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IN XPL-44 “LEONARDO” MEMORIAM: when Kcs participated in his darting


On 21 April 2010 a professional trophy hunter shot the Hoarusib (Puros Conservancy) male XPL 44, also known as “Leonardo”, in neighbouring Sesfontein Conservancy.  The shooting of this magnificent lion has raised many questions and emotions, especially since – thanks to years of conservation efforts by various non-government organizations – the people of Puros, his “home conservancy” have not only learned to live with these wild cats, but have displayed exceptional tolerance in sharing their land with them.  Despite considerable human/wildlife conflict, they have they nurtured “their” desert lions and taken pride in looking after them. Leonardo was one of the prime research animals radio-collared by renowned lion conservationist, Dr Flip Stander, and his untimely demise is a blow to conservation in general.

An investigation into the incident by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment & Tourism, the relevant communal conservancies, the hunting fraternities and several NGO’s is in motion.

Read how Kunene Conservancy Safaris was present when Leonardo was last fitted with a new GPS collar.

  • During the last Desert Lion Safari, KCS met up with Dr Flip Stander, who heads the Desert Lion Conservation Project, for the darting of XPL 44, better known as “Leonardo”. This magnificent male was currently roaming the dry river bed of the Hoarusib River.  White river sand winding through stark mountain canyons punctuated by dunes slip-sliding down sharp outcrops of granite rock like mountain glaciers tumbling into thick reed beds and water pools dotted with Egyptian Geese and blacksmith lapwings are a perfect setting for a desert lion adventure.

  • As the vehicles labour through thick river sand, swarms of waxbills rise in unison and sail through the air in the perfect formation of a shoal of sardines, hundreds of tiny wings batting the air to create the whoosh of gentle gusts of wind.  Although the late afternoon sun has not quite lost its intensity, shadows begin to fall in the canyon with the promise of night, the time when the lion is king!

  • The male has been spotted, the bait is set and as the night turns to pitch, the wait for the drugs in the consumed carcass to kick in begins and with it the delicious thrill that one is indeed about to touch and breathe in the musky scent of a truly wild, incredibly elusive and breathtakingly beautiful desert lion.

  • As Dr Stander gets down to the business at hand of taking blood, measurements and replacing the GPS colour, one can only but pinch oneself out of a dream-like trance into the realisation that one is actually there.  Later – after the story has been told and retold, every detail rehashed and stored to memory – alone with one’s thoughts, exhausted, but too exhilarated to sleep, the enormity of this experience, the simple privilege just of having been there, slowly begins to sink in and with the coming of dawn one can finally get some shut-eye with a smile on one’s face.

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