The Cecil Effect?

Cecil the Lion. Those three words will no doubt conjure all sorts of images to those of us who are familiar with the story. A famous, majestic lion, shot by an American dentist who was visiting the country to take part in the ‘sport’ of trophy hunting. As many of us know, Cecil’s story caused a stir both in the conservation community and in the media, with such an international backlash that the hunter who killed Cecil went into hiding. In fact, the impact was so great that it caused a kind of ripple effect among many in the trophy hunting community. The hunters became scared. Scared that they, like Walter, would soon become the hunted.

But surely this is great news! Surely this makes the Cecil effect a good thing? We would have hoped so, but now, the Bubye Valley Conservancy, the largest wildlife area in Cecil’s home country of Zimbabwe, is now claiming that it has too many lions. Indeed, the reserve now has over 500 lions and it is being claimed that they are exceeding their carrying capacity. The conservancy has argued that such overpopulation is unsustainable, with the reserve now having an excess of approximately 200 lions. This is of course bad news for the Bubye Valley lions and great news for those trophy hunters. Why? Because the Bubye Valley is proposing a possible cull.

But hang on! Lion populations are suffering! They are indeed, in fact, in the 1940s, the worlds lion population was around 450,000 but has dramatically declined. The number is now only 20,000 and is the very reason why lions are classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN. However, the problem in Bubye is that the population of lions is concentrated in a certain area, with the lions taking a huge number of antelope and giraffes and even killing cheetahs, leopards and wild dogs. The effects of this overpopulation has been coupled with the fact that Zimbabwe has recently experienced its driest summer on record, inhibiting grass growth, keeping grasses much shorter and making smaller animals easy targets for prowling lions.


But is a cull the only answer? When it comes to an issue such as this, culling always seems to be the inevitable answer. However, in the Bubye Valley there could be another option. In fact, the general manager of the conservancy has claimed that a cull is not what the park wants.

‘If we could give 200 away we would.’

Unfortunately, as the reserve knows, it isn’t as simple as that. Lions require a suitable and vast habitat where they will not come into contact or be a cause of human conflict. In addition, they need to be in area where they are not at constant threat of attacks from other lion prides. Blondie Leathem, the manager of Bubye Valley stated:

“If anyone knows of a suitable habitat for them where they will not land up in human conflict, or in wildlife areas where they will not be beaten up because of existing prides, please let us know and help us raise the money to move them.”

The idea of a cull is both a worrying and unpleasant one, but unless another option presents itself, it may be a very real one.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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