Elephants, more than lions, are the emblematic and predominant animals of PN Hwange.
We still set our feet in the elegant main room of Somalisa Expeditions when some specimens surprise us. "Come here, take a look here!" Nônô calls us from the opening of the great military tent.
When we arrive at her company, we see four huge pachyderms lined up, sipping water from the tank the lodge has installed at the back of its outdoor patio. “You can go there without a problem. Do not pass is the chairs forward. They are used to meeting people!”.
We move forward with the natural distrust of those who don't like to risk their lives to waste. Little by little, we came within two or three meters of the animals that interrupt the noisy sink to see what was coming.
One of them lets out a faint warning roar but continues to hydrate.
We sat on the dais enjoying its portentous beauty. Until the thirst dissipates, the court turns its back on us and vanishes into the vastness of the Kalahari.
From that moment of such close communion, we would see hundreds of other elephants. His visits to Somalisa Expeditions would be repeated, some not so smooth.
All of this takes place in the time between arriving in the jeep and settling in the tent we had been assigned. That afternoon, we still went out for a game drive, led and guided by Robert Chadyendia, one of the Somalis' Kalahari animal life experts.
In Search of PN Hwange Lions
Robert learned that it wasn't exactly the first game drive we made. We didn't need to tell him that we liked to find big predators. Along the way, there were so many elephants that, little by little, they ceased to excite us. No matter how much they turned out, antelope-style herbivores would never fill our measure.
Aware of this requirement, Robert points to one of the artificially replenished ponds to keep animals in the park area. “Let's go take a look, you never know. At this time they can go anywhere but they love to drink there in the late afternoon…” His bet was won: “There's a jeep from another field. I would say yes, we have lions…”
When we reach the lagoon's surroundings, the first thing we notice is the strangeness of the evening. Two huge dead trees had their branches jagged against the sky.
A flock of ducks wallowed with their heads in the water and two plovers chirped, as usual, annoyed and shrill.
The Clan that Inherited the Genes of the Failing Lion Cecil
The group of lionesses and young lions rested superbly a few yards beyond the far bank. “Are you seeing them? They are Cecil's descendants. After Cecil died, Jericho – the other lion he allied with – was left with two packs.
But Jericho died in October of last year, of natural causes. From then on, the older lions in one of the packs took over. Are those … "
It got dark in three times. At dusk, the lions, who had done little more than slumber and stretch, get up and follow the same path from which we had come.
When they get into the low vegetation of the savanna, we lose track of them.
On the first of July 2015, the same happened to PN Hwange rangers – and Oxford University scientists – regarding the great lion Cecil, the star of the park.
The Life Lived by Leão Cecil at PN Hwange
Cecil had survived clashes with the Askaris, lions of a rival pack with consolidated power. To resist them, he teamed up with another lone male, Leander. Leander was mortally wounded by the leader of the Askaris when the bulkier and more aggressive one resisted a concerted attack by Cecil and Leander.
Cecil himself suffered considerable damage but recovered. After some time, he was driven by the remaining Askaris to the southeast wing of the park.
There, it grew and flourished. He became a majestic lion, with an unmistakable lush black mane.
Among lionesses and cubs, his pack brought together twenty-two specimens. In 2012, two newly arrived young lions chased him away. Jericho, who previously had another alliance, had his partner shot down by a trophy hunter.
In early 2013, archrivals Cecil and Jericho (an Askari) found themselves face to face. Instead of fighting, they realized that they would be better allies. At first, their relationship was troubled, with both trying to lash out to assert supremacy.
Even so, they came to form an inseparable and unbeatable duo. Soon, they commanded two packs in a vast territory of an area frequented by visitors. They became the protagonists of PN Hwange.
Until a horrific new human intervention ended Cecil's life.
The Cowardly Killing of the Lion Cecil at the Hands of Walter Palmer
Like almost every Somali and other ranger in the park, Robert knows the story by heart and sauté.
It tells us a part of the fascinating nocturnal return to the starting point, under one of the most star-laden firmaments we have ever seen and, here and there, with a powerful focus at the ready, in search of nocturnal animals.
Despite the active opposition of many environmental institutions and countless public figures, recreational trophy hunting raises several million euros every year.
Mainly for this financial reason but, of course, due to the persistent demand from evil human creatures, “sport” thrives in countries like South Africa, Namibia and … Zimbabwe. One of the organizations that supports it the most is Safari Club International (SCI), an organization based in Tucson, Arizona.
