Lions specialise on marine diet at Skeleton Coast
About an old fisherman in the story of “The Old Man and The Sea”, Ernest Hemingway wrote 1951 that “He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach.”
This dream has come true once more, as some of Namibia’s desert lions have returned to the Skeleton Coast National Park. Here they have specialised in hunting seals and coastal birds. Since the 1980’s, when the population at large in the north west of Namibia decreased intensely due to increased human-lion conflicts, lions have only been spotted at the coast on very rare occasions, and never long-term. In the recent years, thanks to periods of good rains, and the implementation of a successful community-based conservancy model along with the growth of tourism in the area, the population has gradually recovered. Currently a small number of desert lions regularly hunts marine wildlife, making up almost 80% of their diet.
Dr. Flip Stander, researcher and conservationist, explains that the adaptability of the lions to live from seafood is crucial to their survival, seen the scarce food resources further inland. He has dedicated his life to the conservation of the unique population of desert lions in the north west of Namibia. Living alongside the desert lions, he has been monitoring and researching them for the last few decades. He was also closely involved in the development of the conservation strategy with MET to address conflicts between humans and lions, and started his own Desert Lion Conservation Fund in 1998. Stander explains the marine diet provides those lions residing at the coast a rich and reliable source of energy, and thinks that is possible that over time they will learn how to prey other marine wildlife like crabs, shellfish and turtles. A perfect example of how a species can adapt to their changing environment.
Dr. Flip Stander published his findings in an article earlier this year, which can be read online here.
Photo by Flip Stander / Desert Lion Conservation