Silent Pride, Saving the Last Lions of Africa

©Christo & Wilkinson Photography

Silent Pride, Saving the Last Lions of Africa


The so-called civilized people? They had no excuse. They hunted for what they called ‘trophies,’ for the excitement of it, for pleasure, in fact.
—Romain Gary, “The Roots of Heaven,” 1956

A global warning needs to be sounded and action taken against big game hunters while there is still time. The licensing of murder begs the question, why are they killing? The lion of Africa is in peril. It is so endangered that it could be gone in our lifetime. Can the world possibly imagine a world without Lion Kings?

We no longer need to kill to survive as our ancestors once did. The recent slaughter of Cecil the Lion must serve an admonition to what we are doing to the natural world as a whole. The elephant crisis and the demand for ivory continues but the drop in the lion population is even more staggering. We have also crucified the whales and sharks and tuna in staggering numbers in recent years. We have desecrated the oceans. Now predators all over the planet are in serious trouble.

Canned hunting incites trophy hunters, which in turn attracts poachers. Within a few days of Cecil’s killing, five poachers went into Tsavo in Kenya and killed five elephants—news which hardly reverberated in the world’s conscience for what humanity is also doing to the largest land mammal on earth.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “What if a greater race of beings were to make flageolets and buttons out of our bones?” Indeed! The lion’s roar is ineffable, a sonic detonation, a reverberant spell, a guttural eruption discharged into the entire outback of Africa. We should all feel privileged to live in an age when one can still hear that unique sound calling out to the rest of creation, but for how long?

There used to be well over 100,000 lions a little more than a generation ago, but due to habitat loss, trophy hunting, inbreeding and poaching their numbers have dwindled to perhaps 20,000 today. There may be as few as 3000 male lions in all of Africa according to the conservationists, Dereck and Beverly Joubert. Over 600 lions are killed every year. Lions have already disappeared in 26 range states in Africa. Only a few countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa harbor populations of at least 1000 lions.

The lynch pin in the ecology of the African savannah walks on the tightrope of survival.

The next ten years are crucial in bringing back a being both stigmatized as vermin and considered as symbols of nobility. Lions haunted early man’s dreams since the time of the cave dwellers in Chauvet, France millennia ago. Koni, a former elephant hunter in Kenya of the Waliangulu tribe, told us perhaps the greatest story of its kind concerning a lion. Forty years ago, his father was in the outback and late at night was befriended by a large lion with a porcupine quill entrenched in his paw. Koni’s grandfather took out his knife and gingerly took out the quill, which would have kept the lion from hunting. A few days later the lion and the hunter saw each other. The lion looked at the hunter and slowly lured the hunter into the bush. The hunter followed for several kilometers not knowing what the lion was up to, until he finally came to a clearing. There in a meadow, lay a newly killed giraffe; the lion had taken out to thank the hunter for having saved his life.

Losing the lion would be a nightmare in our ability to hold onto to the ecology and the larger biological immune system of Africa.


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