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Cecil’s Rise & Fall

19th August 2019 InsiderZimbabwe
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The Legacy of Cecil, The Legend of Hwange National Park
The Legacy of Cecil, The Legend of Hwange National Park

Cecil’s story resulted in the biggest global response to a wildlife story there has ever been. Cecil was a legend, a force of nature, a lion that exuded a supreme prowess. And sadly, he was taken well before his time. This is a story of his life and legacy, told by a man who knew him well…

Calvet, Somalisa Expeditions Safari Guide and Storyteller
Calvet, Somalisa Expeditions Safari Guide and Storyteller

As we sit around the campfire at Somalisa Expeditions and the scarlet sun sinks behind the acacia-strewn horizon, Calvet reminisces of the ‘tale of territories’. Growing up in a small village in Southern Zimbabwe instilled a passion for the African Bush in Calvet. He started as a guide in 1995 and exudes a wealth of knowledge and contagious enthusiasm for the wild. Calvet is well known for his engaging story telling capabilities, especially when it comes to Cecil. His jocular manner and enchanting insights enhance an already intimate and enriching safari experience. He speaks of the lions as if they are old school friends and as we gather around the fire at Somalisa Expeditions, we are in no doubt that this tale will be no exception…

Cecil the Lion

Cecil Rising

As part of an Oxford study, Cecil was tracked using a GPS collar in order that he could be researched. This is why he received a name. He was also known as the ‘Hercules of Hwange National Park’, and was so prominent that many travellers came from far and wide just to get a glimpse of him. With a thick, coal-black mane, and mighty frame, he was the epitome of strength and prowess, his golden eyes seemed to look straight through you and his poise was unparalleled; he certainly was a sight to behold.

"It all started with Cecil and his son Xanda, they had a pride of 16 strong." Calvet begins. They dominated the Eastern territory of the National Park in the Linkwasha Concession. Until brother coalition; Bush and Bhubesi appeared from the Northern territory. Cecil and Xanda battled with them, you can imagine what kind of scene it must have been when four large males clashed. Brute strength. Aggression. You could hear the bellow and thunder of lions roaring… and blood. Cecil and Xanda managed to hold their ground and chased the brothers. The territory was safe.

For now.

"This is when Cecil made a mistake", Calvet says. After this confrontation, Cecil noticed that his son was becoming stronger. Threatened by this, he chased him out of the pride. Which is when Bush and Bhubesi took their chance to expel Cecil from Linkwasha, once and for all.

"In 2013, Beks, Founder of African Bush Camps, invited me to work here at Somalisa." Calvet recalls. "At the same time, Cecil has been chased out of his territory, so Cecil followed me here.” Kokore was the resident lion at the time. Cecil was thin and weakening at this stage, not exhibiting much stamina or strength. He tried to submit to Kokore so as to form a Coalition but Kokore rejected him; concerned that Cecil would kill the cubs in his pride.

Cecil & Jericho

Luckily, Cecil found Jericho, another large lone male.

The two had some history. “Legend goes, that the father of Jericho, killed the father of Cecil, in a fight so they were enemies.” After some time, however they decided to put their differences aside and joined forces. They moved into the Somalisa Concession. Despite their union, unrest and turmoil lingered between them and numerous battles ensued in the time that they reigned over Somalisa. This was attributed to the abundance of testosterone, and consequently dominance over food and females was the issue. However, after each battle they always reunited. They knew they were stronger together than they ever would be apart.

Cecil - left, Jericho - right
Cecil - left, Jericho - right

The Roar of Africa

“They advertised,” Calvet says, with a big burly voice, uncannily imitating the roar of the beasts. This roar conveys many messages. They are expressing to the females in the area that they're looking to grow their pride. They express to the males in the area they are ready to take over, by any means necessary. When a lion roars, it reverberates in your being and strikes fear into your soul. It takes you to your ancient roots and sends you to a wild and true Africa. You understand instantly why they are at the top of the food chain. And, the louder and more intimidating they sound, the more they appeal to the lionesses in the area…

The Spice Girls, with Cecil's Cubs
The Spice Girls, with Cecil's Cubs

The Spice Girls

Hearing the two large males, Kokore was not impressed and at one point attempted to take them on, however when he saw their size and sheer power he retreated, leaving his pride in submission. Cecil and Jericho were on top, now the “Kings of Somalisa”.

