Shenton Safaris

Beach lions again hunting seals and coastal birds in Namibia, after 35 years

Lioness with a Cape fur seal in Namibia

Lioness with a Cape fur seal © PE Stander / Desert Lion Conservation

Research by respected scientist P.E. Stander reveals that the desert-adapted lions eking out a living on the harsh northwest coast of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park (SCNP) are again specialising in hunting seals and coastal birds such as flamingos and cormorants, after an absence of 35 years. They have also been seen feeding on brown hyenas and beached pilot whale carcasses.

The study area in the northwest of Namibia that includes the Skeleton Coast National Park, several tourism concessions and communal conservancies

The study area in the northwest of Namibia that includes the Skeleton Coast National Park, several tourism concessions and communal conservancies © PE Stander / Desert Lion Conservation

Lions disappeared from this hostile, remote coast during the 1980s due to intense human-lion conflict, but since 2002 have gradually re-colonised the area after a successful community-based conservancy model was implemented, and the growth of tourism in the area.

A lioness on the lookout for prey along the coastline

A lioness on the lookout for prey along the coastline © PE Stander / Desert Lion Conservation

These lions have only recently, after a period of 35 years, again started to utilise the rich marine resources, with as much as 79% of their diet in the past 18 months consisting of seals and birds.

The number of recorded prey species killed by lions

The number of recorded prey species killed and the estimated biomass consumed by the Hoanib Floodplain pride in the Skeleton Coast National Park, between May 2017 and November 2018 © PE Stander / Desert Lion Conservation

The last SCNP lions were killed off by 1990, shot or poisoned by livestock farmers on the fringes of this narrow national park. Then, in 1997, a group of 20 desert-adapted lions was discovered in the mountainous eastern edge of the Namib Desert.

Lioness feeding on Cape fur seal

Lioness feeding on Cape fur seal © PE Stander / Desert Lion Conservation

Home range area and movements of the Uniab/Obab pride and the Hoanib Floodplain pride

Left: The home range area and movements of the Uniab/Obab pride in relation to the coastal habitat at the Uniab Delta (blue area) between January and November 2015; Right: The home range area and movements of the Hoanib Floodplain pride in relation to the coastal habitat around the mouth of the Hoanib River (yellow area) between August 2014 and November 2015; © PE Stander / Desert Lion Conservation

The population has since gradually recovered, thanks to periods of good rains, a growing Namibian tourism industry and a successful program to generate benefits for local communities from the tourism industry, although it is still beset with issues relating to human-wildlife conflict and trophy hunting.

The home range sizes, the proportion of coastal habitat in each home range and the duration of monitoring of five lion prides in northwest Namibia

The home range sizes, the proportion of coastal habitat in each home range and the duration of monitoring of five lion prides in northwest Namibia © PE Stander / Desert Lion Conservation

During the poor 2017 rainfall period, lions living inland of the coastal area started visiting the coastal area to utilise the marine resources.

Three young lionesses, orphaned at the age of less than one year when their mother died of natural causes, found their way across the dunes to an island in a fresh-water spring on the coast, and survived by hunting cormorants, flamingos and teals. They then moved on to scavenging off seal carcasses, and then to hunting and killing juvenile and then adult seals.

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Lion hunting cormorants at Hoanib Lagoon

Hunting cormorants at Hoanib Lagoon © PE Stander / Desert Lion Conservation


Stander, P. (2019). Lions (Panthera leo) specialising on a marine diet in the Skeleton Coast Park, Namibia. Namibian Journal Of Environment, 3, Section A, 1-10. Retrieved from https://www.nje.org.na/index.php/nje/article/view/volume3-stander



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