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Celebrating Namibia’s Sentinels of Sand


Aug 14, 2022
Celebrating Namibia’s Sentinels of Sand

‘Namib’ derives from the Nama language, which means “an space the place there may be nothing.” This huge area extends for 1,200 miles alongside the Atlantic coast—from Angola southward throughout Namibia—to the Olifants River in South Africa. Inside Africa’s second-youngest nation, lies the world’s oldest desert, with greater than 55 million years of historical past buried in its shifting sands. On this austere panorama the place there may be “nothing,” Namibia’s human and nonhuman inhabitants advanced to worth the whole lot.

The ascending solar ignites the floor, creating shimmering rivulets of deep purple, burnt orange, ochre and gold, which swirl about within the wind. Species just like the oryx, springbok, ostrich, noticed hyena, aardwolf, bat-eared fox and the uncommon dune lark traverse the dunes, which attain heights of 1,000 toes. Towering above their area, is the king of the desert: the African lion (Panthera leo leo).

As an apex predator, the lion influences trophic methods from the highest down. They preserve stability inside the ecosystem by stabilizing populations of herbivores—like zebra and wildebeest—to forestall overgrazing of endemic flowers. Not solely do lions promote the integrity of meals webs, however additionally they function measures of environmental success…and indicators of environmental decline.

Regardless of centuries of instilling pure order in Africa, the lion reign could quickly fall by the hands of humanity. One-hundred years in the past, 200,000 lions dominated the continent. At present, fewer than 20,000 stay–150 of which, make up the desert lion inhabitants. Lions have misplaced 90% of their historic vary, are regionally extinct in 26 African nations and solely happen in 27 of their authentic vary nations. The Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Purple Listing recorded a 43% decline between 1993 and 2014. Present developments counsel that lions will decline by an extra 50% over the following 20 years in West, Central, East and Southern Africa.

In honor of World Lion Day, I suggest we spend the tenth of August contemplating the next: Will we push lions to the sting of extinction, or can we come collectively to preserve this iconic species?

Desert-Tailored Lions

Lions have been recorded residing within the Namib Desert as early as 1934. Information from Namibia’s Ministry of Setting and Tourism revealed that between 1970 and 1991, a complete of 477 lions have been sighted. At present, there are roughly 150 lions left, and they’re restricted to areas inside Etosha Nationwide Park, Kaudom Recreation Reserve, components of the Tsumkwe Districts, the Kunene Area and the Caprivi Area.

Lions of the Namib, which dwell predominantly on the northern fringe of the desert, exist at Earth’s extremes. Common annual precipitation is about 0.5 inches on the coast and two inches inland; although some years there could also be no rainfall in any respect. To outlive these arid situations, lions are able to acquiring their moisture necessities from the blood of prey. Though they primarily hunt ungulates,  desert lions have tailored to be opportunistic feeders. When out there, ostrich eggs, seals captured alongside the Skeleton Coast and even succulent vegetation are all on the menu.

Desert lions usually are not a separate species, or perhaps a subspecies of savanna and woodland lions; nonetheless, they do possess a couple of distinctive traits that distinguish them from their inland kin. They’re leaner, with longer legs to facilitate long-distance journey on scorching sand and have barely thicker coats to face up to frigid nights. To chill their our bodies, these lions will sweat by means of the pads of their paws. Namib lions even have smaller prides and bigger residence ranges.

Lion hunting zebra.


Regardless of their ecological, financial and cultural worth, African lions are weak to an array of anthropogenic threats. Lion numbers have plummeted by over 40% within the final three generations attributable to lack of residing house, prey depletion, trophy looking, trafficking, human-wildlife battle and local weather change.

Habitat Loss

All through Africa, protected and non-protected wildlife habitats are being misplaced, degraded or fragmented at an unprecedented fee. Lions have been diminished to residing on solely 8% of the land they as soon as occupied. Africa’s human inhabitants is predicted to achieve 5.7 billion by the tip of this century, and sustaining this development requires land conversion to settle, elevate livestock and develop crops. Pure areas will probably be additional exploited within the identify of revenue. To satisfy improvement objectives, native farmers, non-public operators and policy-makers are displacing native species with increasing agricultural and mining operations. Consequently, viable habitat is changing into smaller and extra remoted, leaving lions vulnerable to native extinctions from prey depletion, lack of genetic range, illness and a lower in reproductive success.

Unlawful Wildlife Commerce

In 2013, the Conference on Worldwide Commerce in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) issued numerous permits to legally commerce lion bones. Between 2008 and 2016, 6,000 lion skeletons have been exported from Namibia. Unlawful home commerce in lion physique components (pores and skin, tooth, claws and bones) for conventional drugs and curio markets is presently perceived to be a much bigger menace to wild lions than worldwide commerce. Nevertheless, lion bones have gotten more and more fashionable as an ingredient in conventional Asian medicines—now generally substituted for tiger (Panthera tigris) bones. Although a big portion of the commerce depends on captive-bred lions, fears stay that an escalating worldwide demand will gasoline the trafficking of bones sourced from lion wilds.

