Cecil the lion killed by American dentist Walter Palmer, Zimbabwe, Africa. Photo: REX Shutterstock
Work started in 1999 and the team worked with the Zimbabwean national park to get a moratorium in place from 2004 -0 8. In 2009, when hunting resumed, the quota was slashed to merely six a year. We were very proud to get that level of change, from altogether unsustainable to seemingly quite sustainable, says Macdonald.
Since the hunting was drastically reduced, the Hwange population has grown by 50% to 500. We started with a nucleus around Hwange, but the lions are part of what is probably now the largest functioning lion ecosystem in
Africa, says Macdonald.
However, hunting remains the biggest cause of male lion mortality in the area and the death of Cecil in 2015 brought deadly danger to his offspring. When a male lion dies, other males often take over a pride and kill all the cubs there to bring the lionesses into heat more quickly.
You kill one male and from that may flow the deaths and disruption of many others, says Macdonald. One dead male is not a matter dead male, it is a cascade of consequences. On this occasion, Cecils pride partner, Jericho, has managed to see off usurpers and retain control. He is away with it, says Macdonald.
Tropy hunting of lions remains big business the number
killed has tripled to 1,500 a year in the last decade but, perhaps surprisingly, Macdonald and Loveridge do not want an instant ban.
I dont insure why anyone would want to trophy hunt. I cant get my head around that, says Loveridge. But as a conservationist, the habitat that is set aside for wildlife is definitely beneficial. Close to half the fish habitats in Africa is set aside for hunting. If you say you are not going to have hunting any more, that land isnt going to become national parks, there is no way politicians could pull that off. Its going to become farmland. That would be a huge loss.
Macdonald agrees, but supposes the Cecil moment could drive a global change of heart.
My view is that a significant part of global society may be forming the impression that, whatever the economics, trophy hunting of big cats is not an appropriate recreation for the 21 st century.
If by magical you were to ban hunting tomorrow, and if all that land and lions was lost, that would be an own aim for society. If society decides it doesnt want trophy hunting of lions, there needs to be a journey , not a jumping, to replace the incentive to protect those lions.
You need to think about it from an African view too, says Loveridge, who is from
Zimbabwe. African governments are almost invariably poor, and trophy hunting brings in revenue, theres no doubt about that. They have to justify conservation to a populace that dont inevitably like lions. Africans have real experiences of lions: they kill their cattles, they kill their children. So you have to justify the conservation of lions.
That, says Macdonald, is why most of the$ 1m windfall from Cecils death is being used to reduce conflicts between people and lions: you cannot look after the lions unless you look after local people too, he says.
First of all was saving the project, much of which focuses on protecting kine and villages. We live on philanthropy, hand to mouth, and we had been looking into the precipice of closing everything down, says Macdonald.
But the Cecil money has enabled a doubling of their Long Shields Protector program, in which villages nominate people to become paid protectors. The protectors are equipped with a mobile phone, a mountain bike and a vuvuzela a noisy cornet. When the GPS tracking data depicts a lion is heading towards a village, they spring into action.
We try to be very steady and blow just as much as we are going to be able, says Liomba-Junior Mathe, a young Zimbabwean scientist, who works for the project and is now, thanks to the Cecil money, receiving conservation training at Oxford University.
We can be as close as 10 metres to the lion, one of the most dangerous African predators, he says. But the team consists of very brave and courageous people, I can tell you. It is not easy to chase a lion very few people would actually accompany you. Sometimes the lion retaliates and chases us back. But it is a really important part of our run and people are very grateful.
Bomas, the holding pens used to protect kine from lions. Photograph: Andrew Loveridge/ Wildcru
The Cecil fund has also doubled the programme delivering new bomas, the holding pens used to protect cattles from lions. Unlike traditional timber bomas, the lions cannot see through the white PVC versions. The lion cannot attack what it cannot assure, says Mathe.
Furthermore, the new bomas can be easily moved, so fields can be fertilised in turn. This has led to a 30% increase in the maize crop yield, a life-saving benefit, says Loveridge: This is an area where people can starve in a bad year. Overall, he says: We have reduced the amount of livestock killed by lions by 50% in three years.
Mathe says Cecils death can become a movement, in Zimbabwe and around the world. It positively changed so many people attitudes towards wildlife. I come from Hwange town but I have friends and family who never knew wildlife before. Most people in Zimbabwe, they never knew of Cecil until he died. It actually touched them and opened their minds.
The death of this lion, it was really tragic, but it brought some good, he says. There was a world cry for this lion and also for conservation.
Wildcru maintains a
website about Cecil and a page for donations.