Rare desert lions of the fame of the “five musketeers” poisoned
A trio of male lions died earlier this month after being poisoned, but they weren’t just big cats. They were three of the five brothers, known as the “five musketeers”, who starred in the film Missing Kings: Lions of Namib, which aired on the National Geographic Channel earlier this year. The film retraced their pride across the Namib Desert in northern Namibia.
Philip Stander, founder of the Desert Lion Conservation Project, the organization that tracks lions, found their carcasses on August 10 near the village of Tomakas, according to the Namibian. It is suspected that this was an act of retaliation by farmers who laced a donkey carcass with poison after the lions killed the donkey.
“It is truly a tragedy for Namibia’s lion conservation efforts in a very difficult environment that balances lion and human coexistence,” Stander said in the namibian report. With only 150 lions left in the country, the artificial loss of one is cause for concern.
The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism has opened an investigation into the case, according to a statement posted on its Facebook page. The agency “condemns this illegal lion poisoning activity and those involved will face the full wrath of the law,” the statement said.
This is not the first tragedy of pride. A villager shot dead one of the other brothers in July after an incident at a temporary breeding station, which heightened fears for the safety of the remaining brothers. The famous lions had become popular with tourists and were less afraid of people, Stander told the namibian.
Concerns about the safety of the lions prompted the government to decide to move the lions from the Tomakas area to the Uniab Delta, which was considered safer. But then disaster struck. (See also “Lions, hyenas killed with poisoned meat”)
“It’s terrible,” says Marjolein Duermeijer, producer of the film. “We’ve been following all five of them for a long time, and we’ve already lost one, so it was already terrible.”
Namibian Desert Lions, which primarily roam outside protected areas in remote and arid northern Namibia, have evolved to survive some of the most difficult conditions for animals on Earth. Thick coats help them adapt to colder weather, and they can subsist without drinking water, consuming prey such as ostriches and antelopes for hydration.
Like most wild African lions, desert lions face threats from farmers trying to protect their livestock from predators. Stander’s organization strives to help humans and lions coexist peacefully.
In December, Wildlife Watch wrote about the deaths of three members of another famous lion pride, the stars of the BBC series Big Cat Diaries. These lions died in Kenya after eating the carcass of a poisoned cow.
As for the famous Namibian lions, only one of the brothers remains. Known as Tullamore (its scientific name is Xpl-93), the lion was moved to the area around the mouth of the Uniab River. But he has since been found heading to the Tomakas area, likely looking for his brothers, according to a Facebook post on August 22 from the Desert Lion Conservation Project.
This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible through grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more SIU stories at Wildlife observation. Send tips, comments and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.