Safari Club International's Sick Killers Club
SCI brings together thousands of trophy hunters from around the world with annual gems ranging from 65 to 225 USD. In addition to being behind the most influential pro-wildlife hunting lobbies, it organizes expeditions in which the latter is carried out, sealed with animal carnage, thus justifying the hunters' right to place trophies on the walls of their homes.
Though considered a special lion, Cecil was just one of SCI's thousands of annual victims.
On July 1, 2015, Jericho and Cecil were in an area that had become their territory but was outside the boundaries of PN Hwange, in a private reserve where recreational hunting was allowed.
Walter Palmer, an American from Minnesota and an SCI partner, had paid about $50.000 to a professional hunting guide, Theo Bronkorst, to help him kill a lion, if possible with a bow and arrow. Bronkorst allegedly lured Cecil with elephant meat bait.
Palmer wounded him with an arrow. Both chased the lion for hours on end. Palmer claims he killed Cecil – then thirteen years old – with one more arrow. Authorities claim he shot him down with a shotgun. The case was reported by wildlife protection institutions.
It has become a worldwide scandal. Palmer found himself harassed and insulted, both on social media and wherever he was seen. He had to close the dental clinic he maintained in Bloomington, Minnesota. The exterior of his Florida vacation home was adorned with successive messages of disgust and hate.
Public figures like Leonardo di Caprio rose up against him and dictated the extent of his persecution. The hunter-dentist insisted that he had no idea that Cecil was a famous lion but he never showed any regret for killing wild animals. There is nothing to indicate that you have left trophy hunting.
Palmer got rid of any convictions in both the US and Zimbabwe for having all papers in order at the time of the hunt.
Slaughter of the Cecil Lion. A Crime That Gone in Almost Unpunished History
The affliction quickly passed him. On the day one year after Cecil's slaughter, the paparazzi caught him driving a Porsche Cayenne Turbo and showing it off to the people at the valet parking from a posh Minneapolis bar. He was described as satisfied with life.
And yet, the animosity generated around it caused changes in the attitude of various national authorities towards recreational trophy hunting. In the US and the European Union, lawmakers made efforts to ban the importation of lion trophies altogether.
The controversy caused the three largest American airlines to ban its transport.
However, a petition called “Justice for Cecil” calling for the Zimbabwean government to stop issuing hunting permits for endangered animals was signed by 1.2 million people, despite, as noted by the Zimbabwean newspaper “The Chronicle”, 99.99% of his countrymen had no idea who the lion was.
The Political Consequences of the Death of the Lion Cecil
The government of Zimbabwe relented. It decreed that such deaths would now have to be justified and authorized by the General Directorate of National Parks and Wildlife of the country. For the sake of the lions we found in PN Hwange – several of them children and grandchildren of Cecil and Jericho – and many others.
The next day dawns with Warthog – an elephant so christened by Somali people for having its tusks sticking out like African wild boars – trying to break through the log barrier that protected the camp yard. Warthog is once again eager to devour the acacia fruits accumulated in the ground.
The elephant's obsession is such that Nônô is forced to call Robert. Using a stick and repeatedly clapping his hands, he finally manages to drive him away, only to spot a baboon hiding in the bathroom opposite the big tent.
“This one is now used to this”, they tell us as if it were nothing. “Hide over there and see if we leave the room. When we go out, he goes in and steals cookies and sugar!”
Back to the Kalahari and PN Hwange's Wilderness
Robert reminds Nônô to keep an eye on the animals. Soon after, we returned to the jeep and the discovery of PN Hwange. We pass by another pond frequented by dozens of elephants and to which dozens more flock in long caravans.
In any park, this would be the focus of attention but PN Hwange is special. Robert receives a radio communication. “They've found them again. Now they're all there.” Ten minutes later we find ourselves five or six meters from the pack left to their destinations by Cecil and Jericho.
They had hunted a zebra during the night. A young lion asserted itself in a privileged place to devour what was left of the carcass. If any of the others made a move, he threatened them with the worst of his temper.
Not that it was necessary, but Robert made it clear that, in the already long absence of Cecil and Jericho, this young man from the pack was asserting himself as a likely new leader.
At that time, in Zimbabwe, a battle raged between the pro-hunt movement of the ignoble SCI and the force of environmentalists and conservationists who did everything to resist it.
In between was the government of Zimbabwe, led by Dean Robert Mugabe, the most resilient “lion” in all of Africa. Good thing, it would be that Nature could defend itself from human madness.
Article created in PN Hwange, Zimbabwe, with the precious support of AFRICAN BUSH CAMPS