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In May 2016, the Desert Lion Conservation Foundation introduced the ‘Five Musketeers’ – a coalition of desert-adapted male lions that live in the Namib Desert. Their Facebook page explained that “with so few adult male lions remaining in the Namib, their survival is key to the population. But their home range is on the fringes of the desert, where small local communities live with their livestock. They now know what conflict with people is all about. They have killed cattle, and got a taste of ‘an easy meal’.”


In an unintentional example of foreshadowing, the foundation expressed their concerns back in May that “the local people will do whatever they need to do to protect their livestock and we fear that it is only a matter of time before our five males get shot or poisoned.”

Sadly, on World Lion day (10th August 2016), it was announced on their Facebook page that they’ve lost another three of the musketeers following the loss of the first lion – Xpl-89, also known as ‘Harry’ – who died of a bullet wound in early June 2016.


The Desert Lion Conservation Foundation reports:

“Many people have worked so hard over the last four months to get systems in place to address the conflict between the Musketeers and the rural villages.

“What needs to be mentioned is that the majority of the local community members, especially those of Tomakas village that were most affected by the Musketeers, have in fact shown tremendous patience and worked alongside lion researcher Dr. Philip Stander to try to mitigate this conflict with the Musketeers.

“Inevitably, man and nature compete for resources and space. On the fringes of the desert there is just enough grassland for rural farmers to keep some livestock. It is far from easy for these farmers to live side by side with lions. They form a threat to their livelihood on a daily basis. And, as farmers have the right to protect their livelihood, this ultimately results in losses – from both sides…

“We lost the first of the ‘Five Musketeers’ a few months ago when he was shot due to an incident at a rural cattle-post. Despite this traumatic event, the four remaining males kept coming back to the area – perhaps to look for their dead brother, perhaps to continue their successful hunting of giraffe that populate this area, or perhaps for the livestock that sometimes roams freely at night and make for easy prey.

“For a while Philip was hopeful that the remaining four males would move on and leave the area, and everyone, including the local community members, seemed willing to give them that chance. But when the males caused more livestock losses, everyone realised something had to be done to protect both the people and the lions before it would be too late. The Musketeers had no future here…

“Then, just as the complex decision had been made by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to relocate the four male lions to the world-renowned Skeleton Coast Park where they would have a future, tragedy struck again. This major translocation was just days away from happening, as we were just waiting for the three males to reconnect with their brother who had been elsewhere. But they never got the chance to get together again. The three male lions ventured close to another cattle-post and were poisoned.

“Xpl-93, known as ‘Tullamore’, is now the last remaining Musketeer. He was relocated to the Skeleton Coast last night, where he will be given the chance to live a safe life. May he find a pride of lionesses there and keep the legacy of the famous Musketeers going.

“We hope that this tragic event will not overshadow what all the people on the ground (on government level included) have achieved so far. As devastating as this day is, we must use the death of these Musketeers as a catalyst to get going with a crucial action plan to keep lions and people safe.

“The Musketeers were part of an invaluable Pilot Project for human-wildlife conflict, which forms part of a new initiative for which several organisations have joined forces. Standing together, we aim to make a real difference with proactive management and actions, by launching well-trained rapid response teams to mitigate these unavoidable human-wildlife conflict situations.

“We hope that this is a wake-up call for all people that us humans need to stand together to help not only the lions, but those living with lions. We encroach this planet, we’re all responsible. We all have a right to live, whether it’s in Amsterdam, New York, Windhoek or in a small village deep in the Namib Desert. So it comes down to us finding ways to avoid this kind of conflict. The harsh reality is, it will never go away so we need to keep developing, through trial and error, effective systems to make sure that people can continue to live side by side with wildlife.”

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