The Sunday Mail
THE death of Cecil, a well-known male lion that lived in the Hwange National Park, attracted global attention.
Cecil died on July 1, 2015.
“I think it’s arguably the biggest global response to a wildlife story there’s ever been,” said the director of the Oxford University based Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Mr David Macdonald.
The 13-year-old Cecil, who was a major attraction at Hwange National Park, was being studied by a research team from the University of Oxford. He was killed by an American hunter, Dr Walter James Palmer.
According to international research reports, Africa’s lion population has declined massively from a historical range of about 200 000 a century ago to about 20 000 today.
Thanks to her robust conservation thrust, spearheaded by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), Zimbabwe currently enjoys the privilege of having one of the largest lion population on the globe.
Zimbabwe is home to about 2 000 lions.
“That’s a major draw card for tourism,” said Mr Tinashe Farawo, ZimParks’ spokesperson.
“If you look at the story of Cecil the Lion, it tells you about the attractiveness of the African Lion. Zimbabwe is privileged to be one of the few countries in the world with a reasonable lion population. ZimParks, under the astute leadership of Mr Fulton Mangwanya, is doing everything to protect our lions. We are also working on ways to protect them in partnership with some research organisations,” said Mr Farawo.
Ms Angela Fergusson of the Victoria Falls based Wildlife Encounter described lions as “keystone species”, whose presence is extremely important in the habitats they occur.
“In the case of lions, they are apex predators who control herbivore numbers, animals like buffalo and antelope. In turn, this eases herbivore pressure on vegetation. Removing lions from ecosystems has far reaching and detrimental effects,” said Ms Fergusson.
“African lions are extremely attractive. People travel great distances to see them and almost every tourist visiting Africa wants to see a lion. A game drive isn’t complete without a lion sighting,” she added.
Lions are found in Zimbabwe’s National Parks, including Hwange, Chizarira, Gonarezhou, Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks.
“Conservation is key, hence the need for more conservation funding. One of the major sources of revenue comes from tourism,” said Ms Fergusson.
The African lion is a massive predator. Though the tallest among the big cats, they are very sociable, according to National Geographic. A pride of lions remains an attractive sight. Their roar is the loudest in the jungle and can be heard by humans more than eight kilometres away. And by the way, lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day.