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Who Was Cecil?

Cecil the lion was an icon, a black maned lion who earned respect the hard way, by surviving the hardship of being a lion in a place where his kind are killed by hunters every day. But Cecil was more than that, he was a subject of study for England’s University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English speaking world and the world’s second-oldest surviving university. Cecil’s life came to an end on a day in July 2015, when he was lured out of an animal protection area to his death at the hands of a trophy hunter.  To that hunter, the trophy of this beautiful lion hanging on his wall meant more than its life. But until that time, Cecil’s tracking collar provided information to Oxford about his habits of roaming, hunting, and surviving, valuable for what we could learn about these animals and what it takes for them to continue to survive as a species. So what, if anything, did we learn from the killing of Cecil the Lion?

Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil & the Future of Africa’s Iconic Cats

Animal Activists Are Outraged

Across the internet and networks, animal activists are outraged over Cecil’s death. It was an unnecessary kill, done to give a hunter a trophy of a black maned lion. Black manes are not common in the lion kingdom and the lions who have them are usually quite large and fierce. This particular lion’s death and the way it was carried out were heinous in the eyes of those who care about animal welfare. Cecil was first lured from his protected area with raw meat on the back of a pickup truck. Once out of that area, he was shot with a bow and arrow. Being the sort of lion he was, his fighting spirit didn’t allow him to die easily and he suffered and was tracked for 40 hours until finally being shot and killed. Then his radio collar was hidden to keep the authorities from knowing of their deed, he was skinned, and beheaded. That very act proves they knew he was a protected lion. But his head and mane were all the trophy hunter wanted. The remainder of his body was left to be picked to bones by other animals. It was NOT a legal kill because it was a protected lion, against the law for anyone to kill, even though the hunter was licensed for a lion hunt. It was not legal, though it was eventually called legal by African authorities.

Why The Study?

In the capacity of a research subject, Cecil and his pride (family) lived in a protected area in the Hwange National Park  in Zimbabwe on the African continent.  Studies tell us there are now less than 30,000 lions remaining in all of this huge land area where once roamed over 200,000 of their kind. However it isn’t just the blatant killing, like that of Cecil, that has caused these decreasing numbers in animals on earth. Man, in his continuing expansion into wild territory, pushes all wild animals closer to extinction each day with loss of their habitat.

Add to the mix hunters who are willing to pay $50,000 or more to kill a beast selected and secured for them and you have a calamitous survival situation for elephants, rhinos, giraffes, leopards, zebras, and many other exotic animals. The University of Oxford has studied this pride of lions since before Cecil arrived, alone,  and displaced from another pride. He and another male, Jericho, became friends and they bred and watched over two prides together, one with three lionesses and seven cubs and another with three lionesses.

What We Learned

According to Brent Stapelcamp, lion researcher and part of a team who tracked and studied Cecil for the past nine years,  there’s a lesson to be learned from his death, and that is to take the lives of wild animals more seriously. Stapelcamp says that lions and other animals are illegally killed every day. But Cecil’s celebrity focused needed attention on the conservation efforts we must take, to foster and preserve other species with whom we share this planet. Whether anyone realizes it or not, we are all interconnected. When one species goes extinct, another will follow, and another and so on, eventually to our own. It’s to our advantage to preserve all life found here in our world.

“I think this was just the final straw. Everyone locally just thought, no way, we’re not letting anyone get away with this anymore.” ~ Brent Stapelcamp, lion researcher, Oxford University

Watch a Tribute to Cecil by clicking on the link below.


Lions Have “Family”

Those who study lions have found that they form a group of both male and female lions, one of whom is the alpha male who breeds with his choice of female. He is considered the protector of the pride. When this male dies, if there is no other male who rises to dominance in the family, a lone lion without his own family or a lion from another group may come in and kill the cubs from that bloodline. Thereafter he will mate with the female, if he doesn’t kill her first, insuring his own bloodline. It’s part of survival of the fittest and the circle of life, but it didn’t have to be that way in Cecil’s pride.  Our information about this family is that another lion in the same pride, Jericho, is taking over the protection of Cecil’s cubs so that the bloodline continues. We hope that is true, but will Jericho be enough to keep the pride safe from other lions? That remains to be seen, and if he is chased away by rivals, the entire pride is in danger.  On a more practical note, it also means tourist traffic and jobs may be lost for those who worked at the protectorate. All this for a trophy head. Here’s what we learned from Cecil the Lion’s tragic death; that a life is worth more than a trophy, that all animals including the human ones are connected. That when one dies we are all, each somehow diminished.

Everyone knows the story of Cecil’s death…but this book speaks of how he lived. Photographs are by Brent Stapelcamp, the researcher who put so much time and effort into documenting Cecil’s life.

Cecil’s Pride

If you’d like to know what’s happening with Cecil’s pride now, here’s a link from the Chicago Tribune that tells the story of his family.  //www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/sc-cecil-cubs-update-family-0517-20160511-story.html