Oxford Conservationist Talks About 7 Years Of Tracking Cecil
The two Zimbabwean guides accused of luring a lion out of the Hwange National Park so that an American hunter – who allegedly paid $50,000 – could shoot it, are free on $1,000 bail today.
The 13-year-old lion, nicknamed Cecil, was not only a tourist favorite – sporting a beautiful black mane – but also a research animal, being studied by the Oxford University Conservation Unit.
Professor Dr. David Macdonald is director of the Wildlife Conservation Unit in Oxford’s Department of Zoology. He joins Here & Now host Jeremy Hobson to discuss Cecil’s role in lion conservation research, and the state of lions and their habitats throughout Africa.
Interview Highlights: David Macdonald
On what the conservationists have learned about lions and death
“We’ve satellite tracked now the better part of 200 male lions, and Cecil becomes part of that pattern. So he was an extremely interesting lion. He, together with another member of his coalition, had monopolized a pride. We first collared him in 2008, so off and on since that time, at hourly intervals using the satellite tracking device, we’ve been able to follow his movements.”
“One of the things that’s really interesting about lion society is it’s very complicated. And so we have ascertained that what happens if a lion is killed — and of course, this can happen naturally or legally or as is apparently the case now, illegally — but if a lion is killed, the law of lion society is such that it means that the male brotherhood or coalition is weakened. In come some new males, they may well kill the remaining males of the original coalition and usurp them, and then, the natural course of events in lion society is that they would kill the cubs.
“So an important discovery we have made — and this has had big influence already in lion conservation — is that if people think about the death of one male lion, they should have in their mind the risk that it has a cascade of effects, a perturbation in lion society that leads to the death of several other males.”
“There’s been a lot of attention recently on, ‘Can any good come from the demise of poor Cecil?’ And I think the answer is yes.”
On the response to Cecil’s death
“There’s been a lot of attention recently on, ‘Can any good come from the demise of poor Cecil?’ And I think the answer is ‘yes.’ Not only can we learn a certain amount from it, but thanks to a talk show in the States, a chap called Jimmy Kimmel, who suggested people could support our project and support the work we do by making donations. And amazingly, overnight our website has been inundated with people from North America saying they want to help us, for example, buy new satellite tracking devices or new vehicles for the project, or most importantly, to help us in training some of the wonderful young Zimbabwean biologists that we are training as conservation biologists, and even looking for scholarships to bring them to Oxford to train. So some good can come from this, and I’m so inspired and so grateful to the upwelling of feeling in the world community, which I interpret as an enthusiasm for the value of lions, the value of big carnivores, the value of wildlife, wild places and biodiversity in general.”
On hunting lions in Africa
“It’s an interesting one, because I speak to you as a human who’s decided to dedicate his life to wildlife, and as a scientist who’s dedicated to understanding these things. As a human, it wasn’t many months ago that, together with Andy Loveridge, my colleague in all of this, we were watching Cecil moving out of the national park toward a hunting concession, and as I watched him and thought about him and was in awe of his magnificence, I longed for him to turn around and back to safety, and on that occasion he did. So when I heard about his death now, of course, I was appalled and saddened. The fact that his death was brought about apparently illegally is, of course, completely reprehensible and abhorrent, and I was deeply saddened by that. But as I say, while that sadness is real, if the reaction can lead to us doing more and better work as a result of the appeal, that will be at least some fitting memorial for Cecil.”
- David Macdonald, professor of wildlife conservation and director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University.
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