Dr Philip – Flip – Stander is a born and bred Namibian who has dedicated his life to conservation. He now lives alongside the few – numbering less than 150 – remaining desert lions in the country’s barren Skeleton Coast region.
I first met Flip whilst staying at the remote Hoanib Camp a few years ago. However, his real on-the-job home is a purpose-adapted Land Cruiser, which serves as his base when out in the field. I remember thinking at the time that he kind of looks like a lion with his still eyes, sandy, blonde colouring and desert-dusted skin. It’s that if you hang out with people, and animals, enough you start to take on personality traits, and can even adapt physically. If true, then Flip is what a scientist might call positive corroborating evidence. He’s been studying the lions of this region for 35 years. They’re his tribe. He has adopted the lion’s routine, living mostly nocturnally so that he can follow the lions when they’re active, in the cooler hours of the day. Interestingly, he spoke of how his night vision and other senses have adapted, with no internal lights on in his vehicle, he’s able to see the world through the lion’s eyes. Meaning that the lions are able to hunt in the dark, with him alongside.
From the relative comfort of his car, Flip carries out what has come to be widely regarded as some of the finest work on lions, addressing and raising awareness of the human-lion conflict. With no formal higher education, Flip taught himself, with a little help from his friends, to work and write up his field work and years of research scientifically. This led him to graduating from the University of Cambridge with a PhD (remote learning at its finest), to eventually becoming Chief Scientist at Nambia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and most recently to the making of a beautiful, moving documentary, Vanishing Kings. The movie follows the lives of the Five Musketeers, five brothers growing up with their courageous mum in the stark Namib Desert. Not long after the film was the released, one of the male lions was shot, and a year later, a further three poisoned.
These lions, like many other species, need our help. And Flip is a rare and vital link. He understands them, and he understands mankind. He’s aware of the immense power that we humans have, and how destructive this power can be when it’s misused. Whilst we can’t all flock to the Namib desert to join Flip, we can support and talk about his work, and take inspiration from a way of living that is not motivated by money or power, but rather by a determination and commitment to the preservation of a species he knows and loves. He’s an extraordinary man, and ought to serve as a role model for us all, whatever our interests, whatever we do.
The above image featuring desert lions was taken by Flip himself