By Staff Reporter
Cecil the lion’s death: ‘There was blood in the sand. My immediate response was anger’
Lion experts in Zimbabwe were “devastated” at the news of Cecil’s death
From his office in the Hwange National Park, Brent Stapelkamp looked at the data and knew something was amiss.
“I check the lions with collars every day,” said Mr Stapelkamp. “And I noticed on July 3rd or 4th that Cecil’s collar had stopped sending data. I made a note to change his collar.”
But Mr Stapelkamp soon received a visitor, with worrying news.
“A guide from another camp came to visit me and he said he had heard a rumour that a lion had been shot. I checked the Cecil’s data of his last movements, and sent it to parks team to investigate.”
The next day the team made a gruesome discovery: the carcass of Cecil, without his head and skin.
Cecil, a 12-year-old, had been shot on July 1 by an American dentist, Walter Palmer, who paid £35,000 to kill a lion with a bow and arrow. Mr Palmer, from Minnesota, said on Tuesday that he “deeply regrets” killing Cecil.
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” he said. “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”
For Mr Stapelkamp and his team, the news of Cecil’s death was devastating.
“We try and be a bit cold, and professional scientists,” the 37-year-old told The Telegraph. “But we were absolutely devastated, rocked to our cores.
“It was always in the back of our minds that a lion like that would get shot because he is so beautiful, and he is on the boundaries of the park. There are only about three or four lions like Cecil in our study who have lasted so long.
“He was still in his prime. But he was, in reality, an old man compared to the rest.”
The last known photograph of Cecil (lying down), with Jericho. The image was taken a month before Cecil was killed.
Mr Stapelkamp said that the team found blood in the sand, and vehicle tracks. The carcass had been eaten by vultures and hyenas.
“My immediate response was anger,” he said. “I do love lions, to the point of obsession, but I realise an individual lion can die.”
Mr Stapelkamp took the last photograph of Cecil – an image he shot a month before the lion was killed.
And he said that the one positive side of Cecil’s death was that it was going to raise important questions about conservation and hunting
“I feel betrayed by hunting,” he said. “I have a learners hunting licence, and I have shot animals – but for a reason. I shot a blind kudi to put her out of her misery, I shot a couple of impala for fresh cheetahs being raised in captivity. That is the extent of my hunting.
“I was trained and taught that hunting was good for conservation.
“But it is no longer the case.”
Lion hunting using firearms is legal in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania – and bow and arrow hunting is legal in all the same countries but Tanzania. Lions are hunted either statically, by hanging bait from a tree then hiding nearby, or by stalking.
Cecil and one of the lionesses (Brent Stapelkamp)
Yet Cecil, as a collared lion living in the national park, should not have been targeted. He was reportedly shot when he stepped outside the park boundaries.
“People have got away with so much nonsense, going on for years,” said Mr Stapelkamp. “I have no faith in hunting and it needs to be cleaned up.
“These guys must stick to their ethics, and discipline members, to let the animals have a fair chance.
“They must put money back into conservations and the finances, the books, must be reviewed by all interested people – including ‘greenies’. At the moment there is no way the hunters can now defend their choice or profession.”
Mr Stapelkamp said he hoped the situation would now change.
“Cecil’s death has a silver lining,” he said. “He is going to change the lion conservation world, thanks to the momentum this has brought. The world getting involved in the story.”