Every year the I pay homage to my favourite animal, the African Lion. A few years ago I had the distinct honour of working/volunteering with the Dambwa Pride, a young pride of lions protected by the African Lion Environmental Research Trust (A.L.E.R.T). It was a truly surreal experience. As you can imagine, working with lions, the day-to-day goings on were anything but usual. Tracking dwindling Wild Dog populations, learning about the migratory patterns of the local elephant herds , and frolicking on the savannah with playful cubs in the hot afternoon sun were all in a day’s work. This year’s day of commemoration is shrouded in sadness as the world mourns the loss of one of Africa’s most beloved lions, Cecil the Lion. Cecil was cruelly lured out of a protected conservation area, shot with an arrow belonging to American big game recreational hunter Walter Palmer. Hwange National Park’s most famous lion succumbed to his injuries some 40 hours later.
Cecil was well known amongst African tour operators, and safari-goers alike. I remember on a visit to Victoria Falls, I overheard a group of over-landers chatting excitedly about their photos of the famed male. Cecil was magnificent, and had successfully established two different prides during his lifetime.
As a proud supporter of Lion Conservation efforts in Africa and around the world, we mourn along with the global community. Since 1975, the African Lion population has dwindled by an estimated 85% – Africa needs lions. Productive and successful males like Cecil are the keystone to flourishing African Lion prides. In honour of Cecil the Lion, and those who have fallen to human hands before him, we celebrate successful lion programs like ALERT. Here are 10 of my favourite lion shots from my time with the Dambwa pride.
1) The Three Sisters
Kela, Kwandi and Loma (known as 2KL) were my favourite grouping to study and walk with. Despite her formidable size, Kela was an unusually affectionate cub and greeted every volunteer much like a small domestic cat would greet its owner. Her easy going nature made it easy to forget that she was also an effective buffalo hunter! Today she is the mother of several cubs and plays an important support role to the Dambwa Pride.
2) Temi & Tswana
Temi and Tswana were significantly smaller than their older brothers and sisters. At 12 months, they spent much of their days lazing about, snuggling with eachother and ankle-tapping eachother across the savannah.
3) Beautiful Leya
Leya, in my opinion, was the most beautiful of all the lionesses. She moved with effortless grace, and despite my admiration, she always moved about me with trepidation and suspicion, an instinct that serves her well in her semi-wild surroundings today.
4) The Scaredy Cat
5) The Man-Eater
Kwandi was undoubtedly one of the most mischievous of the Damba pride. But to clarify, no humans were harmed in the making of this photo (Gulp!)
6) Playtime with the Three Sisters
Domestic cats may hate the water, Kela, Kwandi and Loma LOVED it! So much so, you had to keep back twenty paces or so just in case you got caught up in some African lion mayhem.
7) When the Mercury Rises
October in southern Africa is often referred to as “suicide month.” When temperatures spike to the mid-40’s (yep, I’m talking celsius), the cubs were listless. However, Leya, pictured above, always seemed unphased. Don’t worry, she’s just yawning, though one can never be too careful with a wild spirit like Leya’s.
As the smallest member of all the lion workers, I had to be especially diligent. Rule number one when working with lions, never turn your back!
Spending as much time as I did with these cubs, I couldn’t help but feel like a mother of sorts. On the lazy days when the cubs were extra lazy, we conducted careful examinations, looking for abrasions, insect reactions or signs of disease.
10) We are Not Trophies
The desire to destroy these magnificent animals only to display their carcass for show escapes me. I will simply say this; “Do not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself.”
Save the African Lion.