The Last Lioness

An extraordinary lioness known as Lady Liuwa who lived in Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia, has passed away. She was discovered having died of natural causes on August 9, 2017 one day before World Lion Day, she was thought to be 17 years old. Lady Liuwa was well-known as the lioness who survived the odds as the last of her species in a place where every other single lion had been wiped out by hunting and poaching. She survived alone without a pride, seeking out human companionship in her profound loneliness. African Parks made several attempts to reintroduce other lions to the area beginning in 2007 and, after living for over 5 years without hearing or seeing another lion, Lady Liuwa finally had a chance of being with her own kind. Never able to have cubs of her own, she helped raise the many cubs from another reintroduced lioness named Sepo.

The story of her early years was told in the National Geographic documentary The Last Lioness.

Since the film was released other lions had been reintroduced back into the park but not without complications and loss. Despite the insurmountable odds Lady Liuwa survived, a true symbol of strength, courage, forgiveness and tolerance. Importantly she did not die alone and leaves an established pride that is a sign of hope for her species if humans are willing to work together to allow them to live as they should, wild and free from persecution. I believe that stories like this, and unique animals like Lady Liuwa, are not coincidences but rather a gift sent to impart a lesson for humans to learn and evolve from.

A touching tribute to this great lioness was posted by African National Parks, the full dedication Remembering Lady Liuwa can be read here.

“Lady Liuwa was a truly exceptional lioness, so much so that it is impossible to do justice to her in words” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. “Oftentimes she would lie just five meters away from our camp-fire in the middle of the park. When it came time to go to bed, she would follow, walking parallel to the path and then fall asleep in front of one of our tents. In the mornings, we would find her in a tree, just watching but never threatening us. After years of being solitary, and after several reintroduction’s and careful management, we were finally able to unite her with her own kind. While her passing saddens us all, she leaves behind a legacy of survival in the small but growing pride in Liuwa Plain”.

Tribute by Rob Reid, prior Park Manager of Liuwa Plain – “As you meander slowly over the crisp earth towards them you can always recognize Lady from a distance, the way she cocks her head to the side, waiting for you, expecting you; that’ll be Lady. And it was true; she didn’t look at you like a lion – there was none of that bone chilling stare, head held high, alert “through you” sort of look. She would give you a sort of gentle titled head view, a relaxed and familiar pose. A look that had seen it all, and been through thousands of nights of loneliness. But that look – the sharing of space, with you – an outsider; there was that…She was an anomaly, an orphan, that had somehow survived the odds of the harshness of the African bush. And although her entire pride had been wiped out by illegal hunting, she found friendship in humanity, and later with an adopted pride. She was a bridge perhaps between what should have been in our Eden and what we see so much around us today.”


Gorongosa Reborn

The National Geographic Live Lecture season will be soon be wrapping up in Toronto and so far the series has been great. Gorongosa Reborn: A Cameraman’s Journal with Emmy Award-winning natural history cinematographer Bob Poole, has been the one lecture I have been looking forward to most since the series line up was announced last year.

The lecture centers around Bob’s recent six-part PBS/Nat Geo International series ‘Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise’, in which he has documented the come back of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

Gorongosa has been referred to as one of Africa’s most treasured national parks that in its heyday was home to thousands of animals including some 6,000 elephants and about 500 Lions. Scores of people, including international celebrities, once flocked to the park to view its prolific wildlife up until civil war broke out in 1977. By the time the war ended, in 1992, the wildlife in the park had been all but wiped out, and what hadn’t been destroyed by the war trophy hunters managed to finish off. After the dust had settled in the mid-90’s, the park was surveyed again – they counted a mere 100 elephants. Almost all of the large grazers as well as the predators were gone from the landscape.

Thankfully things were set to turn around for the better, and the rehabilitation of the park officially began when the Gorongosa Restoration Project created a 20 year public-private partnership with the Government of Mozambique to jointly manage the park. Then in 2007 lions were photographed for the first time since 1960 at the ‘Lion House’, wildlife was very slowly and cautiously beginning to return.

