Our Burning Planet


Storm brewing over hunt of iconic collared desert lion in Namibia

Storm brewing over hunt of iconic collared desert lion in Namibia
Mwezi, the collared desert lion that was hunted. (Photo: Supplied)

The hunters came quietly, killed a magnificent, collared pride male lion and left. But someone was watching. Now the Namibian Ministry of Environment, with memories of the Cecil hunt debacle in Zimbabwe, is scrambling to put out fires of growing outrage.

Namibia’s desert-adapted lions are not a different species but are admired for their acquired knowledge of survival in harsh, unforgiving conditions. They’re a worldwide tourist attraction and are closely monitored by conservationists. 

On 12 October a satellite collar on a male lion known as XPL 107 (but affectionately named Mwezi) was tracked from the Palmwag concession area to the Wild Veld Hunting Camp near Khowarib village. There could be only one reason: he had been shot (this was later confirmed by Desert Lion Conservation).

An NGO alerted Izak Smit of Desert Lions Human Relations Aid (DeLHRA) who was then told by a contact in Khowarib that the lion had been seen near the village. He then contacted the gatekeeper at the entry gate to the Palmwag concession, a logical entry point to access the area, who said two people in a government vehicle had escorted a vehicle with a hunting party of five with rifles into the concession. They told him they were ‘policing’. They later returned.

collared desert lion in Namibia. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

Smit said he “arrived at the conclusion that this Lion had been hunted and shot at the last recorded position in the Skeleton Coast Park or just inside the Palmwag concession area’s Western boundary around mid-day 11th October 2023”.

“[Mwezi] was shot in the Skeleton Coast National Park, which is shocking,” said Smit. “The Ministry used the collar to track the lion to accommodate a hunter. That collar was sponsored by a private organisation to protect the lion and to help prevent conflict situations. It’s like canned hunting because he’s technically captive.”

‘Problem-causing animal’

He sent an email to Kenneth Uiseb, Deputy Director of Wildlife Monitoring and Research at the Ministry of Environment (MEFT), asking if the hunt was legitimate as it was in a protected area and asked for copies of the hunting permit and the report of the official who accompanied the hunters. 

The email went unanswered, but instead, the Department issued a Press release seeking to legitimise the hunt, saying the lion was a “problem-causing animal” and destroyed for “persistently killing people’s livestock”. It indicated that the ‘conservation’ hunt raised N$320,000, most of which would be paid ‘to the affected communities’.

According to Smit, those alleged incidents happened a long time before the hunt and cannot be exclusively attributed to him. A month earlier the NGO Desert Lion Conservation had celebrated a mating between the lioness ZPL-108 and Mwezi, described as “one of the most reproductively successful males in the population”. 

Its website speculated that “XPL-108 may lead the male XPL-7 to the coast and expose him to the availability of the marine food resources. In fact, after they separated, he searched for her and followed the Uniab River westwards into the Skeleton Coast Park”. That was where he was shot.

Joe Mburu of Preserving Our Animals in the Wild wrote that Namibia has zero respect for wildlife. “Trophy hunting is not a form of conservation, but rather a contributing factor to extinction. In Namibia, there are only 25 desert lions remaining.”

According to a report in Africa Geographic, no designated officials within the relevant conservancies or concession holders were informed that there was a legitimate hunt authorised in the area. “We are also informed that neither the Directorate of Scientific Services at MEFT nor the relevant MEFT lion-conflict manager were informed about the planned hunt.”

lion hunt

Desert lions in Namibia are a unique population that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the Namib Desert. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In its press release, the department rounded on those who reported the hunt, saying “there are individuals and groups that are keen on discrediting Namibia’s conservation methods” and animal rights groups who “continue to spread unfounded rumours aimed at tarnishing the image of our country”.

The lion, said the press release, had killed 14 goats and a Brahman bull and had been collared making it easier for the Ministry to track it. It had been destroyed through ‘conservation hunting’. 

Smit wasn’t buying it. 

“No evidence was given of the assertion that the lion continued to prey on livestock, causing serious concerns to communities and farmers in the area”. 

The press release, he said, seemed to assert that the lion was collared after the incidents to manage the conflict. However, he added, it is well known that this specific lion was collared many years ago.

“The press release also does not explain what is meant by ‘conservation hunting’ and where the [money] from the hunt comes from. I therefore believe … that the so-called conservation hunting was in fact a trophy hunt.” 

Smit added that if a problem animal was to be killed, notice of this had by law to first be tabled in the Official Gazette

“The hunted lion was not declared a problem animal in terms of section 53 of the Nature Conservation Ordinance 4 of 1975 after a proper evaluation clearly required before such declaration can take place. Nor was such declaration published in the Official Gazette as is required. The Ministry therefore was not entitled to treat the lion that was shot and killed as a problem animal. Nor was it entitled to request a fee to be paid. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s ‘R3.4-billion’ hunting industry – should a simple tourist levy replace recreational hunts?

Undoubtedly aware of the international furore that took place in Zimbabwe on the killing of Cecil the Lion, Ministry public relations officer Romeo Muyunda called on “all tourists, visitors and all Namibians to disregard the advocacy against our country aimed at nothing but discrediting our conservation efforts”.

Smit is sticking to his guns: “I stand convinced that the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism has, in this instance, acted ultra vires and therefore request a full criminal investigation for a contravention of section 27(1) of The Nature Conservation Ordinance 4 of 1975 for the illegal hunting of protected game.”

Desert lions are found in the northwestern part of Namibia, particularly in the Kunene region, which includes the Skeleton Coast. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

Those that should be charged, says Smit, should be the hunter client of Wild Veld Safaris, Wild Veld Safaris itself and the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism as well as all personnel who facilitated the hunt.

Daily Maverick emailed the chief public relations officer for Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, Romeo Muyanda asking the following questions:

  • Did the MEFT issue a Trophy permit for the hunting of XPL 107 and could you supply a copy of it?
  • It is assumed that the MEFT official who accompanied the hunt wrote a report of the exercise. Could we get sight of the report? 
  • Would it be possible to see a copy of the ZPL107’s logged positions in the month prior to and up to the hunt?
  • Could you supply incidence reports of conflict episodes that XPL107 may have been involved in that led to his elimination?

At the time of going to print (three weeks after the request) Mr Romeo had not replied. When we approached the hunting outfit showing them Smit’s findings and asking for comment, Mark Misner of Wild Veld Hunting replied: “As a legitimate investigative reporter for the Daily Maverick, I feel confident you realise without a signed and witnessed Affidavit we are unable to respond.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Tima B says:

    Absolute BS. People keep encroaching into wildlife territory, not the other way round. You CANNOT expect animals not to hunt when you step into their territory and bring domesticated animals along. The group who organized the hunt, the hunter and the gov official who put the permit through need to be flogged for this crime. Unacceptable!!! Wildlife that has been killed on hunts do not help these communities – being custodians of said wildlife will, when will they wake up and realize they are being manipulated 😡 That poor lion 💔💔💔💔

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    They should all be liberated into the veld overnight for a little quid pro quo.

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