Reintroduction of Large Carnivores

Kalahari Game Lodge Lion and Cheetah Introduction
Background Project Progress Reports

Many species decline due to loss of habitat and in Namibia, species like lions, wild dogs and spotted hyaenas are incompatible with livestock farming. Ongoing persecution has resulted in the contraction of their ranges leaving them mostly confined to conservation areas. Where they do occur outside these areas, they are a source of ongoing conflict with livestock farmers. One of the long-term objectives for large carnivore conservation in Namibia, stipulated by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, is to identify key areas for the reintroduction of large carnivores, such as lions, cheetahs and wild dogs. The fast growing tourism industry in Namibia has in many cases led to a change in land-use practices from livestock farming to eco-tourism activities that is frequently based on wildlife safaris. This shift in land tenure systems has created suitable habitat for many wildlife species, including large carnivores. This development has led to opportunities and demand for the reintroduction of large carnivores. Tourism and reintroduction are extremely compatible as the expense of reintroduction is considerable, but a good investment for a tourism enterprise. One of the objectives of the PCT for the long-term conservation of large carnivores in Namibia is the reintroduction of lions and wild dogs. We are in the process of identifying key sites for this project.

Members of the Predator Conservation Trust have been involved in the reintroduction of lions at the Kalahari Game Lodge in the south of Namibia. The Kalahari Game Lodge (KGL), is a prime example of the eco-tourism revolution, transformed 27 000 hectares (66 000 acres) of traditionally sheep farming land into a wildlife area. The land supports approximately 8000 medium to large-sized animals, ranging from springbok to eland. The land is surrounded by a sound game-proof fence that, in conjunction

with its size and the size of the prey population, makes it an ideal location for the reintroduction of large carnivores. The owner of the Kalahari Game Lodge, Mr Marius Els, became interested in reintroducing lions and initiated the process in 1998. Reintroducing large carnivores into a new habitat is extremely complex. Although not attempted previously in Namibia, but building on our previous experiences of reintroducing wild dogs and cheetahs, members of the Predator Conservation Trust assisted KGL in the reintroduction of three lions and two cheetahs during 2002. Kalahari Game Lodge (KGL) is a privately owned 26 000 hectare (65 000 acre) game farm situated in the south east of Namibia and falls within the Kalahari Sandveld landscape with an average annual rainfall of between 150 and 200 mm.

An electrified game-proof fence surrounds the entire property. Temporary holding facilities were erected to facilitate the reintroduction of the lions and cheetahs. For the lions two holding facilities, each a minimum of one hectare in size, were built to house them for up to three months. A smaller camp (220 m2) was erected to house the cheetahs for 2 weeks before release. Before the reintroductions could take place it was necessary to write a management plan with guidelines for feeding the animals while in the bomas, release procedures as well as methods and frequency of monitoring the animals after release. Most important of all was to make sure that the reintroduced lions did not breed to the point that they caused the prey species to decline. Initially the female cheetah and the oldest lioness were placed on contraceptive implants. A predator/prey model was developed and included in the management plan which determined the number of lions and cheetahs that KGL could sustain without causing a decline in the prey populations.

It was estimated that KGL could support up to 6 Cheetah so a male and female cheetah were brought in by aircraft and placed in their boma for two weeks before a passive release. Conservative calculations indicated that KGL can support between 4 and 6 lions. As KGL borders the Kalahari Gemsbok Park in South Africa, the park authorities were concerned about lions escaping into the park and breeding with the Kalahari lions. They requested that Kalahari lions be used for the exercise. As lions are not allowed to be imported into Namibia, special permission had to be obtained from the Minister of Environment. It was decided to reintroduce three from the Kalahari Gemsbok Park (KGP) which is adjacent to KGL, but on the South African side of the border. One male and two females were captured by the National Parks Board and imported into Namibia. The park authorities darted one male and two female lions and travelled to Mata Mata gate on the Namibian boundary where the lions were transferred into the vehicle of KGL.

