by John J. Jackson III, President, Conservation Force - Monday, September 19, 2016
WILDCRU, the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit based at Oxford University that collared and satellite-tracked the African lion called Cecil, finally published an article revealing that it was not lured out of the Hwange National Park either by the hunter, Dr. Palmer, or his PH. It also discloses that Cecil was in a core area that he occupied outside the park when the hunt occurred. Translation: The lion's home range was far outside the park.
To quote the article by David W. Macdonald—“et al. Cecil: A Moment or a Movement? Analysis of Media Coverage of the Death of a Lion, Panthera Leo. Animals 2016, 6, 26; doc: 10.3392”—the lion had been collared and satellite-tracked since 2009. It was one of "65 lions that were hunted on the land surrounding the Protected Area, 45 of which were equipped with tracking devices."
"It was reported (incorrectly) to have been lured by bait out of the park..." However, the lion was hunted over bait out of the park—not lured from the park as some media accounts implied. The ranch where the hunt took place was within the home range of the lion during the prior months—April, May and June 2015—until being arrowed on July 1 at approximately 22:00 hours. According to the article, the hunt ended "approximately 250 cm from where the lion was initially wounded." That was 9 am the next morning.
The lion's "home range" from April until being hunted on July 1 was as much outside of the park as inside the park. He was not "lured out of the park by dragging bait from the park..." That story was wholly fabricated in the early reports and continues to be misrepresented today. Such inflammatory fabrication was heightened by additional false reports that are not noted in the article. One media source was threatened with government sanctions for misrepresentations. Another story about the killing of Jericho, "Cecil's Brother," by another hunter within the park was also wholly concocted. Jericho was not the brother of Cecil. Jericho was not killed at all—and, therefore not "killed by a hunter in the park."
In addition, the false report that one of Cecil's cubs had been killed was also alarming. The cub was not likely to have been Cecil's—and it still survives today.
There was the suggestion by all that the killing of a collared lion was in itself illegal. Not so. Most lions taken for over a decade in that area were collared—45 of the 65 as previously mentioned. One of the purposes of the collaring research was to determine the causes of the morality of the pride lion.
Editorial and social media both carried the message that lions are in danger of extinction—not true by any stretch of the imagination. The lion quota was extremely low, cautionary and scientifically based. The local communities and hunting operators had been incentivized by safari-hunting revenue to shepherd lions as potential trophies instead of livestock-eating vermin. Yours truly had made an in-person appeal to the conservancy landowners adjoining the park to take down the livestock fences, eliminate the cattle and let the lions grow to become more valuable trophies. If not for that approach, Cecil may have never been born—and surely would not have lived to a scruffy old 13 years of age. Following the suggested changes, the lion population in the park increased from 300-400 to 800 lions with a growing "resident population" outside of the park boundaries at the time Cecil was taken.
There is no longer any doubt that fabrications, claims of apparent illegality and sheer ignorance made "a perfect storm" that otherwise would not have been a rational reaction. Let's hope that lion conservation and the good people that must tolerate lions do not bear the costs of the fabricated storytelling.
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