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Originally built as a tourist camp on a floodplain, the ‘Lion House’ was abandoned due to flooding in the rainy season and later taken over by Lions who were often seen lounging on the roof– Photo by Whitney Leonard/

Bob Poole had already spent two years living and filming in Gorongosa and was eager to take on the PBS project, he tells Mother Nature Network that the experience fulfilled a life-long dream for him “I was able to combine my passion for animal conservation with my love of documentary filmmaking.” He goes on to say that Gorongosa is a prime example of what can be done and that is possible to reverse the damage humans have caused, that with effort, “nature can be saved.” A rather positive and hopeful message at a time when we are bombarded almost daily with much of the opposite.

Bob’s love of the park and enthusiasm for his work is infectious, his story telling and passion translates in person and on-screen for an informative and at times very entertaining presentation. It is guaranteed to leave you wanting more, if not determined to visit the park for yourself one day.

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Bob Poole films sunrise over the floodplain. Photo credit Gina Poole –

Gorongosa Reborn: A Cameraman’s Journal is for anyone who loves wildlife, Africa, conservation and the idea that people can come together to fix what was once broken if we choose. Among other things you can expect to hear about elephants who haven’t forgotten the war; species reintroduction and breeding programs; and of course the come back of the parks great predator – lions.

Having been very fortunate to visit Gorongosa the presentation brought back great memories, especially the excitement of being in the park knowing the history and seeing what was being done. In particular, it is was wonderful to hear a mention of one very special lioness called Tripod, who at 15 years old is still going strong.

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View of Tripods back leg where she lost part to a snare. Image © Tori Dileo

She lost part of one of her legs to snaring and managed not only to survive but to hunt, raise cubs and remain a vital and successful part of her pride. In a way her strength and resilience is very symbolic of Gorongosa and the parks potential for the future.

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Tripod resting and waiting for one of the males off to the side. – Image © Tori Dileo

While Gorongosa is a story of hope and transformation the park and its wildlife face threats from poaching and snaring; illegal mining and logging; human settlements inside the park; and, the potential of conflict caused by political instability. However even with these challenges, the good news is the park is currently open for business and by supporting tourism there you are helping the park, its restoration, local communities and wildlife. I hope to be able to go back again one day and would recommend it for anyone who is looking for a truly magical and unique place in Africa to visit.

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Meeting Bob Poole after the lecture at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall.

If the story of Gorongosa intrigues you be sure to check the National Geographic Events page to see when Gorongosa Reborn is coming to your city. For those in the U.S. you can catch the full episodes of Bob’s series ‘Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise’ online at PBS.

When Sharing is Not Caring

For anyone who lives in the USA – this is a very important wildlife Action Alert. I hope that you will take a few minutes to contact your Senator to ask them to oppose The SHARE Act or Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act.

The SHARE Act (H.R.2406) revises a variety of existing programs to expand access to, and opportunities for, hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. This is backed by the NRA as well as Safari Club International and will be devastating to already vulnerable wildlife. Among other things it will open up land to hunters where currently no hunting or trapping is allowed.

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The SHARE Act – When ‘Sharing is not Caring’

Animals 24/7 “The National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and allied hunting industry lobbyists on February 26, 2016 advanced closer than ever before, in eight years of trying, to push through Congress an omnibus package of special favors for trophy hunters, pack hunters, ivory dealers, and users of lead ammunition…The SHARE Act provides enhanced access to public lands while limiting punitive regulations promoted by ‘animal rights’ extremists. The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate.”

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Elephants Family – Amboseli national park, south Kenya. – Image Benh LIEU SONG – Flickr

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, writes in the Huffington Post that the “SHARE Act is not at all about sharing or any sort of peaceful coexistence, but rather about killing an increasing number of nonhuman animals (animals) in places where they should be and have been relatively safe, namely, on public lands. The Act also allows the use of traditional ammunition, containing lead, which of course is bad for the environment.”

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“Why is protecting animals ‘extreme,’ while wanting to kill them is not?” – Marc Bekoff

Marc Bekoff goes on to say that enjoying the great outdoors does not need to involve killing and there has to be some areas where “animals can live in peace and safety and where people who frequent these areas can also enjoy nature in peace and safety.”

The SHARE Act is a death sentence for countless animals and is bad for the environment.

