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Namibia’s desert lions

We’re talking about a unique population of lions, specially adapted for life in the desert. Protected from extreme temperatures by their thick coats and adapted to survive almost without water. But is it enough? To the Desert Lions, human population and the threats they face from local farmers are their biggest danger. The Five Musketeers were the subject of such threats…

Five Musketeers

The iconic desert-adapted lions of Namibia have forged an existence in the harshest of environments….

The ‘Vanishing Kings’

The film tells the story of the Five Musketeers. Five male lions who were left to fend for themselves after the death of their mother.  This award winning film documented the pride in northern Namibia’s Namib Desert. It was shown on the National Geographic Channel.

The Five Musketeers

The lions have been the centre of close study by the Desert Lion Trust.  Sadly, one of the brothers was shot dead in July 2017 following a confrontation at a cattle post. During the following weeks the remaining lions attacked and killed livestock around the village of Tomalas.

On the 9th August the Desert Lion Trust posted “The three lions’ radio collars had stopped responding”. The following day it was reported that “the trio had been found dead, poisoned and burnt near a previously unknown cattle post”. The Trust goes on to say that “the lions killed a donkey and the people retaliated by poisoning the lions. The carcasses and the satellite collars of the lions were then burnt.” Which just left one Musketeer.  The government aired concern over the safety of the remaining lion. So a decision was made to move the lone musketeer to the Uniab Delta, for safety.

Desert Lion Conservation Trust

The villagers of Tomakas worked closely with the founder of the Desert Lion Conservation project, Dr Philip Stander, to try and mitigate this conflict. A spokesman for the Desert Lion Trust commented “The majority of the local community members, especially those of Tomakas village that were most affected by the musketeers, have shown tremendous patience.” It’s difficult for communities to farm alongside the lions. But, on the fringes of the desert there’s just enough grassland for rural farmers to keep livestock.

A report in The Namibian newspaper on the 10th August states that it was Stander who found the carcasses near Tomakas. In the Namibian report, Stander comments: “This is truly a tragedy for Namibia’s lion conservation efforts in a very challenging environment that balances lion and human coexistence. With fewer than 150 lions remaining in the country, the unnatural loss of any of them is cause for concern.”

A producer for the Vanishing Kings, Marjolein Duermeijer, comments: “We’ve been following the five of them for a long time, and we had already lost one, so it was already terrible.”

Five Musketeers - Tullamore

“Tullamore”

Tullimore was named after an Irish whiskey by The Desert Lion Project…  pronounced in French as “Tue-la-mort”, meaning “to beat death”. He stayed in the Uniab Delta for eight days following relocation. But he left the area and moved north to Hunkap spring after an interaction with the Obab pride male,

He was clearly heading to his home range in Tomakas/Okongwe area in search of his brothers.  Tullamore died just after the completion of the second part of a documentary.

The harsh reality of human-lion conflict

Rural people living with free roaming lions are faced human-lion conflict in Namibia. A complex and difficult issue. There will always be conflict where wildlife and people coexist. There is no easy answer. So we can only hope that the  “Five Musketeers” did not die in vain. But that this tragic story acts as a catalyst to conserve Namibia’s threatened lion.

Five musketeers

Finally, the Desert Lion Trust hopes that the tragedy of the Five Musketeers doesn’t overshadow their achievements. And, although devastating, their aim is to continue with their action plan. To keep lions and people safe in the future.


Dr Philip “Flip” Stander

Dr Philip Stander is founder of the Desert Lion Trust.  The organisation is dedicated to the protection and expansion of Namibia’s lion populations. The group strives to educate communities about the lions and encourages the use of bright lights, loud noises and fireworks. This is an attempt to keep the lions away from the livestock on the farms.

More about Desert Lion Conservation

More about Desert lions of Namibia

Privately guided safari in desert lion territory

Desert Lions on Facebook

Images courtesy Ingrid Mandt/Inki Bushbabies

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