Voices for Biodiversity

Desert Lion Tourism

I attended a presentation last night by Dr. Flip Stander, who is the leading lion expert in Namibia. It was a fascinating look at the last 15 years of his life spent with the desert lions in the Kaokoveld and Damaraland in northern Namibia. These big cats are uniquely adapted to life in the extremely arid habitats of southern Africa and often live outside the umbrella of protected areas. This means that they are also prone to conflict with their human neighbors.

The desert lions were thought to have become extinct in the late 1980s, having been shot out by the local inhabitants as they were apparently killing off their livestock. However, some managed to survive. With the change in environmental policies and the development of ecotourism, the local communities now realise the financial benefits to them by helping preserve the lions. But as is now common with many ecotourism plans, indigenous and local people often do not see the economic and social benefits from these enterprises, all the while bearing the burden of life with wildlife.

There are now 150 roaming and area of 32000 km2 — all of which is entirely unprotected, i.e. not officially a game park/nature preserve. The lions are flourishing, and there is potential that they will move south into the newly-created Dorob Park. This proclaimed protected area links with the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa across the Orange River, along our entire coastline to the Kunene River in the north , where it links with the Iona National Park in Angola. The goal of Desert Lion Conservation is to help local governments and tourism companies develop policies and projects that benefit both desert lions (and their habitats) and local economies. The hope is that by consulting communities and bringing them into wildlife management decisions, they can create win-win situations for all parties.

And there have been some successes. Flip has collared a high number of lions and downloads their tracking info every night via his solar-powered communications systems in his Land Cruiser vehicle/office/home. Local herdsmen are now able hit the site every morning via their cellphones to see where the lions are so they know where they can graze their cattle safely.