During the week of 11-17 June, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) directed a multi-organizational team including the Tsiseb and Sorris Sorris conservancies, experts from the University of Minnesota Lion Center, and support staff working with Desert Lion Conservation, in responding to a series of ‘problem lion’ incidents around De Rest farm near the Ugab River. In the early-morning hours of 16 June, Ministry officials destroyed a six-and-a-half year-old male lion at the farm. The lion was shot in response to repeated incursions and following days of attempts to alleviate the situation using non-lethal methods.
Early in the week this lion and a pair of lionesses, raided stock at De Rest farm, killing 27 goats and sheep, as well as two donkeys inside a kraal – this loss represents a substantial portion of the household’s livestock. Each of these three lions had been previously fitted with collars by Desert Lion Conservation, a long-time partner with MET in monitoring Namibia’s iconic Desert lion population. In January, the two lionesses were fitted with newly-designed satellite and RFID collars; the male had earlier been fitted with a VHF radio collar. This group of lions is well-known to local MET officials and Desert Lion Conservation, as well as conservancy staff and local tourism operators.
Following the initial incident, MET staff responded and conservancy game guards took statements from the farmers and tracked the offending lions into a nearby swamp. Throughout the week, a team supervised by MET was present at the farm – tracking and keeping tabs on the movements of the lions. While the two lionesses quickly moved further downriver and away from potential human-lion conflict, repeated efforts to chase away the male proved unsuccessful. Though the male was displaced more than six kilometers downriver on the evening of 12 June, by the evening of 15 June he was again harassing farmers and livestock at De Rest. Observations taken during the week noted that the male was thin, though not unhealthy. Preliminary reports from the Northwest Game Count, which was taking place throughout the Tsiseb and Sorris Sorris conservancies at the time, suggest that game numbers in the area were quite low.
From the late hours of 15 June to the early hours of 16 June, long-experienced MET officials worked diligently to displace the lion. By the early morning hours, the lion’s persistence, coupled with its aggressiveness towards people and livestock, generated sufficient concern that MET officials took the always difficult decision to destroy the lion – as they are empowered to do by law. This was done, quickly, professionally, and as humanely as possible. There is never a litmus test for taking such a decision. However, this lion’s actions over the previous week, including invading well-maintained kraals, acting aggressively towards people, and continuing to threaten livestock in an area suffering from low game numbers following the recent drought, were critical factors.
MET deems its conservation and management responsibilities as among the most important tasks entrusted to the national government. MET is fortunate to have world-class staff with extensive field and management experience. Reviewing adaptive management practices in the field is an important part of conservation and management. Information collection by MET and affiliated stakeholders has been ongoing since the incident. Currently, a group of critical stakeholders is pioneering a comprehensive rubric for assessing the risks posed by individual lions to better achieve management goals. MET and its partners remain committed to conserving and managing Namibia’s wild species for all Namibians.