Human-Carnivore Battle

The desert-adapted lion inhabitants has elevated over the previous 20 years from roughly 20 lions in 1997, to an estimated 112-139 in 2018. Many rejoice this as a conservation success, however not everybody delights on this victory. Lions in northwest Namibia primarily inhabit communal land, which is shared by farmers and their livestock (the chief supply of earnings for the area’s residents).

Tensions between people and huge carnivores are additional exacerbated by the altering local weather. All through a lot of Africa, seasonality of rainfall is shifting significantly—rising the frequency and severity of utmost drought and flooding. Penalties for lion populations embody wide-spread herbivore die-offs, elevated numbers of pests and illness epidemics. The disappearance of their pure prey forces lions to enterprise into human territory to feed on cattle and different animals. In retaliation, or as a preemptive measure, the lion will probably be shot. Since 2000, 89% of grownup lion mortalities in northwest Namibia have been the results of human-lion battle killings. 

Pride of lions resting at etosha national park Namibia Africa

Conservation by means of Coexistence

Within the late Nineteen Eighties and early Nineties, wildlife in Namibia was struggling within the aftermath of colonial oppression and indiscriminate trophy looking. The Namib was deemed inhospitable, and the Skeleton Coast was recognized to the locals as “The Land God Made in Anger.”

Some hope was restored in 1996, when the Namibian authorities granted the native and Indigenous individuals rights to create communal conservancies. Then, in August 2011, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola signed a treaty and pooled their sources to deal with poaching and local weather change. The collaboration resulted on the planet’s largest transboundary conservation space: The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Space (KAZA). This sweeping wildlife sanctuary contains pure treasures just like the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls, in addition to half of Africa’s elephants.

The world that makes up KAZA has been a precedence for World Wildlife Fund since 2003. With workplaces in three out of 5 KAZA nations, WWF is acknowledged as an essential conservation associate—rising the participation of native communities in pure useful resource administration, and guaranteeing they’re key benefactors of the cash generated from tourism-related actions.

A significant element to securing sources and livelihoods is lion conservation. WWF educates and empowers native communities by means of anti-poisoning campaigns, offering higher livestock enclosures and taking college kids on journeys to see the wildlife they’re defending. Moreover, WWF makes use of satellite tv for pc collars to check the actions of huge predators—akin to lions, noticed hyena, wild canines and crocodiles—inside KAZA. This info has helped the federal government and communal conservancies establish precedence areas to guard as wildlife corridors. Understanding the motion and habitat necessities helps to mitigate human-carnivore battle and provides communities the data to raised coexist with these species.

“There may be extra at stake than simply saving lions from extinction; this initiative holds the promise of recovering the wealthy trove of different species related to lions and the resplendent landscapes wherein they happen in addition to the chance of involving the native communities constructively and guaranteeing additionally they profit from conserving lions,” Dr. Margaret Kinnaird proclaims. 

A beautiful sunset in Namibia.

© Nicole Soho Hickey


Namibia’s 87 neighborhood conservancies cowl almost 65,000 sq. miles of land (almost 20% of the nation) and make use of 1000’s of native employees. In 2018 alone, tourism companies paid $3.9 million in wages to conservancy staff. Recovered wildlife populations—from elephants to abandon lions—have contributed to a thriving tourism trade, producing greater than 14% of Namibia’s GDP.

“Nowhere else on the planet can free-ranging lions be seen amongst sand dunes or on a seaside. Consequently, the long-lasting desert lion has change into a distinguished function in Namibia and is extremely valued, each aesthetically and financially, by conservationists and the rising tourism trade alike. These lions ought to be seen as a nationwide asset to Namibia and we have to preserve and handle them correctly for the good thing about the Namibian individuals, in addition to the broader worldwide neighborhood,” declares the small non-profit: Desert Lion Conservation Belief.

Tourism creates employment and fosters a wide range of different sources of income, akin to craft markets. To foster a rising ecotourism economic system, WWF helps discover buyers and gives enterprise coaching to conservancy members to fund three way partnership lodges and campsites. You possibly can positively influence these conservancy communities by touring with WWF’s official associate, Pure Habitat Adventures. Marvel on the spectacular vary of lion prides—from the plush marshes of Botswana to the deserts and dunes of Namibia—on our Epic Botswana and Namibia Safari. Totally immerse your self in Namib on The Nice Namibia Wildlife Safari or seize a lion’s roar on our Wild Namibia Photograph Safari. Nat Hab Expedition Leaders are the best-trained safari guides in Africa, averaging 15 years’ expertise, with further sources offered by WWF main scientists. And with a most group measurement of seven friends, we guarantee a really customized and low-impact journey expertise in probably the most distant reserves.

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