Rare desert lions known as ‘five musketeers’ poisoned in Namibia | Human impact
Namibia is home to a unique population of lions specially adapted for life in the desert. Their thick coat protects them from extreme temperatures and they can survive almost entirely without drinking water. And yet, despite all the hardships of desert life, the greatest danger to these iconic animals is the local human population.
Last week, three lions were poisoned and killed by local farmers, and now the police, along with the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, are looking for the culprits. Not only is killing these protected lions illegal, but poisoning wildlife is also extremely harmful to local ecosystems. Last week, for example, more 100 endangered vultures were killed in Botswana after feeding on poisoned lion carcasses.
No arrests have yet been made in connection with the lion killings, but government officials have said those responsible will be charged with illegal killing of protected game. “The ministry condemns this illegal activity…and those involved will face the wrath of the law,” the country’s spokesman said. Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, this week.
Namibia’s big cats are of particular importance to Dr. Philip “Flip” Stander, founder of the Desert Lion Trust. His organization is dedicated to protecting and expanding Namibia’s lion populations, recently estimated at just 150 individuals. But more lions can mean more conflict with humans, so Stander is also committed to fostering peaceful relationships between cats and local farmers.
To that end, the group works to educate communities about these predators, promoting strategies such as the use of bright lights, loud noises and even fireworks to keep animals away from livestock. They also engage with safari operators to encourage lion-focused tourism, which brings in funds to support local villages. This way they hope to prevent incidents like last week’s poisoning.
Stander has studied lions for many years and recently starred in a documentary focusing on five young cubs called the “Five Musketeers”, who were left to fend for themselves after the death of their mother.
For years, the Five Musketeers have been studied closely, but the past few months have been tragic. In July, one of the brothers was shot dead after a confrontation at a cattle station. Then, throughout the first week of August, the lions had several run-ins with the village of Tomakas, which resulted in the death of livestock.
In response to rising tensions, a decision was made to move the cats. Plans were put in place and, with days to go, officials were waiting for three of the musketeers to join their fourth brother after a recent trip to the mountains.
Then, on August 9, the Desert Lion Trust posted an alarming update online: tThe radio collars of the three lions were no longer responding. The next day, reports arrived that the trio had been found dead, poisoned and burned near a previously unknown cattle post. The sole remaining musketeer was immediately moved, and an investigation into the murders has since been opened.
“The lions killed a donkey and people retaliated by poisoning the lions. The lions’ carcasses and satellite collars were then burned,” the Desert Lion Trust said.
The deaths were a blow to conservation efforts, but the group spoke out to prevent a backlash against the local community. “[The] The majority of local community members, especially those from Tomakas village who were most affected by the musketeers, actually showed incredible patience and worked alongside lion researcher Dr Philip Stander, to try to mitigate this conflict,” the group said in a statement. “At the edge of the desert, there is just enough grassland for rural farmers to raise livestock. It is far from easy for these farmers to live side by side with lions.”
After recovering well from his long journey, the Last Musketeer now lives in a safer place in the Uniab Delta. Although there is some concern that he wants to return to Tomakas in search of his brothers, he has so far stayed put, which is a good sign.
“We hope this tragic event does not overshadow what everyone on the ground…has accomplished so far. As devastating as it is, we must use the deaths of these musketeers as a catalyst to launch a plan “Critical action to keep lions and people safe,” the group said.
Top header image: soepvlees, Flickr