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How Safari Companies Are Helping Prevent Tragedies like Cecil the Lion

How Safari Companies Are Helping Prevent Tragedies like Cecil the Lion

Along with millions of people the world over, we were saddened to learn of the recent death of Cecil the lion, a beloved big cat in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. His passing—allegedly at the hands of illegal big-game hunters who lured him outside the park—has sparked outrage and major media attention. It hits particularly close to home for us, however, since for the past few months we’ve been working with local lodges in the region to create a new safari there. In fact, CW Safaris Director Sonya Bradley recently returned from a trip to Hwange and so understands in a special way the importance of majestic creatures like Cecil. “It’s such an exceptional, beautiful region,” she says. “And I’m sure it hits our friends and colleagues on the ground there hard. You just hate to hear about any animal like that being killed for sport or profit. Poaching, illegal hunting, and ‘canned’ hunting occur at an alarming rate across the continent. It’s profoundly sad.”
Still, she points out, “it’s important to understand the whole picture, as well as how members of the public can be part of the solution.” Conservationists in Hwange have pioneered a number of ambitious and innovative strategies to combat poaching and big-game hunting in the region. This dedication has helped prevent atrocities like what happened to Cecil from being more commonplace. And it makes CW Safaris all the prouder to support them in their future efforts. “To me,” Sonya says, “It really underscores the importance of travel—the right kind of travel—to Hwange. Non-hunting safari camps are the single greatest force for conservation here. In some areas, they’re the only force for conservation. You’re doing a lot to protect endangered animals simply by staying with them.”

That’s a bold statement, but it’s also true. For the greater part of a century, local rangers, guides, and safari camp owners have faced the threat of poaching and big-game hunting head on. It’s not an exaggeration to say that safaris like the one we’ve created there—and travelers like you—are an essential component of ensuring the safety of game animals for generations to come.

134 - Imvelo Safari Lodges - Bomani Tented Lodge - Mind the splash at the Look Up photography blindIn the early 1930s, shortly after Hwange was declared a protected reserve, its first game warden, Ted Davison, identified a major challenge to conserving its game. Since Hwange lacks a year-round water source, animals were forced to wander far beyond its boundaries during the dry season in search of sustenance. This exposed them to hunting, poaching, and violent run-ins with local farmers and herders. To deal with this, Davison made the difficult decision to alter their migration patterns—which were only leading to their large-scale slaughter—and encourage them to stay in the park. To that end, he embarked on an ambitious program, digging deep boreholes and using windmills to pump water to the surface during the arid six months of the year. The resulting manmade waterholes created a refuge for elephants and big game inside the park, and allowed large predators (like Cecil) to stay within the reserve’s boundaries as well. Since then, animal numbers have grown steadily. It’s now estimated that there are more than 35,000 elephants alone in Hwange. And, as one of our guides in Zimbabwe points out, “The data from Hwange Lion Research [a local nonprofit] says that the park’s lion population is probably as good as it has ever been. I believe from my personal experience that there are more lions in Hwange than ever in my 35 years here.”

107 A - Imvelo Safari Lodges - Bomani - Lioness at Ngamo - hi resToday, it is private lodges and tour operators that maintain the over-50 boreholes that keep Hwange’s wells flowing and its animals safe. With virtually no funding from the government, they’re entirely dependent on tourism dollars to do so. That’s a significant reason why this new safari itinerary was so important for us: simply by bringing travelers to Zimbabwe, we can help make a positive impact there. As our guide says, “If we don’t want lions like Cecil to get shot by hunters when they leave the park, what can we do about it? The only sustainable way is to support photographic safari areas that can replace hunting.”

That has compound benefits. Our partners at Imvelo Safari Lodges have worked with communities at the borders of the park to ensure that the benefits of non-hunting safaris reach them as well. Along with maintaining 13 boreholes in or near the park (including a new one added in 2015), they drill boreholes to bring clean water to rural villages and fund education initiatives. They’re also working with a number of other safari operators to buy some of Zimbabwe’s ten legal lion hunting permits, to make sure they aren’t used to actually hunt lions.

Lion1_MoremiGameReserve_MomboCamp_DeltaIf the news about Cecil the lion has stirred something in you, there are a number of ways to help out. Conversations with friends and family help raise awareness of this issue. Donations to reputable charitable initiatives help as well. You can also encourage anyone thinking about traveling to Africa to stay with ethical, conservation-minded camps and lodges. That way, they’ll support local conservation, and bringing back stories to share with their community that help demonstrate why this issue matters.


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