A Surprising Visit to Kaokoland to see the Vanishing Deseret Lions – Part 3 of 4

Izak and Inki continue their report on their journey through Namibia to see the vanishing desert lions.

A surprising visit to Kaokoland to see the vanishing desert lions Part 3 of 4

Photo by Inki Mandt. Huab – Angela and her sister (xpl 76) 950x

Our journey with Izak and Inki in search of the vanishing desert lions continues. These two amazing people are with Desert Lions Human Relationship Aid (DeLHRA) and are determined to protect Namibia’s lions from human-wildlife conflicts.

[If you missed them… catch up with Part 1 and Part 2]

Izak continues his story…

We left the Okongwe area and were happy to see quite a bit of game roaming the plains to the South Western side of Giribes Plains. Clearly game was just congregating and this was by no means an indication that game was present in abundance. Grass was still in abundance explaining their presence, but soon the cattle will be driven in, driving off/competing with the plains game in the process. Game will then return to the ephemeral rivers whilst awaiting the next rain cycle, if it comes, which is good news for the predators as it will make hunting a lot easier. Only Cheetahs can effectively hunt prey on the plains as they have the speed it requires. Ambushing and using stealth becomes difficult on the plains as the game/prey often pair up with/graze in close proximity of Ostriches in symbiosis as they benefit by the superior eyesight of these whistle blowers/sentries.

stalking cheetah - Inki Mandt

Photo by Inki Mandt. Stalking cheetah

We could see significant changes in the Obiasriver that had been caused by flash floods during the recent rainy season.

The Hoanibriver was mostly devoid of life barring a herd of Elephants passing through. We visited Dubis waterhole and saw two day old tracks of the Hoanib pride. Further East at Elephant Song we saw day old tracks of the pride existing of one male and two females of almost 4 years old (one collared female XPL 103 or “Little Tina”.) We were excited and hope to get to see them flared up. We crossed the Hoanibriver near Oruvero the next morning en route to Orowau as we hoped to see some activity by Kebbel, XPL 81 who has recently been the topic of discussion and the subject of a world wide petition as he had been earmarked for a Trophy hunt. The Minister of Environment and Tourism has, after global appeals, cancelled the hunt, but we needed to see proof of Kebbel being alive and well with our own eyes. Near Orowau we saw fresh tracks of the Orowau pride but none of Kebbel and serious concern for his safety started creeping in, as we normally see his tracks in this area patrolling the area diligently! This feeling was exacerbated when we came a across a freshly prepared “baiting tree” on hunter’s drive. a Trap had been set, obviously for a large predator and the permit to hunt Kebbel had only recently been revoked….. . a Blind had been set up not far from the tree from where the hapless predator will be shot whilst trying to sustain itself lured by the bait hung from the tree. “Fair chase principle indeed”, we thought as we fought the urge to destroy the trap..!

The next morning we drove back to the crossing near Oruvero when something caught Inki’s eye on the riverbank. We got out and there it was, the track of an adult male Lion fresh as can be…!

Size-wise it corresponded with Kebbel’s as the younger male of the Hoanib, probably his son, track is slightly smaller by comparison. We have not seen any signs of Kebbels previous coalition partner XPL 87 whom we presume has died/been hunted under the radar a while ago so, in the absence of any other males known in the area and given that the track matched Kebbel’s shoe size, we were fairly convinced that it was made by Kebbel not long before we got to see it! We, unfortunately had no visual of Kebbel but were satisfied that on a scale of probability it was our boy and that he was alive and well!

Hours later it seemed that we just missed the Hoanib pride as they crossed a ridge just North of Elephant Song on their way back into the Hoanibriver. a Day or two later our good friend Nick Bornman was lucky enough to see the young male, one of his sisters and some tracks of very small cubs between Elephant Song and Dubis and sent us some photos of the male. On our previous encounter with the pride we noticed that the one female looked pregnant and this was now confirmed. New life in the Hoanib after the slaughter of many of their pride members during the past year in Human conflict incidents was very welcome and encouraging! Hopefully the resilience of these adapted Desert wonders will afford them another chance at survival, however if Human Lion conflict is not addressed soon this might be futile.

Consoled by the evidence that the Hoanib Lions were still surviving despite all the challenges they face, we left for the Driefontein-Springbokriver area near Bergsig.

We have received reports of a young male fitting the description of Nkosi, the young Huabriver male’s brother (also almost 4 years old) roaming the Zinkfontein/Jebico area along with a female and decided to drive through the area and try our luck. We named this young male “the prodigal son” as he has been missing since Gretzky, XPL 99, 6 years old, came up from the Ugab early this year and apparently had chased off Nkosi and his brother to claim mating rights on the three females, Minki, XPL 75 and XPL 76. Back then we found clear signs of a short battle that had clearly been lost by the two younger Lions who consequently left the pride. We have since found that every time Gretzky visits, Nkosi leaves and keeps a safe distance only to rejoin the pride as soon as Gretzky leaves for the Ugab again. The prodigal son, however, seems to have either left permanently or might have been killed/died/been shot under the radar. The news that he might have moved North to Zinkfontein/Springbokriver gave us hope and made logical sense.

Angela and sister desert lions Huab - Inki Mandt

Photo by Inki Mandt. Two lionesses

We came across tracks that seem to fit the age of the young male we were looking for along with tracks of a Lioness, however did not see the originators. As we drove back to Driefontein we encountered a breeding herd of about 12 Elephants with about 5 young calves, some very young.

They seemed uneasy and moved away from us sniffing the air and displaying dissatisfaction with our presence even though we were quite a distance off. Not long after this we encountered the rest of the herd, this time about 10 Elephants, also with young calves. Although we were at a respectful distance, this time the whole herd unceremoniously turned and charged us. We needed no more persuasion to move off and pondered this unusual behavior as they were really aggressive. The only conclusion we could draw was that there must’ve been a recent incident where the herd was either shot at or at the very least put under some form of severe duress by humans with a vehicle. During our many visits over 30 years we have not seen Elephants act like this unless they had been exposed to some severe form of threat or stress of some kind recently.

We went past Driefontein farm which was now sporting corrals all covered in the green shade cloth donated by DeLHRA and found that all was calm and no recent conflict incidents have been reported. The defence held!

We continued to Fonteine farm, greeted our dear friend Jantjie Rhyn (he notched up many Lion killings in the past but became a big ally and friend and fully co-operates with us in our endeavors to mitigate and prevent Human Lion Conflict in the area since then). We decided to visit De Riet settlement and route for the Ugabriver via Mikberg. At de Riet all was reported well and shade cloth had been distributed to communal farmers to cover all the corrals by Vitalus Florry of the Torra Conservancy, sponsored by us, however, some corrals were not yet covered…the shade cloth was stored in a nearby hut. We urged the farmers to get those corrals covered asap and continued on our journey.

Near Mikberg the track came alive with fresh Lion tracks…….grinning from ear to ear we went into fully alert mode….was there a chance of seeing the Huab pride again?……



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