Over the past few weeks the news of Cecil the Lion's death at the hands of an American hunter has swept the newsreels worldwide. Together with so many others, I shared the outrage on the taking of this beautiful creature, especially under such circumstances. But as the fervour dies down I feel it's especially important to reflect on the bigger issue at hand - the circumstances that led this to happen, and a way forward to help prevent it happening in the future.
Wildlife conservation has always been something I've been quite passionate about. As a young teenager while other kids had pictures of pop stars up on their bedroom walls, I had pictures of animals. I was lucky enough to grow up in Zimbabwe during one of its most idyllic periods, during the 80s and 90s and frequently spent weekends going out on game drives in the parks surrounding Harare, and visiting Hwange National Park (where Cecil lived) during school holidays. Being able to see these magnificent creatures first hand gave me an unshakable awe and respect for both them and their natural habitat.
Over the past few decades, both big game trophy hunting as well as illegal poaching have become rampant across Africa, and Zimbabwe has been affected particularly so. Increasingly difficult economic circumstances have led to a greater desperation, and the vast wealth that is Africa's natural wildlife is systematically being stripped for parts and sold off to the highest foreign bidders. Sadly, there is no real purpose or benefit in these hunts, whether they are wealthy big game hunters looking for a trophy for their mantle, or poor local poachers lured in by the hefty paycheque from a foreign market hungry for useless trinkets or ineffectual cures, the core driving factor behind them is simply human ego and narcissism.
While the economic architecture surrounding this issue is an ongoing struggle, there is still something that can be done right away to help to pave a better way forward. Much support is needed by local organizations who are making tremendous efforts to conserve and safeguard these treasures. I'd like to highlight the work of one of them in Zimbabwe here. Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation has been run by the Travers family for over 30 years. They boast a large collection of animals including lions, elephants and rhinos. Nestled within the game park is Sable Lodge, a beautiful accommodation comprising of seven lodges and offering horseback safaris as well as special walks with rhinos or elephants. I have very fond memories of staying here and going on a horseback safari with my mum and siblings right before I left Zimbabwe.
In addition to traditional safaris they also offer volunteer experiences to work with rhinos first hand. The work they do is so important and while there are enormous challenges, they've had many successes - just this past December Shanu, a female black rhino (who are notoriously slow breeders), gave birth to a calf named Tafika. If anyone is planning an African safari or thinking about volunteering with wildlife, I highly recommend Imire.
Majestic Mambo the Lion
Duck-face rhinos :)
Hands-on with elephants
Shanu with baby Tafika
Sweet baby giraffe
If you shared in the outrage about Cecil the lion, and would like to make a donation to positive conservation efforts in Zimbabwe for lions and other treasured wildlife, I would strongly encourage you to do so here. With World Lion Day yesterday and World Elephant Day tomorrow, any contribution would be a fitting tribute.
All images from Imire