Namibia's unique desert lions threatened by drought and human conflict

Namibia’s unique desert-adapted lions, which eke out a living in the harsh Kunene Region in the country’s north-west, have declined up to 21 percent over the past year due to a drought-induced drop in prey and conflict with humans.

A survey carried out in late 2022 to early 2023 by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) put numbers of desert-adapted lions at around 57-60 adults and 14 cubs.

Since then, another eight to 12 lions have died – some through conflict with humans, according to the latest statistics.

This puts their current annual mortality rate at 10-21 percent.

“If this was extrapolated out to a few years, [mortalities] would be considered unsustainable,” says John Heydinger, researcher and co-founder of Lion Rangers, a conservation group that helped with the population survey.

He cautions, however, that the population is not “in freefall”. Historically, numbers have been lower.

The human-lion conflict appears to be driven by declines in typical lion prey caused by drought.

According to figures from a separate 2022 count, numbers of gemsbok, a long-horned antelope, were found to have fallen by an estimated 85 percent in the last five years; and zebra and springbok by 59 and 53 percent respectively.

Killing livestock

On the back of game shortages, lions have been doing what they have done throughout time: hunting livestock.

From 2021-2023, they killed 512 animals including goats, sheep, cattle, donkeys and even chickens and dogs, according to data gathered by the Lion Rangers.

Read more on RFI English

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