Aug 15

Vanishing Kings – Lions of the Namib is a film created by Will and Lianne Steenkamp that has been nominated for a 2016 Panda Award for Cinematography (Small Crew). We were still on a high from the amount of hard work that the public and conservation organisations had put into raising awareness of World Lion Day on 10 August when we heard sad news from Will about the feline stars of his film. Here Will tells us the story of the creation of the film and how the recent news has affected him and his team.

Our film “Vanishing Kings – Lions of the Namib” was the beginning of an incredible journey.

Namib Desert, location of Vanishing Lions film Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Namib Desert, location of Vanishing Lions film Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

For two years we followed a unique pride of desert-adapted lions in the remote and breath-taking Skeleton Coast Park of the Namib Desert. The three lionesses of this pride had given birth to a cohort of five male cubs, an extraordinary phenomenon in the desert. We followed their remarkable and challenging journey on their way to adulthood…

The Musketeers playing together Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

The Musketeers playing together

By the end of the film, the five young brothers known as the ‘Five Musketeers’, had just left their mothers and formed an independent strong coalition of nomads. With so few adult male lions remaining in the desert, the opportunity to breed presented itself sooner than expected. And after a short nomadic life they joined a pride of lionesses that had no pride male. But with their newly acquired kingdom came serious danger. These lionesses lived a life ‘on the edge’, close to some of the rural villages. And this was the beginning of a dangerous saga for the five males…

The Musketeers on the move Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

The Musketeers on the move Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Upon completion we took ‘Vanishing Kings’ on a roadshow to the rural villages that come in regular conflict with desert lions. With it we were hoping to educate and inform the local communities and show a different side of the lions that they know. As wildlife filmmakers we have always wanted to do more than just make beautiful, compelling films through which we raise awareness. We want to actively contribute to conservation, play our part, and make a difference on the ground albeit small. And the Musketeers needed our help.

Vanishing Kings being shown to local people in Namib Desert Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Vanishing Kings being shown to local people in Namib Desert Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

With their new kingdom, the ‘Five Musketeers’ got in conflict with the villages and became the focus of a pilot project looking at mitigating human-lion conflict in the Kunene region of the Namib. With this project we learnt which methods are or aren’t effective here in the desert. Apart from our filmmaking we began to play an active role in addressing this human-lion conflict more than ever before and we set up The Desert Lion Conservation Foundation to help raise funds and form part of a pro-active management system.

For several months we worked closely alongside Dr Philip Stander with the rural community members that were affected by the Musketeers. The farmers brought their livestock back to the corrals every night, which reduced losses considerably. The Foundation was able to employ a well-trained lion guardian who was to form part of a specialised rapid response team. Although this pilot project had success, we tragically lost one of the Musketeers after an incident at a small cattle-post. It was a great loss and we were determined to provide a better future for the remaining four males.

Despite the traumatic event the four Musketeers remained in the conflict area. And after another two months the situation had become unmanageable. Just as plans were in place to relocate the males to the safety of the Skeleton Coast Park, three of the males were poisoned…

Poisoned male Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Poisoned male Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Now there is only one surviving Musketeer. Out of a coalition of five male lions he has become the symbol for the rate at which we are losing lions, not just in the desert, but all over Africa.

With our Foundation we are hoping to get the help needed for this iconic kind of lion. We as human beings encroach this planet, we are all responsible for their decline, and it is time to act. May the last remaining Musketeer be one of many lions that we are able to provide a future for…

One of the Musketeers, standing tall Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

One of the Musketeers, standing tall Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

If you want to know more about the Desert Lion Foundation and keep up to date with their work you can follow them on Facebook or go on their website.

Watch the trailer for Vanishing Kings – Lions of the Namib.

Find out more about lions on Arkive.

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