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Namibia Desert Lions Forced to Hunt in Ocean

A vehicle drives between the sand dunes in Swakopmund, a coastal city in Namibia, west of the capital, Windhoek, on August 22, 2022.

WINDHOEK — Facing possible extinction, Namibia’s desert-adapted lions have now resorted to hunting octopus and squid on the beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. The abnormal behavior is a result of human wildlife conflict which has seen lions which once roamed freely lose a significant amount of their habitat to human encroachment.

Less than eighty lions were sighted between November and February, a report on human wildlife conflict compiled by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism revealed. On the brink of extinction, without access to natural hunting grounds, the lions have adopted a peculiar behavior, hunting seafood and coastal birds, including flamingos and red-billed teals, instead of red meat such as zebras, springboks, oryxes, and ostriches.

Conrad Brain, a veterinarian, has studied the lions and the impact of human encroachment on their habitat for the past twenty years.

"People are desperate," he said, "and the lions are doing what they can, so they are getting poisoned, shot and killed and whatever and they are also pushing them further west. You know the last refuge is the beach, the coast, so the entitled zone is proving to be quite a survival area for the lions and their eating octopus, fish, seals and cormorants."

Brain says the marine diet the lions have adopted have led them to have vitamin B1 deficiency that causes neural symptoms such as weight loss and rashes.

Hemming Shofmeir is operations manager at Wilderness Safaris, a tour operating company that is also involved in nature conservation.

He says more people, more livestock, and the impact of prolonged drought are all contributing factors pushing Namibia’s desert adapted lions to near extinction.

"We are in the middle of a ten-year drought, so drought basically takes away as you know all feed for your plains game," he explained.

"Numbers would drop," he said. "Predators don’t have that much to be able to eat, and so they start to become a lot more prevalent in the areas where people are tending livestock so during drought periods your predators are moving right into where people are living."

Romeo Muyunda, the spokesperson at the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, said the most recent census, which began during November and concluded in February counted 56 lions of which 35 are female and 21 male.

"So the Ministry will keep on monitoring these lions through our methods and established research methods and also with the assistance of various stake-holders," he said. "We’ll keep trying to ensure that we put in place mitigation measures to ensure that these lions are actually well-managed," Muyunda said.

Although Namibia’s desert-adapted lions have proven their resilience, and long-term studies have not been undertaken, their sea-food diet may be detrimental to the survival of the species in the long-term.

The lions have over the years since independence, caught the attention of international media, including the renowned National Geographic magazine. They, however, became really famous through the documentary film “Vanishing Kings – Lions of the Namib Desert” a few years ago.