Desert Lions in the Guardian Newspaper – August – September, 2018.

Desert lion. Photo: Tina Vinjevold

On 22 August, 2018, the Guardian newspaper ran an article under the “Radical Conservation” heading entitled, “Can Namibia’s desert lions survive humanity?

This article highlighted recent human-lion conflict issues in northwest Namibia, with particular emphasis on two lion mortalities, one in Anabeb Conservancy and another in the Ugab river which makes up the border of the Sorris Sorris and Tsiseb conservancies. The Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism and its partnering organizations feel that the article contains a number of misleading statements by activists working in Namibia, and gives an incomplete picture of lion conservation in northwest Namibia. You can read the Ministry’s response, in-full, below.

Following the article’s publication, the Ministry and its partners reached out to The Guardian to have some of the misinformation corrected. While the newspaper remained committed to its reporting, several substantive changes were made to reflect the situation on-the-ground. Throughout the correction process The Guardian staff displayed the height of professionalism and commitment to hearing the full story. Their efforts are greatly commended.

Human-lion conflict in northwest Namibia remains a pressing issue. The Ministry and its partners are working hard to ensure that substantive progress is made for the benefit of rural farmers and communities in the northwest.

Full response: 31 August, 2018

Setting the Record Straight on Desert lion conflict in Namibia

Recently (22 August), The Guardian published “Can Namibia’s desert lions survive humanity?” The article discussed the ongoing human-lion conflict between farmers and desert-adapted lions within the communal conservancies of northwest Namibia. While highlighting the challenges facing rural communities living alongside Desert lions, the article inaccurately portrays the cooperative efforts between communal conservancies, NGOs, and the Namibian government.

Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) relies on evidence-based management and partners with local and international organizations to find positive solutions to human-lion conflict. Last September, MET activated the Human-Lion Conflict Management Plan for North West Namibia, which is currently being implemented by NGOs working within the communal conservancies, under the direction of MET. Actions taken include deploying multiple human-wildlife conflict Response Teams and community Lion Rangers, initiating a satellite collar-based early-warning system for communal farmers, and spearheading research to establish evidence-based human-lion conflict policy.

MET and its partners do not work with Mr. Smit and Desert Lion Human Relations Aid (DeLHRA), owing to their inexperience, unilateral harassment of Desert lions, and ad hominem attacks on MET and NGO staff, and community members. Additionally, there are no systematic data proving that shade-cloth hinders lion predation within or around kraals in northwest Namibia. Further, the male lion, called “Gretzky” by Mr. Smit, remained an acute threat despite concerted intervention efforts and was humanely destroyed while actively pursuing livestock near a family dwelling. The government and its partnering groups have released a statement about this incident. As to Mr. Smit’s conjecture that the old male at Mbokondja “was rejected as an unattractive trophy and still continues hunting livestock”, it is simply false. MET and its partners made a full investigation following this incident and recognize that another lion was inadvertently destroyed. We continue to work closely with the effected community.

Statistics referenced in The Guardian’s article come not from DeLHRA, but are drawn from years of hard work by MET, Desert Lion Conservation, and a host of aligned organizations and local communities – these should be properly attributed. To take one example, the most recent evidence published by Desert Lion Conservation puts the Desert lion population at 112-139 individuals. If DeLHRA has alternate data we invite them to share it.

Desert lions do not persist by some “miracle” but instead through decades of community, governmental, and NGO cooperation. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that more than 50% of lion home-range in Africa has disappeared in the past twenty or so years. However, Desert lion numbers have grown and the population’s home-range has expanded during that time. The expanding population of Desert lions on communal land ensures that human-lion conflict will never disappear entirely. We remain dedicated to ensuring that northwest Namibia’s communal lands are spaces where lions, as well as other wildlife, can thrive alongside and benefit rural communities.


Bennett Kahuure, Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism

Kenneth /Uiseb, Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism

Uakendisa Muzuma, Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism

Dr. Philip Stander, Desert Lion Conservation – Namibia

Russell Vinjevold, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation – Namibia

Andrew Malherbe, Namibia Nature Foundation

Dr. Craig Packer, University of Minnesota Lion Center

John Heydinger, University of Minnesota Lion Center

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