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Image – Wikipedia

From the Animal Welfare Institute some of the provisions included in the bill:

  • Prevent the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Agriculture from regulating lead—a potent and dangerous neurotoxin—in fishing tackle and ammunition. An estimated 10-20 million animals die from lead poisoning each year in the United States after ingesting lead shot, bullet fragments, and sport fishing waste.
  • Take the unprecedented step of defining trapping as a form of hunting. This would open up more federal lands to the setting of steel-jaw leghold traps and other body-gripping traps that pose grave risks to public safety, wildlife, and even companion animals.
  • Declare that millions of acres of public lands are automatically open to hunting and trapping without any scrutiny. Public land managers seeking to disallow these activities in order to protect wildlife, habitat, and the public would face huge bureaucratic hurdles.
  • Compel the National Park Service to allow private hunters to shoot bison in Grand Canyon National Park as part of its management plan.
  • Halt the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to protect elephants from poaching and to curb the demand for ivory.
  • Allow the importation of polar bear carcasses. This provision rewards hunters who raced to kill polar bears for trophies before their listing under the Endangered Species Act. Granting waivers such as this sets a dangerous precedent and signals to trophy hunters that they can flout the law.
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Polar Bear in Churchill Canada – Image Wikimedia Commons

There is still time and hope, please share with family and friends to help wildlife. Ask your Senator to oppose the SHARE Act today. Find and contact your U.S Senator HERE

For more on the SHARE Act please read “U.S. House Gives Stocking Full of Gifts to Most Extreme Factions of the Hunting Lobby

Family Day

In honor of Family Day, which is a holiday here in Canada, I thought I’d share a few North American feline ‘family’ videos courtesy of strategically placed cameras. Camera traps are a great tool when it comes to giving us a glimpse into the lives of these amazing creatures who all have families of their own. Happy viewing!

Kittens gone wild via the CougarFund

Mountain Lion kittens! New Mom Limpy The Lion Returns! Via Parliament Of Owls

Bobcat mother and kitten walking silently on Fall leaves via lbretreat

Bobcat family on trail camera in Durham, NC via Piedmont Wildlife Center

The Cecil Factor

On Saturday February 6 the Worldwide Rally for Cecil took place with over 30 cities from around the world speaking out against trophy hunting. The main rally was held in Las Vegas to coincide with the world’s largest trophy hunting club, Safari Club International, which was hosting a 4 day “Ultimate Hunters’ Market”.

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The convention drew about 25,000 members with signs describing the event as the “THE BIGGEST THE BEST”. The Safari Club’s goal was to “auction off a total of 301 mammal hunts across more than 30 countries that will result in the killing of at least 600 animals, according to the Humane Society’s analysis of the convention’s listings. The targets include baboons, grizzly bears, cougars, African lions, coyotes, wolves, jackals and many other mammals.” – The Guardian

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Graphic The Guardian (Source: Humane Society International)

Toronto was one of the Canadian cities to host a rally to show support and to speak out against all forms of trophy hunting whether it’s Lions in Africa like Cecil, or wildlife here in North America. The purpose was to inform and educate people on the cruelty of trophy hunting as well as to encourage the changing of laws – in Toronto 650 signatures were gathered on a petition to ask our Government to help by banning the importation of hunting trophies coming in to Canada.

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Gathering signatures – Rally for Cecil – Toronto – Image Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

Participation in this event was important as Canada is connected to the trophy hunting industry by allowing sport hunted wildlife into the country and, by allowing hunting of its own wildlife for sport. While the USA is the largest importer of hunting trophies, a recent report released states that American hunters import an average of 126,000 animal trophies a year or 345 a day, many will be surprised to learn that Canada tops the list as the biggest source of trophies for our neighbors to the south. Our low dollar, easy access and list of coveted species like wolves, bear, moose and mountain lions, make Canada a one stop shop for American trophy hunters.

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Rally for Cecil – TorontoImage Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

As the main purpose of the rally was to draw attention to all types of trophy hunting, I opted to highlight Canada’s only big cat, the mountain lion or cougar, which is legally hunted in our two western provinces British Columbia and Alberta. The plight of these highly misunderstood and long persecuted cats has all but gone unnoticed and, in a report released in 2011 by the BC based Raincoast Conservation Foundation titled Cougars: BC’s neglected carnivore reveals that we are dramatically failing to protect them from all forms of mortality including trophy hunting.

