Community conservation approaches for maintaining a unique lion population.

In Africa’s second-youngest country communal conservancies ensure rural residents benefit from living alongside wildlife. Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in Namibia is a shining light in African wildlife conservation. This signal success brings new challenges, chiefly increasing levels of human-wildlife conflict.

Desert-adapted lions in northwest Namibia primarily inhabit communal land, which is also home to cattle and other livestock which are the chief source of income for the region’s residents. Drought conditions are depressing wildlife numbers. When desert-adapted lions destroy livestock, it threatens farmers livelihoods and lion survival. Since 2000, retaliatory killings of lions following human-lion conflict events are responsible for 89% of adult lion mortalities in northwest Namibia.

Dr. Heydinger is Co-Founder of the Lion Ranger Program and is partnering with the Namibian government on an intensive lion monitoring study. Using inclusive, community-centered methods, he is aligning CBNRM and lion conservation to assure evidence-based management of this largely unstudied desert-adapted population.

Heydinger completed his doctorate (University of Minnesota/Macquarie University) in 2020. His dissertation, “Humans, Livestock, and Lions in Northwest Namibia” is an environmental microhistory examining the apartheid era drivers and contemporary manifestations of human-lion conflict. Portions have been published in Biological Conservation, Environment and History, and the Journal of Southern African Studies – other papers are under review or in press.

In the coming year(s) Heydinger is deepening his data collection on the desert-adapted lions and continuing to upscale the activities of the Lion Rangers. He is working closely with the Namibian government towards developing a first-ever comprehensive regional lion monitoring plan. He lives and is based out of a remote field camp at Wêreldsend (World’s End) in northwest Namibia. You can learn more about his work and the Lion Rangers at or on Instagram: @lionrangers


John Heydinger

Postdoctoral Associate, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior

Lion Ranger Program Co-Founder

National Geographic Society Explorer

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