They were then driven to the bomas and radio collared and the females placed on contraceptive implants before being placed inside the bomas to recover.

After three months, the lions were released into the game camp. They hung around the boma for an afternoon and then walked up the side of a sand dune and disappeared over the ridge.

The lions are tracked on a daily basis and they have been observed killing gemsbok, eland and springbok. The reintroduction has been a resounding success and the Predator Conservation Trust will be involved in the ongoing management of these lions.

Both the lions and cheetahs had settled in well and before long they started hunting.

Progress Reports
19th September 2003 On Wednesday, 17th September, we set off to the Kalahari Game Lodge (KGL) at 6:30 am in order to make the most of the cool morning hours. After having a few vehicle problems, we arrived at KGL nine hours later. KGL is the privately owned game farm that is the site of the first lion reintroduction in Namibia. Almost a year ago, three lions were released into this vast area and I am happy to report that they are doing extremely well. As lions breed extremely quickly, breeding has to be controlled by means of contraception. Only one of the lionesses was initially implanted as the other lioness was too young. It has since been decided that the game numbers would be able to sustain an increase in lions and that breeding should now be allowed. The best candidate to raise a litter of cubs is the older female so we will allow her implant to run out. Our mission was to place the younger female on contraception. That evening we were only able to track the male. He has grown tremendously and now has a full mane. We decided to dart all three lions to check their general condition and make sure that their collars were not too tight.

Flip, Patrick and I spent the night in the veld and were up at sunrise the following day. We drove around the property for about four and a half hours and found the females together on an Eland kill. We retreated indoors for the hot midday hours and set out again at four in the afternoon. We found the females in the same spot and quickly darted them. Once they were sound asleep we measured them, extended their collars and took blood samples. Hennie Moller, the manager at KGL, had arranged a sheep scale which we were able to use to get accurate weights of the lionesses. The old female weighed 148 kg and the younger female 135 kg. The implants were placed under the skin between the younger female’s shoulder blades.

By this time the sun had set and we ended up tracking down the male in the dark. He was on the move and we had to follow him around for quite some time before getting a shot at him. He went down easily and we drove half way up the large sand dune that he was sleeping on to work on him. He weighed 177.5 kg and had gained approximately 40 kg in the ten months since his release from the holding boma. His upper canines now measure over 5 cm and his mane covers his entire chest area. After extending his collar and taking blood, he was left to recover in the darkness.

We got back to camp at one in the morning and after a quick bite to eat fell into our bedrolls and slept soundly. Once again we got up at sunrise, stoked the fire and had coffee. We joined the Moller family for breakfast and then packed the car for the seven hour drive back to Windhoek.

21st February 2003 It has been over 18 months since the lions and cheetahs were reintroduced and all are still alive and in excellent condition. The cheetahs have explored the majority of the area and their home range has been calculated as 225 km2.

The lions have spent most of their time on the eastern side of KGL and their home range has been calculated as 126.4 km2.

Through observing them on kills as well as finding carcasses, many prey species were able to be identified.

This is the first lion reintroduction ever to take place in Namibia and given that reintroductions of any species is a very difficult undertaking, this reintroduction has been an outstanding success. 21st May 2004 A Steenbok survey was carried out in March to estimate the steenbok population at KGL. The reason for the survey is that a few months after the cheetahs were released the KGL manager, Hennie Moller, made a remarkable discovery. The cheetahs were not selecting many springboks, instead, they killed the smaller steenbok and duiker. More than 60% of their kills were of these two species. This discovery, exciting as it was, highlighted the concern that our predator/prey model was obsolete. In fact, we had no information on the population size of steenbok and duikers, and could not predict the possible impact of cheetah predation. Obtaining reliable estimates of steenbok and duiker numbers, therefore, became a matter of urgency. For details of

the survey, which used a mixture of high-tech methods and bushman trackers, visit our steenbok survey page

4th January 2005
A video clip about the Lion and Cheetah reintroduction has been added to our video gallery. Click here to view the video (3.7Mb)

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