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Numbers of cougars killed by humans due to legal hunting in BC have varied from 127 to 506 per year, and average 257 per year (1976-2008 BC Ministry of the Environment, unpublished data).

Hunting regulations in BC do little to avoid overexploitation of cougar populations. BC cougars are hunted for trophies with incomplete knowledge of population size and little control over the number and distribution of cougars that are killed. Although illegal to kill a mother when she is in the company of her kittens, killing a mother while she has left her kittens in the safety of a nursery or rendezvous site is legal.”Raincoast Conservation Foundation Cougars: BC’s neglected carnivore 

Out of the estimated 4000 cougars that live in Canada the largest remaining populations, an estimated 3500, reside in BC which has become the last strong hold for a big cat that once roamed from the west to east coast of Canada. Disappointingly the BC government who is responsible for their conservation has not yet made an effort to properly study or create strategies to protect them. Authors of the Raincoast study state that is a race against time with regards to saving the cougar and ask why trophy hunting of cougars is even allowed as it is not for sustenance, but simply for “sport or trophy”.

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Talking trophy hunting and mountain lionsImage Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

Interestingly, a joint report on newly compiled data was just released by the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International and, the analysis for a ten-year period revealed that the USA is the largest importer of foreign mountain lion trophies the majority of which were sourced from Canada.

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There are no borders when it comes to wildlife like mountain lions as we saw late last year when a GPS collard female mountain lion named Sandy, being studied by biologists, trekked 450 miles from BC to Montana only to be shot and killed by a hunter. Regardless of who is doing the killing, it is clear that both countries will need to do much better when it comes to protecting North America’s lions if they are to survive. Banning sport hunting of these magnificent cats would be a good first step in the right direction.

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The timing as the say has never been better and the ‘Cecil Factor’ has given all wildlife a voice like never before so I was thrilled to be able to participate in Saturday’s rally and help bring much-needed awareness to North America’s Lion. Overall it was a really positive day speaking with many supportive people not just from Toronto but from all over including:

  • Ireland
  • Los Angeles – which meant I got to talk a little about mountain lion P22
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Alberta and British Columbia – two individuals who had both seen mountain lions
  • Minnesota – a gentleman who had participated in protests at Walter Palmer’s dental office
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It is inspiring to know that the overwhelming majority of people, no matter where they were from, could agree on one thing – that killing wildlife for sport needs to stop. What we will lose is far too valuable for us to stand by and do nothing, so reminding ourselves that we are not alone in our fight will help on those days when we are confronted with the seemingly endless cruelty that is trophy hunting.

For more on North America’s Lion and Canada’s only big cat continue to check back and be sure to follow me on Facebok, Twitter, Instagram for more info and action alerts.

A thank you goes out to the California-based Mountain Lion Foundation for providing assistance with putting together information for the rally.

Winter Stroll

About a week ago I posted a clip of this video on Instagram but thought it was just too beautiful not to share in its entirety. It was taken in 2013 in Northern Ontario by YouTube user ReelEdgeProductions on a Sunday afternoon as they were BBQ’ing on their back deck. What a privilege to see these amazing cats causally taking a winter stroll through your backyard.

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a medium-sized cat characterized by its long ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and short, bobbed tail with a black tip, unusually large paws that act like snowshoes in very deep snow, thick fur and long legs, and its hind legs are longer than its front legs. Lynx are generally found in moist, boreal forests that have cold, snowy winters and a high density of their favorite prey: the snowshoe hare. The southern portion of their range historically extended into the US into the northern Rocky Mountains/Cascades, southern Rockies, Great Lakes states and the Northeast.

Lynx mate during the winter and the females give birth once a year. Lynx ARE NOT considered species at risk in Canada and sadly are killed for their fur pelts, which occurs in 10 of 12 range provinces and territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador). Lynx harvest is prohibited in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Lynx were extirpated from Prince Edward Island in the late 1800s.

