Cecil, one year later….
Cecil, one year later….

It is said that the male lion will often sacrifice itself for the good of the pride. Lions live in a very spiritual world”

– Somalisa Concession guide’s words to Mark and Pamela Robinson, August 2014 in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

And so began our introduction to Cecil the Lion and pride on a warm afternoon on Day One of our visit to Africa and Hwange National Park. Words that have taken on far greater significance in light of events that took place less than a year later.

We were relaxing in Italy after a friend’s wedding in the beautiful Piedmonte region when we received a text informing us that Cecil had been killed. We had spent two afternoons the prior summer filming and photographing Cecil and pride. We were absolutely crushed. We still are. Of all the memories of three amazing weeks traveling in Africa, none had the impact that our time with Cecil had.

On the first outing, Cecil’s partner Jericho was roaring in the distance and Cecil, resting while the females lay behind him with the cubs hidden under a large branch pile, got up to see what Jericho was up to.

Slowly he walked from 100 yards away… deliberately… regally. As he approached our vehicle, Pamela let out an audible gasp, “wow!” she said quietly while filming him. He was very large, battle scarred, thick black mane and tracking collar barely visible underneath. I was photographing him while Pamela filmed from behind. We were stunned and thrilled as he approached and then stopped directly in front of us.

1We were able to hear him breathing. He stood silently listening for his partner Jericho. It was not so long before this that Cecil had been run out of his territory by a younger, stronger male. While many older male lions would have chosen to live out their lives on the fringes, Cecil had a better idea. So he teamed up with another older male, Jericho, and they retook the territory, driving off the younger male, reclaiming the females of the pride with Cecil siring seven more cubs. Now these two grizzled warriors were hunting and running their territory together. It was pure Hollywood.

3Cecil spent several minutes in front of us listening for Jericho then turned to check on his pride. It was breathtaking to have such a magnificent animal posing right in front of us. Satisfied that the pride was safe, he turned and continued on to investigate Jericho’s roars.

6He was clearly the alpha male in Hwange, a celebrity in his own right. Pamela kept filming while Cecil walked off into the woods as the guide informed us that we had just seen Africa’s biggest lion. Whether this was actually true, none of the dozens of males we saw in Zimbabwe or Botswana held a candle to Cecil. Pamela’s film continued with Cecil fading into the dusk and Pamela capturing the last fleeting moments of sunset in the bush.

Of the dozens of hours of video taken while in Africa and upon our return, Pamela posted exactly one video to her YouTube channel… “Africa’s Biggest Lion”… Cecil… walking off into the sunset.

4The following day was a very different experience. This time Cecil was out with the females, running and chasing, playing, flirting, mating games and resting. Watching him run was incredible, this large, strong male enjoying his territory and the females he fought for and won. Having taken so many photos the first day, I remembered a very important lesson from the National Geographic Photography course where Pamela and I first met. Sometimes you just need to put the camera down and enjoy. So glad we did that.

5As the sun set on that second evening, we knew that we had experienced what so many people have said about time in Africa. You come home changed. Cecil did that in ways we could never imagine as we pulled away with two of the females chasing him back into the brush.

In the year since Cecil’s death a seismic shift has taken place on our planet. Social media created an outlet for the global rage at the senseless destruction of our natural resources and threatened wildlife to be expressed. The issue of trophy hunting has been thrust onto the front page and lead stories of international news reporting. A movement has arisen to make trophy hunting a socially unacceptable as smoking a cigar in a restaurant. Unthinkable now, but common not that long ago. And Walter Palmer… Well f*^# Palmer, he’s been left in the dumpster of human history.

A community was born last July, this community. 34,000 of you, dedicated to forcing change on a world too selfish to understand that species lost do not return. Too greedy to care that their “hobby” is wiping out animals that have been on the planet for centuries before humans appeared.

We have accomplished much in one short year. We have made friends with those on the forefront of saving Africa’s big cats. Brent Stapelkamp, Drew Abrahamson and others have allowed us to learn more, join forces, and connect globally to make a difference. We have debated with trophy hunters, had long running conservation with those who have helped us understand the role of the hunting economy in Zimbabwe. We have dedicated ourselves to learning how to grow and become positive agents in the push for change. And we accomplished much. Let’s review what your community has achieved…

  • Raised almost $10,000 for WildCru.
  • Produced T-shirts purchased on the www.cecilthelion.org website, which raised almost half of those funds;
  • Launched a fundraising campaign to directly benefit the Friends of Hwange Trust (“FOH”) who care for the animals in the Park and ensure a constant water supply for them;
  • Circulated, shared and signed dozens of petitions aimed at wildlife conservation and preservation;
  • Helped force a face to face meeting with UPS demanding they cease shipping trophy hunting animals and parts (UPS already caved in and stopped shipping shark fins, Cathay Pacific Airline just followed);
  • Assisted in convincing over 40 of the airlines to change their policy on carrying trophy hunting kills;
  • Supported the to be voted upon Cecil Act in the U.S. Congress by contacting our elected officials;
  • Put continued pressure on other businesses and corporations globally to give up their part in the trophy hunting industry;
  • Participated in assisting multiple news organizations as they produced stories about Cecil, including ABC’s highly rated “20/20” broadcast “The Hunter and the Hunted”;
  • Provided our video and photos to bloggers and writers to continue to raise awareness and funds;
  • Been awarded both the cover and a 12 page photo/essay spread on “Cecil the Lion” in Wo’Goa’s August/September “Africa” issue. Wo’Goa is a very high end travel magazine with a subscription base of 250,000 very affluent readers;
  • Developed a network of contacts in Zimbabwe to be able to provide ongoing updates and photos on Jericho and Cecil’s pride;
  • Helped awake the world to the need to address hunting and wildlife conservation before we lose these beautiful animals;
  • Created a global community which has worked to learn more about the issues and obstacles we face in addressing the economics of hunting and tourism in Zimbabwe and elsewhere;
  • Created and shared some awesome tribute artwork;
  • Created the “Selfies for Cecil” video showing that this is a global community of committed lion lovers and raising money through its viral broadcasting;
  • Fended off dozens of trolls who don’t understand that we can indeed feel compassion for many issues while focusing on our outrage over Cecil’s killing; and
  • Most importantly… Supported each other as we mourn, work to educate each other, lean on each other, motivate each other and unite each other. Firmly believing with absolute conviction that we will bring about change, no matter how big the obstacles or how many people tell us it will never happen. Trophy hunting will no longer be socially acceptable. And it will become more and more difficult for those who chose to kill animals for so called “sport” to do so. We will get there. Together. The world knows we are here.

 “It is said that the male lion will often sacrifice itself for the good of the pride. Lions live in a very spiritual world”

Cecil now lives in the spiritual world and his spirit is in all of you. Warriors… each and every one of you who take the time to act, to make a difference. We will not go away and we will win. It’s only be a year and you have done much. Congratulations.

Hail Cecil!   #cecilthelion

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