By: Mark & Pamela Robinson
As part of CecilTheLion.Org’s and the Cecil the Lion Facebook Community’s support of the animal conservation efforts of the students of Whitehall Elementary School, it has been Pamela and my privilege to bring five of the Project Cecil Rocks provided by Ms. Good along with us on each of the Cecil Safaris to Zimbabwe in 2017 and 2019. Many of you will remember and can now see the videos from the 2017 Cecil Safari, where the last of the five Project Cecil Rocks were placed by Brent and Oliver Stapelkamp in the exact spot that all nine of Cecil’s pride had been drinking. Brent was the Oxford based researcher who had named, collared and was researching Cecil when Cecil was slaughtered by an American hunter. Brent has become our friend and is a hero among conservationists.
Shortly after placing the final rock where we hoped we could photograph it with Cecil’s pride when they came back down to drink, an elephant, panicking at the smell of the pride when the wind shifted, perma-stomped the rock into the mud, making sure it stayed in Cecil’s territory forever. Thus, the pride now owns the orange rock.
We were again fortunate enough to spend time with Brent on this year’s Cecil Safari and presented him with the first of the five Cecil Rocks to bring back to Oliver who will place it somewhere in their village. Brent was kind enough to make a video for all of you so you can hear him thank you personally for everything you do for Africa’s precious animals.
The Purple Rock
In one of the areas in Hwange National Park where Cecil lived, there is a beautiful, small fenced in area that provides shelter and comfort for travelers driving through the park. There is space for camping tents, a wood burning stove for cooking and to heat water for showers, restrooms and a shaded gazebo where visitors can find protection from the hot midday sun. We have stopped here a number of times during our safaris for coffee, tea and snacks after a long, early morning of game drives viewing the animals of Hwange. There is a view from this small rest area that never fails to bring me into a very spiritual place. You can feel all of the centuries that the animals have roamed freely here, you can hear in the wind the voices of those who’ve been here before. It is a magical spot where I never fail to feel how deeply connected all of Mother Earth’s creatures are; man, woman and the animals, all interconnected as one, all co-dependent on each other for survival.
It was in this spot, this calm, serene, spirit filled spot that we placed the purple rock on a tree trunk corner of the fence that protects the small rest area. We know the rock will bring a smile to anyone who discovers it there.
Several years ago, Pamela and I awoke to a message from friends in Zimbabwe that an illegal hunt was taking place in the same manner in which Cecil was killed; baited out of the sanctuary of the Park and onto private land. The two male lions being hunted, who we had seen previously, were named Mopane and Sidule. They were young, breeding age males. We didn’t know how we could help all the way from Los Angeles. Our friends begged us to share the info they had on our Cecil Facebook page. They knew our followers would share it too. And so we told everyone on a post about the hunt, gave the name of the Safari outfit who was leading the hunt, posted pictures of the hunter’s vehicle, license plate and asked everyone to PLEASE SHARE!! Within a few hours, 6,500 people had seen and shared our post. Within 8 hours, the post had reached and been shared by over 120,000 people!! Many of those people were friends of Ms. Good. The next morning we awoke to word that the hunters had left the area, the hunt had been cancelled and the two lions were still safely in the park. The Safari outfit released a statement that day – lying, that they knew nothing about the hunt they were conducting just the day before.
Tragically, not too many months ago, Siduli was killed by hunters, which just broke our hearts. Understandably, we felt it was truly a blessing to know that Mopane, who had grown even larger than Cecil, was not only in the area, but visited our camp early one morning on this year’s Cecil Safari. And so the blue rock was placed next to the largest lion footprint we have ever seen! The footprint of Mopane found just outside our camp; a lion virtually saved by viral social media in action. This is now Mopane’s rock.
The Rhino Rock
While visiting Uganda as part of the Cecil Safari this year, Pamela and I visited the wonderful Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Central Uganda. The sanctuary covers 4,900 square kilometers of grassland set aside by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Rhino Fund Uganda as a sanctuary for southern white rhinos. These rhinos were declared extinct in Uganda in 1982. Thanks to the government of Kenya, who donated four white rhino and the Walt Disney Company who sent two from their Orlando Wild Animal Park, there are now 29 southern white rhino breeding and living under 24 hour guard on this gorgeous land. In cooperation with local cattlemen, herds of cattle are allowed to graze on the land because the cattle eat the grass right down to the short level rhinos love to eat it, given their massive, heavy heads. So here is where we placed the black rhino rock, right alongside a new mother and her young calf (in the background) as they live and grow in an area set aside to prevent the extinction of their species.
The Meditation Rock
Pamela and I wanted to find a special place for the final rock we were given for the 2019 Cecil Safari. As we sat and watched 8 young lions setting up a hunt, spent time watching a small group of giraffes feeding on tree leaves at sunset, spent time with the amazing gorillas of Uganda, we talked about where to place this last pink rock. We both decided at the same time… this rock had travelled tens of thousands of miles with us, been with us on amazing game drives, been with us as we met with those on the ground in Zimbabwe fighting every day to preserve their magnificent wildlife, this rock embodied the fighting spirit of the children of Whitehall Elementary. This rock needed to be in a special place for us… and with us.
And so, the final rock now lies among the rocks and seashells we have gathered from all around the world which rest beneath a meditation statue in the Zen garden of our desert home in La Quinta, California. This rock reminds us that we are not alone, this rock gives us strength, renews our spirit, provides the energy required to keep going in our fight to save lions and other threatened and endangered species from mankind itself. This rock is our connection to you, teachers and students. And we promise to do all we can so that when the time comes, you too can go to Africa and see these amazing animals in their natural world. They know you are fighting for them too.
Mark & Pamela Robinson