In the US they are listed under Endangered Species Act and can no longer be legally trapped in the lower 48 states. However, they have not fully recovered from population declines, and remain at serious risk. Primary sources of mortality to Lynx are starvation, predation, and human-related causes, as well as habitat loss to Boreal forests (this includes logging, road-building and high traffic volume, housing developments, resource extraction such as oil drilling and mining, and winter recreation).

Climate Change is also a threat as the deep snow, that Lynx have an advantage over other predators in, becomes less predictable.


Wildlife conservation in Africa, like elsewhere, is vast and complex, as many people are just starting to learn. For those of us who reside outside of the continent it can be confusing, frustrating and at times devastating. The intense scrutiny it has come under lately has exposed us to some of the challenges that must be overcome, as well as showing us we still have lots to learn.

Awareness, with regards to the status of lions and all Africa’s wildlife, has been steadily building and the call to action has never been stronger but, how do we continue to move forward and, what is it we are not seeing? Even though the movement to change the system is getting stronger it sometimes can feel like it’s one step forward and three steps back. Recent events this year have forced all us to face the demons behind wildlife conservation and by this I mean the corruption, the ties to trophy hunting, the fact that money trumps science and ethics, and, the realization that even though we want the killing to stop it doesn’t look like there is an immediate end in sight which for most, including myself, is one of the toughest pills to swallow. While I have and will always be against sport hunting I have come to understand that it is going to take a collective shift in our way of thinking about wildlife in general and a massive effort by everyone to back that shift up. This also means we will need to get a better grasp of the complexities involved in conservation in Africa by looking more closely at the way it is viewed and operates from the inside. Along with what we are already doing, this could be a useful approach that may help us better understand how to help. Of course it doesn’t mean we are always going to like what we see, or that we will necessarily always agree with the ideologies, but if it enables us to get a better handle on the underlying issues to ultimately do better for lions, for wildlife (and put a stop the the killing) then maybe it’s something we embrace rather than ignore.

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So with more questions, than answers, floating around in my head I reached out to Safari Guide, Naturalist and Zimbabwe resident Rob Janisch to obtain his insights and opinions on conservation in Zimbabwe and Africa, in a post Cecil world. There are many sentiments you will find familiar, points you may agree with and others you may strongly oppose, either way this is intended to provoke thought by demonstrating that the solutions we are searching for are more complicated than we think.

From the perspective of a resident and Safari Guide, what is the state of wildlife conservation presently like in Zimbabwe and has it changed much over the years? 

RJ Firstly, it is important to give you a bit of background to Zimbabwe.  Whilst the country has hit the headlines in the past 15 years largely as a politically unstable, unsafe and ‘unfriendly’ country, the reality on the ground is very different to the picture portrayed by the media.

Zimbabwe has had some very challenging years since 2000, and has suffered some major economic and political turns. However, as with many aspects of life in Zimbabwe, the results of many decades worth of sound management, excellent legislation, good infrastructural development, and high levels of education prior to 2000, has left the state of wildlife conservation in the country today in a much better state than it could have been given the circumstances.

So, has the state of wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe changed since the heydays in the early 1990s?  The answer is yes, unfortunately, somewhat towards the negative in much the same way as is being witnessed across other countries in Africa, often on a much bigger scale elsewhere. For example the dark cloud of corruption at all levels that is leading to what-once-were good environmental controls, governance and legislation being flouted for ‘the quick solution’ with immediate financial returns.

Having said this, Zimbabwe’s parks and wildlife estate land (protected areas managed by a state-governed authority) is still relatively well-managed on the whole, especially in areas where innovative co-management plans with independent conservation agencies have been put in place such as Gonarezhou National Park, in partnership with Frankfurt Zoological Society.

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Gonarezhou National Park – Image Frankfurt Zoological Society

The main issue facing conservation in Zimbabwe is exactly the same number one issue facing the state of conservation on the continent of Africa as a whole: widespread corruption and poor governance with respect to wildlife and ecological crime, both in the public and the private sector.  However, there is still a semblance of order, legislation and control that exists under the layer of corruption and, if ways were found to eliminate or drastically reduce the corruption it would bode well for Zimbabwe and its wildlife in the long run.

Was the news of Cecil the lions death really news considering hunters from the US have been taking lion trophies long before this story broke?

