||238,500|
|*Items in Red covered by participating organizations|
|Total Project Cost||2,027,700|
|Amount secured from partners||1,459,500|
|Amount secured from GEF||130,000|
Elliot, N.B., et al. 2021. Report on the application of novel estimating methodologies to monitor lion abundance within source populations and large carnivore occupancy at a national scale. Wildlife Research and Training Institute and Kenya Wildlife Service.
(GRN) Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism, 2017. Human-Lion Conflict Management Plan for North West Namibia. Windhoek, Namibia.
Heydinger, J., Packer, C., Tsaneb, J., 2019. Desert-adapted lions on communal land: Surveying the costs incurred by, and perspectives of, communal-area livestock owners in northwest Namibia. Biol. Conserv. 236, 496–504.
IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group, 2018. Guidelines for the Conservation of Lions in Africa, Version 1.0 – December 2018. Muri/Bern, Switzerland.
(National Geographic) Jacobson, A., Riggio, J., 2018. Big Cats in Africa: status update on the African lion, cheetah and leopard, with recommendations for effective big cat conservation funding.
(WWF) Elliot, N.B., Masozera, M., Wato, Y., McVey, D., 2019. WWF’s Potential Role and Impact in Lion Conservation, Relative to Other Conservation Organizations. Gland, Switzerland.