Sunday, December 12, 2010

Desert lions: starting over in Namibia

“Desert Lions,” tonight’s “Nature” program on PBS, told about two young sister lionesses in the Namid desert of Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa. Decades ago, lions were thought to have left the desert, but now they’re back.

The story of the scientist who keeps track of them, hoping to keep them from a village and its livestock, is pretty much the usual Nature narrative: will the lions stay away from the village; will they leave the livestock alone, thereby escaping the wrath of the villagers; will they find their way to the coast, where colonies of seals are there for the taking? (In the end, of course, they do all three things.)

Along the way, though, we learn (1) the desert temperatures are high enough to crack rock; (2) these two young lions learn to hunt aurochs (with their amazing long/high horns) in tandem; (3) in these parts, brown hyenas are solitary, and not the threat they’d be elsewhere; (4) though lions can rise to most challenges, their biggest obstacle is people.

“No animal has a concept of restraint, predators least of all.” This point was made while the lionesses tore into a herd of wild donkeys near the village. It looked as if they killed many more donkeys than needed for their own food, but beyond that, the point wasn’t satisfactorily detailed.

The long-range hope: lions will become established along the coast to South Africa. We’ll have to wait and see.

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