RJ Cecil’s story is an interesting one and, he was just one of the many illegal, unethical and ‘dodgy’ hunts carried out in Africa this season by the sports hunting fraternity. U.S. hunters as well as others from across the world, are involved in this sort of thing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis in many different countries all the way from the U.S. to Mozambique.

In Cecil’s case corruption and bad governance of an industry, which had allowed for an unethical hunt to be carried out in an area where such a hunt is in theory illegal, is directly to blame. Who was responsible in terms of the actual hunters both in the U.S. and in Zimbabwe is not really the issue here, despite social media’s best attempts to point fingers at Palmer or the Zimbabwe professional hunter or whoever else is villain of the month.

Unlike the trade in illegal ivory or rhino horn, the sport hunting world is not a case of demand driving supply. For example, the total number of lions that the sports hunting trade puts on quota (i.e. allowed to be hunted, whether the permit was attained legally or not) across Africa per year is not a very significant number when compared to the number of lions lost through habitat destruction due to land turned to agriculture, or the number lost to snares aimed at more appealing bush-meat (protein) source, or even the number of lions lost to diseases linked to human interference, such as domestic dogs and cattle-borne diseases.

Bottom line is the news of Cecil’s death due to an unethical sports hunt was not the real issue.  Neither was the hatred and vitriol that arose due to the ‘crime’ being committed by an American dentist.  No, the issue really doesn’t even extend just to the sports hunting fraternity although, obviously the system there does need some serious re-structuring as we are seeing in countries like Botswana and Kenya to great effect.

The issue that should be raised and shouted from the rooftops as a result of Cecil-gate, is that lions in Africa, and almost all other species within the continent, are under huge threat from the impacts and negative effects of too many people; poor education programs; not enough governance and control; and, unchecked corruption at almost every level of the ‘protected areas’ authority in Africa – an authority that also happens to include the sports hunting trade as one of its constituents.

The death of Cecil seemed to be a wake up call for many people around the world, in terms of local reaction was it business as usual?

I think locally it might have actually had an opposite effect, I think people in Africa were perplexed that so much energy and noise was created in the naming and shaming of the dentist for his role in the Cecil killing with little regard for the bigger conservation picture that a story like this could have helped focus our collective lenses on.  In Africa, we don’t get to see mass consciousness at work that often, like we saw with the social and mainstream media response to Cecil.  It’s a pity that this mass-energy could not have unlocked the message that really did need to get out.  Instead of the ‘hang the lion killer from our own backyard’ response, I guess we were hoping more for a headline that read “Cecil’s death is just the beginning of a universal movement towards better understanding of and, action against conservation issues across Africa”. Business as usual will continue with respect of wildlife crime and ecological degradation in Africa as well as across the world, as long as the world is not actively aware of it and, vehemently and incorruptibly against it.

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Cecil and his pride in Hwange National Park in November 2012 – Image The Telegraph

What do you see as some of the key issues facing wildlife in reserves/parks in Zimbabwe and Africa?

RJ Some of the key issues facing wildlife in Zimbabwe and other areas of Africa are mostly not very new or different from those we have seen in the past. This includes the massive slaughter and trade in both wildlife parts of species alive or dead, unchecked bush fires, over-fishing and illegal logging. The weather, in the form of climate change, is another factor damaging ecosystems across Africa, and off its shores, in the form of unscheduled periods of drought, floods and rising temperatures.  Areas we used to know as very wet are now semi-arid, and many of the exquisite coral reefs off Africa’s east coast are showing signs of ‘over-heating’ due to higher sea temperatures. The human species, who gives very little back to the planet we rely on for our entire existence, has a hand in contributing  to all of the above by way of our ever growing population. I will refer to a few examples of this:

  • Early on the demand for Ivory and rhino horn in China and SE Asia was still high, but not at the levels it is now with more people ascending to the middle class wanting items of status such as ivory in their homes.
  • In the 1800s and early 1900s when European hunters traipsed through Africa killing anything that moved but, we were still only talking about a couple of hundred people, at most, with basic muzzle-loaded weapons leading the sharp-end of the species slaughter wedge.
  • Rising populations later meant a need for more meat for protein to feed everyone, more space required for agriculture to grow crops, more water required, more fires, more fishing, more mining, more of everything that directly affects wildlife conservation in the continent.
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A government official picks up an ivory tusk to crush it at a confiscated ivory destruction ceremony in Beijing, China, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

