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lion yawning

USA dentist Walter Palmer killed a magnificent Zimbabwean male lion called Cecil on July 2nd 2015.

Cecil was part of a research programme being conducted in the nearby Hwange National Park by Oxford University.

The killing of Cecil sparked outrage across the world, especially when it emerged that Walter failed at the first attempt to kill the lion with his bow and arrow, and was left to suffer until the morning after. While there were some initial indications that Cecil had been intentionally baited out of the protected area, that there was no lion hunting quota on the land where Cecil was shot, that Cecil should not have been killed as he was wearing a research radiocollar – all these concerns were later dropped and the hunting of Cecil was deemed perfectly legal.

Palmer was vilified, had to lay low for a while, and the international media went crazy with all sorts of pundits (for and against) pontificating about trophy hunting in general and lion hunting in particular. Cecil was a pride male and was the father of a number of young cubs – trophy hunters are not “supposed” to shoot pride males?

Oxford University did not comment much but raised over $1.2 million in immediate donations for their research programme. The “Cecil effect” went further – many airlines refused to carry hunting trophies and France banned further lion trophy imports from 12th November 2015. Conservationists and Members of the European Parliament called for a similar ban in other European countries, but only the Netherlands followed suit. LionAid organized a debate in UK Parliament on November 15th, but as of today the UK is still dragging heels on the ban on lion trophy hunting imports despite our petition of now over 650,500 signatures.

Cecil’s legacy remains but is fading. In 2017, one of Cecil’s sons, Xanda, was shot by a trophy hunter, and a number of conservation organizations like the IUCN and WWF are still convinced that trophy hunting is a conservation measure for lions. Wild lions and especially captive bred lions are still shot as trophies in a number of African countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Namibia.

If Cecil’s legacy is to come roaring back, the Cecil “movement” must result in tangible and durable contributions and strong conservation planning to enhance the future of lions in Africa. When Cecil was shot, many estimated the lion population of the continent to be about 20,000 individuals – we are now down to fewer than 15,000 and the decline continues yearly.

Lions are an iconic but challenging species to conserve – there is much human/lion/livestock conflict wherever lions still occur, not aided by rampant bushmeat poaching destroying the lions’ natural prey base. South Africa’s commerce in lion bones from captive bred animals to Asian countries has led to a great increase in lion poaching and illegal cub trafficking to increase captive populations.

There are a great number of good initiatives and programmes available, many of them designed by African rural communities themselves to mitigate lion conflict. LionAid already has one such programme ready to roll if conditiond would allow. Lion populations in protected areas need to be stabilized and corridors established to permit some level of migration between currently isolated populations. Urgent population counts need to take place with best possible techniques and conducted by independent parties to establish areas of greatest conservation need and populations with best hopes for a long-term future.

The list is long, but so is the toll of lions trophy hunted since Cecil. Cessation of trophy hunting of lions must come with incentives and rewards, otherwise calls for it to cease will fade as quickly as the initial resolve after the killing of Cecil.

If Cecil is to be well-remembered it must be via well-constructed lion conservation measures. LionAid is poised to conduct whatever lion population censuses are necessary to initiate strong conservation measures for remaining viable lion populations.

Before COVID, we were strongly negotiating with Tanzania on an  important and much needed lion population count in the Selous Game Reserve.With funding and a green light to once again travel safely, we can recommence this work.

Thank you for donating if you can. There is so much work to do and we can only continue with your support. All donations, large or small, are very much appreciated.

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 16:01