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The Desert Lion Success Story

Namibia has a population of about 800 lions,  a number which was last seen between 1965 and 1980. 

The most significant increase of populations has been in the Kunene Region, which saw a boost of  between 20-30 to 140-160. The rest of the lion population in Namibia is contained within national parks and smaller numbers in wildlife areas. 

This interview with Felix Vallat from TOSCO sheds light on the wonderful work that local communities and NGOs are doing to ensure the survival of the Namibia desert lion.

MYD : Tell us more about TOSCO?

Tourism Supporting Conservation ( TOSCO) is a Namibian non-profit organisation that we started in 2012. We started it following lion killing incidents in the North West. We realised that tourism needs to take more responsibility instead of blaming the people who live with lions for sometimes having to kill them. We realized that it would be better to support them.

MYD : A lot of the work that you do is around the protection of Namibian desert lions.

Not only that, we also have youth programs to raise awareness for the conservation of rhinos, elephants, hyenas and wild dogs. But our main focus is the desert lions, yes.

MYD : What makes the desert lion so special as a species?

The desert lion is not a species yet, it’s still Panthera leo, like the Savannah lion, but it just developed so many interesting adaptations to the hyper arid environment. They don’t get so fat, they are very athletic lions thanks to the satellite collar technology. We also found out that some males walk 78 kilometres per night.

MYD : How do you advocate and get the support for tourism to become part of this conservation?

Yes it’s true, and a bit surprising, that tourism does not play its full role in conservation, because first of all to make the business sustainable, tourism has to look after resources that it relies on. It has to protect what it makes business from. Nowadays people are more and more interested in green tourism, echo tourism, so it’s a better marketing idea for the operators, and you open up a new dimension of conservation experience that you can share with your guests. So it’s not only like taking pictures of people and wildlife, it’s also explaining how it works to run a national park, what a conservancy is, so you also add value to your product.

MYD: Research was carried out on what species are eaten by lions and surprisingly, not a lot of livestock are eaten by lions, correct? 

That is correct. I think it’s a bit more than  5% of the lion’s diet that is made up of livestock, and this applies mainly to adult males, but still, it’s the most dangerous prey for them. This is not because of the prey itself but because of the consequences of retaliation from the farmers. So it’s a pity that for such little amount of prey there is such a negative impact of retaliation over the lions.

MYD: To what extent are you creating awareness amongst the communities, amongst farmers, that we should not go to the extremes of taking out the desert lion by poisoning it?

Yes, and we must also not go to the extreme of protecting the lions at the expense of people. But sometimes this vision is not shared by everyone. We have to see that it was not only the rainfall that led to the increase of the desert lion population, it was also the research and the efforts of local communities through the Community Based Natural Resources Management.

MYD: Why should anyone be part of the conservation conversation in Namibia?

We all live on planet earth and we have to look after the home where we live. So it makes sense on the biodiversity aspect. It’s fun to work in conservation, it’s very interesting to go on the field and to learn more and to be outside. It’s useful and it helps people make a living out of it.

Listen to the MYD Earth Show on 99FM every Monday at 18h00.