In August of 2014, my wife and I visited Zimbabwe and Zambia. What a beautiful people and country. The hospitality and love that we were shown was unparalleled. Let me say it again… unparalleled. But of course, when in Africa, it’s not just about the people and the country: it’s also largely about the animals. There simply isn’t a better continent to see the animals that inspire the most awe and respect from humans. I personally have a fascination with lion dynamics and follow several African blogs on the subject regularly. The trip was exciting enough, but I didn’t know that months later it would take on a completely different taste and it would be magnified by an unfortunate event. During that trip we spent time with Cecil the Lion in his home, the Hwange National Park.
You probably remember the social media outrage when Cecil was killed by an American hunter on July 2015 just outside of Hwange. There were various accounts of how it was done, whether it was legal or illegal, etc. Many animal activists seized the worldwide uproar as an opportunity to demand the end of trophy hunting. Just a few days ago, reports started circulating about one of Cecil’s cubs, Xanda, meeting the same fate as his father. Xanda was over 5 years old and already had his own pride(s). My intent in this post is not to discuss the politics around this incident, but rather highlight one of the awesomest experiences of my life, which happened to be with Cecil.
Why Cecil was so loved in Zimbabwe and abroad
- Cecil was being studied by researchers, so this already puts him in a class of his own, compared to other male lions in the area. More attention is drawn to him. More people learn about him through the media. For folks who visited Hwange, Cecil was the main attraction, and was well-known by all camps. So all those people coming back home certainly talked to family and friends about Cecil as well.
- Cecil was very accepting of humans. Whereas other lions may not be as comfortable having humans nearby and would choose to instead walk away and hideout somewhere out of sight, Cecil seemed to welcome humans, often acknowledging their presence by making eye contact. Perhaps he was wishing in his head that one of us would come up to pet him, but we didn’t know that. The point is that while he was accepting, he was not indifferent.
- Cecil was big. Of course, ‘look look mommy, the big lion’. The larger the animal, the more attention it draws. Many used the word ‘majestic’ to describe Cecil, and that he was. He was rugged and muscular. He had a very dark and full mane, which account for both his maturity and prowess. In simple words: Cecil was a boss.
Our visit with Cecil
We arrived in Hwange and immediately heard about Cecil and Jericho, his counterpart who about a year later died of natural causes nearby. The two reigned the area where our camp, Somalisa Acacia, was located. (By the way, the stay at this camp was amazing. Our guide Armstrong and our hostess, along with the head chef and all the other personnel in the camp…they were stellar and we couldn’t have come up with a better experience in our minds). Naturally, we all wanted to see Cecil. The very next day after arriving we drove and drove and we saw amazing things, but not Cecil. Just about when we were wrapping our afternoon drive up, another guide radioed Armstrong and alerted him that Cecil was resting with his girlfriend nearby. Finally, Cecil!
It was so interesting to see how he had no worries. He was in an absolute state of Hakuna Matata. So different than our every day lives where everything is a concern, a worry…and just about the time we feel like we get the hang of it, we get thrown a curve ball. Cecil knew he had things under control. He exuded confidence. It was truly an amazing sight. Could Cecil had been designed any better? On this afternoon, we spent only about 20-30 minutes with Cecil.
The very next day we met Jericho, and spent several hours with him and his mate. Jericho was beautiful, though clearly younger than Cecil.
Through the night these two warriors could be heard announcing their presence and thus protecting their territory and their prides. It was one of those moments when you don’t want to fall asleep so you can hear everything that happens. Fortunately for us our first encounter with Cecil wouldn’t be the only one. We saw him on several occasions up to our last day out in the bush. When we heard the news about his killing, it actually hit home. Was it the right thing? Was it moral? What did he do to deserve that? Would his death benefit the balance in the park either because of animal number reasons or for economic sustainability reasons? More recently, what about Xanda, his offspring? I don’t know the answers to those and won’t comment on it. All I know is that I was privileged to spend a little bit of time with this beautiful creature and I wish I could relive it.
You too could make it to Africa for a similar experience. We flew Ethiopian’s 787 there and it went without a hiccup. Are you taking advantage of all these methods to earn miles and points? You too, could fly Ethiopian, South African, or Lufthansa to fly to southern Africa by using United miles. One thing is for sure, out-of-pocket or with miles you won’t regret Africa travel. But I have a hunch that for most of you spending miles sounds much much better than spending $.