  • Before a reserve like Hwange, Cecil’s home ground, was first set aside and protected not 100 years ago, there were very few people living in the immediate area and so wildlife was free to move from neighboring Botswana to the waterways of the Zambezi during the dry season, pretty much as they pleased.  Huge herds of elephants for example made the migratory journey of several hundreds of miles every year to find water and food which helped to reduce the impact the huge populations had in the region.
  • Interestingly, as human population grew around the area in the first half of the 20th Century, the Hwange reserve was proclaimed and the wardens went with a system of artificial water wells to try to entice the animals, especially the elephants, to stay in the reserve. This was done to encourage the elephants not to wander out towards the Zambezi looking for water or to graze and risk being killed or bumping into the ever-expanding communities of people and their crops nearby. In time, all the animals, including thousands of elephants, made the reserve their home but, over 50 to 60 years we have seen massive devastation of vegetation around these artificial water points due to an overpopulation of mega-herbivores. Basically one area is having to cope with the density and impacts that was previously spread over an area four or five times the size.
  • As communities grew, reserves and parks were now having to be set aside to keep wild animals safe from humans complete with the myriad of challenges that this creates in itself like access to water, anti-poaching, fire, etc…Any of those ‘protected’ animals who wandered out of the park boundaries faced the risk of either being illegally poached for meat and the likelihood of bumping into a ‘legitimate’ sports hunter who wanted a trophy.

So it is a double-edged sword all borne from the fact that there are too many people and not enough wild spaces to cope with them all. Ironically, these same communities surrounding the national parks and reserves like Hwange, were subsequently given hunting quotas, to benefit from (mostly), as part of an innovative natural resource management program named CAMPFIRE. Unfortunately it was the unethical trading of such quotas that resulted in the unlikely scenario that a lion could be hunted where it was when Dr. Palmer arranged his hunt earlier in the year.

Tourism has been proven to bring in more money than trophy hunting, however there are many organizations and individuals that still support it as a means of managing land and helping local communities. Why do you think this is still the case?

RJ Sports/trophy hunting is an incredible tool for managing large areas of land that are not as appealing or attractive to tourism… IF it is carried out ethically and under strict management and monitoring. An example of this is in one of the bigger conservancies in south-central Zimbabwe which has one of the highest wildlife densities, including rare and endangered animals such as rhino and sable, in Africa.  The area is operated by a handful of professional hunters with decades of experience and who seem to have a sound conservation and land management ethic.  Due to its high wildlife numbers, such an area could also be used for non-hunting (photographic) tourism. However this is generally the exception to the rule.

Most hunting blocks are large areas of mostly low-density wildlife and, if hunting were to stop on these (by legislation, public pressure, low demand), it is doubtful the areas would be suitable as tourism areas as, access to pretty scenery and good relaxed wildlife is essential for the latter.

There are good examples of former hunting areas turned to tourism and eventually paying for themselves and doing a great job at creating a sustainable conservation management system such as Great Plains’ Selinda Concession in northern Botswana, and Lugenda Wilderness in northern Mozambique but again, these are sadly the exceptions as they require massive investment and a long time frame before the tourism is able to cover the operating costs of the block.

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Just encouraging more and more people to travel for photos, not hunting trophies, to Africa is not going to cut it sadly. There needs to be a healthy, long-term and significant investment in the land if it is to be transferred from hunting to tourism, AND THEN the need for a higher demand in tourists traveling to these places.

As an example, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe itself does not receive enough tourists annually to fill all its tourism camps, let alone raise enough money, as a national park body, to support the ongoing operations within the park.  So the neighboring hunting blocks (like the one Cecil was hunted on) are never going to be able to attract the tourism required or raise the funds necessary to manage these areas as tourism conservation areas without hunting currently. Until that time the funds and governance are in place to move more hunting blocks away from hunting and towards tourism, sports hunting – if well-managed, controlled and ethically conducted – is one of the better options still available to manage these blocks.

