Sea lions – Travel Africa Magazine

Remarkable relearned behaviour reveals the resilience of Namibia’s fairly outstanding desert-tailored large cats. By Philip Stander. Image above by Carel Loubser, Shutterstock

The picture of a lion strolling alongside an remoted seashore has captured the creativeness of many filmmakers, scientists and wildlife lovers. It is a phenomenon that has, in latest occasions, occurred solely alongside Namibia’s shoreline.

The Namib Desert is the oldest and close to-driest desert on the planet. The coastal zones of the remainder of Africa are productive and nutrient-wealthy areas, and people have occupied and dominated these habitats for millennia. Along the hyper-arid coast of Namibia, nonetheless, people have lived at low densities, and subsequently haven’t had the identical affect on the surroundings as they do elsewhere alongside the coast of Africa. As a outcome, a number of giant mammal species, together with Black rhinos, giraffes and elephants, discovered refuge right here and developed distinctive diversifications to the arid situations. In 1971 the Skeleton Coast National Park was proclaimed in an effort to guard this distinctive habitat and its endemic animals and vegetation.

The Skeleton Coast lions grew to become well-known in 1985 when legendary wildlife filmmakers Des and Jen Bartlett took outstanding photos of the cats on the seashore. Staff and researchers monitored the lions commonly, and in 1986 a rudimentary analysis mission was began, specializing in the lions’ actions and inhabitants ecology.

At that point, the land-use practices within the areas bordering the Skeleton Coast National Park weren’t geared in direction of the safety of wildlife, particularly not of lions. Tourism was in its infancy and neighborhood-based mostly conservation was a international idea. In an space with tremendously excessive tourism worth, native communities residing exterior the park had been trying to outlive on uneconomical and unsustainable livestock farming.

Conflict between the lions and farmers was inevitable. Lions raided their livestock and the farmers retaliated by taking pictures or poisoning the cats. By 1990 all of the recognized and radio-collared lions had been killed.

Then, in 1997, a small remnant group of roughly 20 desert-tailored lions was found in a mountainous area on the jap fringe of the Namib, and the Desert Lion Conservation mission was launched. Much had modified for the reason that Eighties: a number of years of excellent rainfall had seen a rise in wildlife numbers, tourism was booming, native folks derived advantages from wildlife and tourism via the communal conservancies system, and the situations had been proper for lions to seek out their method again to the Skeleton Coast.

During the subsequent 20 years the lion inhabitants elevated and expanded to most of its former vary. Today there are between 130–150 lions residing in an space of 35,000 sq km between the Ugab River within the south and the Hoaureb River within the north.

Lions discovered their method again to the Skeleton Coast, and a few even briefly visited the shoreline. But their information of the wealthy marine meals supply alongside the coast was misplaced: the lions confirmed little interest in patrolling the seashores in the hunt for seals, as that they had through the Eighties.

It required a outstanding lioness and her descendants to make the breakthrough that finally noticed the return of the coastal lions practically 35 years later. Xpl-10, or ‘the Queen’ as she grew to become recognized, was born north of Palmwag in 1998 and have become the topic of an intensive examine till her demise in May 2014. During her wealthy and eventful life she produced a complete of 5 litters, elevating seven lions. Her daughters had six litters and efficiently raised an extra 11 cubs.

The QueenXpl-10 uncovered all her descendants to the ocean, and progressively they began exploring extra of the coastal habitat. The first confirmed proof of their feeding on Cape fur seals got here in 2006. Several extra remoted circumstances adopted, but it surely was solely in 2017 that three younger lionesses — the good-granddaughters of the QueenXpl-10 — rediscovered the wealthy meals assets that the shoreline has to supply.

The younger lionesses had had a rocky begin. Their mom died of pure causes once they had been barely a yr outdated, and so they grew to become often called the ‘Orphans’. Driven by starvation and desperation, they discovered their method over the dunes and swam onto an island at a contemporary-water spring close to the coast. Here, they began killing cormorants that roost on the island at night time. This was their saving, and shortly they grew to become specialised in searching a spread of wetland birds, together with flamingos and geese. But it was the massive numbers of resident Cape and White-breasted cormorants that offered them with a nutritious and dependable marine weight loss plan.

The Orphans started following the massive flocks of cormorants, searching them at night time on the mud-flats and alongside the shoreline. This introduced them into contact with Cape fur seals that sometimes relaxation on the seashores. At first the lions scavenged seal carcasses, after which they expropriated them from brown hyaenas. Early in 2018 the Orphans began killing seals themselves. Initially they took solely juveniles lower than one yr outdated, however with expertise got here confidence, and just lately the Orphans have killed a number of bigger seals, together with just a few grownup females.

After an absence of practically 35 years the coastal lions of the Skeleton Coast are again in drive. The legendary lioness, the QueenXpl-10, was the founding father of a brand new period of lions which might be suitably expert and tailored for survival alongside the Skeleton Coast. It required all that point, and a number of other generations, for the lions to regain the information that was misplaced on the finish of the Eighties.

With the rising tourism business in Namibia, these lions have turn into valued nationwide property. We will now, hopefully, present adequate safety to make sure the lengthy-time period conservation of this iconic and uniquely tailored species — for it’s not daily that you just see a lion on a seashore.

Dr Philip Stander  is the founding father of the Desert Lion Conservation ( and the creator of the outstanding new e-book, Vanishing Kings.

This article was first published in Travel Africa magazine, edition 85, January-March 2019, which can be purchased here.

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