Lions had killed and partly eaten a cow in the in #Khoadi //Hôas communal conservancy east of the Grootberg and Palmwag concessions the night before. This was a perfect chance to dart one of the lions of the pride and to fit the predator with an early warning or GPS collar. Tracks indicated that there were eight lions – an adult male, four females and three youngsters. The Namibia Lion Trust had to put up some bait at the spot the evening after the incident.
The cow had not been in a predator-proof kraal the night and had wandered with some other cattle to a water point at another homestead when the animal was killed by the lions.
In the area a little rain had changed the barren landscape and livestock and wild animals have moved into the area to utilize the sparse grass cover.
At sunset everything was prepared, bait was hung up in a small tree next to the spot where the cow had been killed. Bushes where placed in half a circle around the bait-tree so that the lions could only move in from one side – the one facing the vehicle where veterinarian Dr Diethardt Rodenwoldt and the Director of the Namibia Lion Trust, Tammy Hoth, would be waiting. It was in the beginning a moonless night and a small red light was placed in the tree to be able to detect any movement. The rest of the group was waiting a few hundred metres away in their cars next to a kraal to prevent the lions trying their luck there.
Just before midnight Dr Rodenwoldt and Tammy Hoth spotted three lionesses and their four month old cubs on the ridge of a little hill nearby. The predators smelled the meat but did not dare to get closer. When the moon appeared at around midnight, a huge leopard made his appearance near the bait sight but he too did not dare to come closer. At sunrise everybody was tired, stiff and disappointed.
The following night was as unsuccessful as the night before without any lion being spotted nor any fresh tracks being found at the nearby water through the next morning. The search for the lions had to start all over again. The large cats seemed to have moved north of the veterinary fence which was only a few hundred metres from the homestead where the lions had been drinking and caught the cattle.
The next day lion tracks were found near a spring north of the so-called red line, the veterinary fence and the team moved into the area. This time luck was on their side, three lions were spotted. At first it appeared to be two young males and a female but later it turned out to be two about three year old males and a two year old male without any mane yet.
The last rays of the sun disappeared behind the mountains, as the three lions ignored the slow approaching vehicle and had turned their attention to some Hartmann´s Zebras a few hundred metres away. Getting closer to the lions was not easy since the ground was covered with rocks. Eventually Dr Rodenwoldt, Tammy Hoth and lion guard Scott were close enough. Suddenly one of the lions jumped up and growled and over the radio the message “dart in” informed everybody involved what had happened.
A few minutes later the lion was fast asleep while his companions were lying next to him watching the vehicle coming closer. They were reluctant to move away, a sign that they were used to humans and vehicles. Dr Rodenwoldt pocked the “sleeping” lion with a stick to make sure the big cat is fast asleep before getting out. The rest of the team was informed to come closer. The temperature, heartbeat and breathing of the lion were measured, the dart removed and the small wound treated. Fritz Schenk, one of the trustees of the Namibia Lion Trust and an ex-nature conservation official, started putting a GPS collar around the neck of the young male with the help of lion guard Scott.
Tammy Hoth took various measurements of the lion while Fritz Schenk Junior, wrote down all the data. Lion guard Lazarus and a young man called Afrikaner from a nearby Lodge, stood on top of one of the vehicles with spotlights to keep an eye on the other two lions. Blood samples were taken, teeth and paws measured and photographed, photos of the whisker pattern and any wounds were taken and lastly the young male was weighed – 178 Kg.
54 minutes after the dart had hit the large yellow cat, Dr Rodenwoldt injected an antidote and everybody moved back. We had to wait for the lion to recover from the drug and make sure that he is safe. This took more than an hour.
The next morning the signal of the GPS collar indicated that the lion was close by but it took three hours to eventually locate the three lions in the mountainous terrain a few kilometres away. Unfortunately they were half way up a steep mountain and it was impossible to dart the other older male to fit an early warning collar on him. At least these three lions can now be monitored and found since one of them is fitted with a GPS collar.
The more funds become available, the more lions can be fitted with collars, the more early warning systems can be put up, the more farmers can be warned in time, the more livestock and lions can be saved.
Author: Dirk Heinrich