Conserving desert lions in northwest Namibia

Applying community conservation approaches to maintain a unique lion population.

In Africa’s second-youngest country, communal conservancies ensures that rural residents benefit from living alongside wildlife. Community-based natural resource management in Namibia has been 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. Desert lions have responded by predating farmers’ livestock. Since 2000, retaliatory killings of lions following human-lion conflict events are responsible for 89% of adult lion mortalities in northwest Namibia. This threatens the viability of the desert lions. Lion Center team member John Heydinger serves as Namibia’s Northwest Lion Information Manager. Working with government, NGOs, and local farming communities, John is aligning community-conservation and desert lion monitoring and research programs to assure evidence-based management of this unique population.

Under the banner of the Lion Ranger program, a local and international team is innovating new monitoring and management strategies to conserve the desert lions. As a co-founder of the Lion Ranger program, John and others are recruiting, equipping, and training a core of local conservationists responsible for responding to human-lion conflict incidents, disseminating demographic and ecological information, and developing into lion conservation advocates, policy-makers, and population monitors. John is also working with government and researchers to more comprehensively monitor the desert lions in real-time. Innovative early-warning systems tracking lion movements are being pioneered and community-focused programs are yielding encouraging outcomes. This work grows out of John’s doctoral research examining the historical and environmental drivers of human-lion conflict in northwest Namibia.

  • Desert lions primarily inhabit communal land where they come into conflict with rural livestock owners.
  • Lion Center researcher John Heydinger is working to limit human-lion conflict through evidence-based management and by training and deploying community Lion Rangers.
  • This community-centered program aims at empowering local people to become more active participants in desert lion conservation policy, practice, and management.
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