As social media explodes with #CeciltheLion postings, and the Internet descends on the man who killed the magnificent animal, WildCRU.org (the organization monitoring the tracking collar that recorded the movements and behaviors of the popular lion) has moved past the vitriol. They are quickly turning their attention to understanding how the tragedy occurred and working on means to prevent similar events in the future.
They are also concerned with documenting and understanding the effect that Cecil’s death will have on his pride, his cubs, and the lion population in general. Their research has already given them an enormous wealth of data on Cecil in particular and they know that the loss of one individual will have a cascading effect, termed “perturbation,” on the whole population. It will probably result in the overthrow of Cecil’s pride and its remaining adult males by a new coalition of male lions. The subsequent infanticide of the cubs of the displaced males will have a dramatic effect on the social structure of the lion population in the region for years to come.
As troubling as this situation is for the WildCRU workers, they are determined to gather as much information as they can on the changes and effects on the lion population, and to use the data to continue their conservation work with the remaining population.
Their work in Zimbabwe is also practical. They run what they call, without irony, a “courageous anti-poaching team,” and they will be working with the authorities to investigate and prosecute the tragic case of Cecil. They also provide an education campaign that reaches the district schools and the farmers who must live and make their livelihoods alongside the wildlife.
Lion populations across the African continent are dropping to a precarious level. Fewer than 30,000 is a recent published number, but WildCRU fears that the number may be far lower. Working in Hwange National Park and supported by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, they have been satellite tracking over 100 individual lions and have monitored in detail the lives of more than 500 individual animals for many years in order to better understand the details of their lives and their interactions with their environment and with humans in particular.
Professor David Macdonald, Director of the WildCRU said, “The best hope for lions lies in having the best possible conservation science.” He added, “Cecil was a glorious male lion, with a fascinating family history… his seemingly illegal death is heartbreaking. However, our goal is to learn from it. Good can come from this is if the world’s attention can lead to support for our work to improve lion conservation.”