They introduced themselves to the pride's lionesses but these ladies ran away, trying to safeguard their cubs.

Unperturbed, Cecil and Jericho continue 'advertising' to publicise that they were in charge of the territory and that they were looking to grow their pride. Hearing their mighty roars, three lionesses appeared. They came to be affectionately known as ‘The Spice Girls’. According to Calvet, they saw these two men and thought “Yes, these are the guys we want, let’s see what’s going to happen here”.

In 2014 they 'entertained' the boys, Calvet said giving a cheeky smile and a laugh.

The lionesses stayed with the boys for a while, mating in false oestrus to create bonds and build trust. By mid 2014 the girls trusted Cecil and Jericho and so went into true oestrus. By September they were pregnant and in December 2015, the spice girls had 7 cubs; 2 boys and 5 girls. "A happy family" Calvet recalled jubilantly, “And for a while they lived the perfect life in Somalisa”. The pride had grown to 12 strong and as Jericho was submissive, it was believed that all of the cubs were Cecil's.

Cecil's Pride
Cecil's Pride

Yet the growing pride meant different challenges...

The Beginning of the End

The growing pride meant that they were struggling for space and food. They needed to extend the territory. Jericho ventured further north up to Kennedy 1, near the railway line. Beyond the railway line is the forest concession, also known as the hunting concession. Jericho found an old lioness called Cathy who was alone. Although she never gave birth to his cubs she kept him company and “kept him entertained”.

Jericho reported back to Cecil that he had discovered more territory and together they moved to Kennedy 1. “Cecil saw Cathy and he was so happy! I imagine he said ‘Well done my friend, Jericho.'" Calvet said with a huge laugh while patting me on the back, taking on the role of Cecil in his own story.

Jericho and Cathy
Jericho and Cathy

They stayed with Cathy for long periods before returning to Somalisa for brief intervals to check in on the cubs.

In June 2015, Cecil had been in the north of the park for over a month, sadly edging closer to his infamous, cruel fate.

On the night of 01 July 2015, he left the safety of the National Park and crossed into the hunting concession where a recreational big-game hunter wounded him with an arrow. The following morning, nearly 12 hours later the hunter tracked and killed him with a bow and arrow, finally ending his suffering.

Cecil was 13 years old.

Calvet believes that “they chose Cecil because he was so handsome.”

Most people will have heard about Cecil, the undisputed king of this part of the savannah. The incident ignited a furor, sending shock waves across the entire world but for the guides in the park who had come to know Cecil on a personal level, they were all truly shaken to the core.

“Just like that, he was gone.”

Silence. All we hear now is the fierce crackling of the fire as Calvet composes himself.

With tension in his voice, Calvet continues…

“It feels like it's the end of the story, but in truth it's not.” As with the rhythm of the African sun, it rises again, and life moves forward. Like many of the guides in the area, Calvet moves his focus to the legacy that lives on in Cecil’s pride.

Jericho remained in the North. He didn’t come back to be with the pride. He stayed with Cathy and was joined by two other lionesses, who he went on to mate with and so too became a father of 5.

Cecil’s legacy lives on through his cubs, still in the Somalisa Concession, with the 'Spice Girls', and the story of Cecil's Pride continues.

“As the pride shifts and changes, people from around the world come to see his legacy endure.”

MAKE THIS ADVENTURE YOURS

Authentic Zimbabwe is a fly-in safari rich in culture and unique wildlife encounters. Combine the natural wonder of Victoria Falls, with an exploration of two of Zimbabwe’s most famous national parks – Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park.

Dispelling the Myth of Trophy Hunting and Conservation

The science is clear; lion populations decline where there is hunting.” – Dereck Joubert

Dereck Joubert is a globally renowned, award-winning filmmaker and conservationist. In 2009, he founded the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, a long-term labour of love to halt the decline of big cats in the wild and protect the eco-systems they inhabit.

With decades of conservation work under his belt, Dereck Joubert states that very little revenue from hunts end up supporting wildlife initiatives. Outside sources agree, estimating that only 3-5% of hunting fees are paid to conservation groups. This means that as little as $1,500 of Walter Palmer’s $50,000 fee has been invested in conservation.

The proven and most sustainable approach to boost conservation in Africa is through responsible tourism. Choose an operator that has upheld conservation standards, integrates with the local community, and fosters relationships between travellers, locals and wildlife.

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