A Surprising Visit to Damaraland to see the Vanishing Desert Lions – Part 1 of 4

Namibia is home to the desert lions. Izak Smit loves to observe them and does everything he can to save the last of them.

A Surprising Visit to Damaraland to see the Vanishing Deseret Lions - Part 1 of 4

Photo by Inki Mandt. Gretzky, XPL 99, boasting his and XPL 75, Angela’s cubs in the Huab valley…one proud dad! Hope prevails…

Izak Smit is a freelance pilot in Namibia. However, his passion to save the last of the desert lions is unmatched. I’ve not personally met Izak (hope to early in 2018.) I rarely report on people Russ and I haven’t personally visited. However, communicating with Izak online over the past year I feel we already have.

When Izak posted this on Facebook I simply had to share it. (It’s Part 1 of 4)

[Izak Smit and Inki Mandt are with Desert Lions Human Relationship Aid (DeLHRA)]

Izak tells about their surprising visit to Damarlanad to see the Desert Lions.

We left a very cold miserable Swakopmund finally after many postponements, some of which were caused by more fruitless meetings with the authorities… . We were quite fed up with politics and looked forward to get to the tranquility of the desert and the honesty of its inhabitants.

We visited Mama Rosa s farm at De Rust West of the White Lady Lodge in the Ugabriver to see how the shade cloth and lights were holding up. Mama Rosa was absent but called to request more shade cloth and predator deterring lights to cover all her kraals as she is elated with the results it yielded.

The farm has not had any recent losses due to predation by Lions but in the past mostly by Hyena, Cheetah and Leopard. We do anticipate, however, that the large cubs, now almost sub-adults, will come calling….it is inevitable and we must be ready and ensure that they will return empty handed. If they should be successful and kill livestock, problem animals will have been created by humans because of their ignorance, nonchalance or indifference…! However, if unsuccessful after a few attempts the Lions are likely to lose interest and hunt elsewhere in time, writing this off as a food prospect and source. We came across two day old tracks of the whole pride in the riverbed and it was clear that they had left. Gretzky also clearly had left the pride, presumably to go on patrol or to visit the Huab Pride’s females.

We continued and just missed the pride as they entered an inaccessible area near a fountain north of the Ugab. We are happy to confirm that the whole pride could be accounted for and that Gretzky had just left the pride recently. All alive and well!

Photo by Inki Mandt. Gretzky”s new Namib Desert Family in the Huab Valley – what a dad- shuttling between the Ugab and Huab Rivers to see after his offsprings
Here is Angela and her 2 tiny little 3 months old cubs enjoying the presence of the Father,Gretzky

We were also happy to learn that some of the swamps in the Ugabriver are not accessible to vehicles any more after the recent flash floods so the stress caused by vehicles passing in close proximity (undoubtedly thwarting hunting attempts in the process and disturbing wild animals) will be less and water sources have been replenished. Also the trees, many of which had died already, have been revived by the flash floods and looked healthy again!

Further north en route to the Huabriver Valley we came across hikers with a back up vehicle and were informed that they had seen Angela (XPL 75) with her two 3 month old cubs along with her sister XPL 76, Minki the young adult female and Nkosi, her brother. They had reportedly just killed a Zebra and Nkosi dragged the carcass for quite a distance to the shade of a tree, showing off his phenomenal power.

Missy, the Ugab Female

Photo by Inki Mandt. Young lion at kill

We were lucky to find them still near the same position but only saw the three females as they dramatically appeared etched off against the setting sun on an elevated spot. We were very hopeful and so looking forward to see the cubs but alas, not this time! We could hardly contain our excitement and frustration!

The very next day, we took a chance and visited a favorite stake out/ambush spot of the pride about 12 kilometers from their previous position. Our guesswork paid off, they had walked all the way overnight, even with the small cubs!

At first only the three females came out to bask in the first rays of sunlight to warm up after a cold night. They were absolutely magnificent and so well camouflaged on the ancient mud banks and the Huab Valley provided the most beautiful backdrop, invoking rattling bursts from Inki’s cameras.

The youngest female, adult but yet to conceive (seen flirting with Gretzky by us in June, but apparently not successful), we call Minki, decided to play “cat and mouse” with our vehicle (as these cats often do with other pride members), “Bosluis” and stalked it, playfully charged it and then got bored and just walked up to Inki and laid down yawning…..(video posted). . It is clear that by now these Lions know our vehicle very well and are fully relaxed in its presence. We, however continue our policy to maintain quiet and keep a respectable distance and all the close-ups are because of them approaching us and not the other way around.

We telepathically willed and urged Angela (mumbling to ourselves) to show us her cubs, but she was content playing with her sister and basking in the sun!

All of a sudden Angela got up and disappeared into the nearby bush. We thought, ok this is it, sighting over, and prepared to leave the Lions in peace for the day. Just as we were about to leave Angela came leaping playfully out of the bush (as if bitten or chased by something), stopped, turned and looked directly at us for what seemed an eternity. She gave a soft call, looked back and suddenly the two cubs came walking out of the bush up to her…..! She proudly paraded them in front of us and you could hear a needle drop in our vehicle.

The queen of the Huab was showing off her cubs…….to us…!

The next moment the proud father, XPL 99, Gretzky made his appearance and the cubs went to him. He has turned into a magnificent male and his gentle interaction with the cubs just melted our hearts! Walt Disney could not have written a better script! Inki s camera, by now, resembled a Gattling Gun and the Swarovski binoculars was glued to my face.

Angela's cub

Photo by Inki Mandt. One of Angela’s cubs.

I tried to ascertain the gender of the two cubs, and it seems that one is definitely a female and the other a male. Their eyes had just turned amber and they still fitted under their mom’s belly and we estimated them three months old.

XPL 76 appeared pregnant, about mid term, and after analyzing the photos we confirmed this. She ll probably give birth around 23 rd September according to our calculations.

NEXT IN PART TWO

Damaraland has gone green and…what is left of the Okongue pride after Tullamore, female XPL 104 and her cubs have been poisoned in May………..we were almost too scared to find out…..

young lion by Caesar Zandberg

Photo by Caesar Zandberg. Young 4 year old Hoanib male, part of a small pride in the Hoanib

Photo above is of the young 4 year old Hoanib male, part of a small pride in the Hoanib with little Tina, XPL 103 and sister, the offspring of Kebbel or XPL 87 and Bianca or Einstein ( both dead now due human wildlife conflict). He has grown into a magnificent fellow and urgently needs to be collared and monitored…!! Photo credit Caesar Zandberg.. thanks Caesar!

One of the females has two young cubs now, still very small! Excellent news from Caesar of Khowarib Lodge!


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