So the focus should not be on removing all hunting, but rather on cutting out all corruption and bad-ethics from the industry to promote a cleaner, fairer, more sustainable system where special animals, like the large tusked old elephant bull recently shot in southern Zimbabwe by a German sports hunter, and other species like Lions or black rhino for example, can be awarded specially protected species status and not be able to be hunted.

The theory behind cleaning up and making the sports hunting industry more sustainable with better conservation practices is not as difficult as it seems.  Certainly not as difficult as the thought of stopping or removing hunting all together and then watching as these large tracts of wild land are invaded by people for farming, tree cutting, burning, poaching of wild animals that are then replaced with domestic ones, etc… If there was enough money and demand, I would be all in favor of turning all these areas to tourism or just plain conservation areas, but that simply is not viable or possible at this stage.

Predators like lions have proven benefits to ecosystems so losing them can have major consequences ecologically speaking. How do Safari guides like yourself engage and educate people about the value of protecting wildlife like Lions?

RJ You’re so right about lions – they are a keystone species in the ecosystem that hold significance if removed, would have major and devastating impacts on the rest of the ecosystem.  The same can be said of most of the apex predators such as sharks, lions, tigers, jaguars, hyenas and polar bears. As a guide and naturalist, the issue of engaging people and educating them about the importance and value of protecting Lions, and other wildlife, has to be a 3-pronged approach.

Firstly, we have to engage with the people on the ground, the communities, those most likely to come into contact with lions as well as other wildlife, in conflict and in fear.  They need to be educated on the importance of lions in the greater system, secondly we need to engage with the people of influence in the world – tourists, hunters, anyone who is able to use their money to influence lion conservation for the greater good. The key here is tourists who take guided safaris with me whose visit to see the lions, and to take photos of them, will fund the ongoing protection of the land and species themselves.

Finally we have to engage with the local authorities which include the government, and parks bodies, and chiefs and all who have influence over decision-making regarding land use, management of wild lands and wildlife.

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What do you think guides and tour companies based in Africa can do better to support wildlife and help local communities who are directly linked to the survival of the animals?

RJ Educate. Educate.  Educate.  It’s the old adage: give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.  TEACH a man to fish sustainability, and in line with the planetary limits, and to reduce the number of mouths to feed in his family through careful family planning, and his kids’ kids will eat forever. Also, they need to lobby more as a unified group against the corruption and bad governance at the higher authority level. After all, it is taxes and revenue from these tourism streams that is paying those same authorities’ salaries.

What organizations in Africa stand out to you as helping by encouraging local communities to co-exist with wildlife?

RJ There are a couple here, but the best community-based conservation project I have come across in all my travels across Africa is the Niassa Lion Project or Mariri Education Centre in Niassa Reserve, northern Mozambique.  The Kenyan conservancy approach is a brilliant and proved method of combing indigenous practices, socio-economic support and wildlife conservation.  Great Plains Conservation have a very interesting model and one that seems to be getting good results, especially in Botswana.  Finally, African Parks and its various partners such as WCS and Frankfurt Zoological Society, are doing a brilliant job at bringing back wild places and trying to conserve those few remaining biological hot spots.

The face of tourism, along with Africa is likely to change in the coming decades, how do you see your role as a guide changing?

RJ I already have seen it change in the past 15 years as the world moves along at an exponentially rapid pace. Social media and the internet has driven this into a new realm. Safari camps and lodges must look at, and in many cases are, changing their approach from one of high profit business for the benefit of the principals of that particular business, to a conservation tourism model that sees any and all funds raised through tourism or donations being put back into conservation projects and initiatives.

So too, the safari guides of today are not just “jeep jockeys” showing folks from overseas local wildlife to get photos, and hopefully a good tip at the end. No, the safari guide of today is the ambassador, a role model, who can influence and inspire. Often guides are also the conservators themselves, as in the Kenyan conservancy model, within the world of wildlife conservation.

I already see more of guides these days presenting talks to influential audiences across the globe on important conservation topics – not simply to attract people to travel with us, but because I think we realize that we have to be a major part of the conservation revolution that seeks motivation, funds and support to protect and conserve all wild places, for without these places there will be no “we” to worry about.

What are your personal recommendations to help first time or return visitors to Africa get the most out of their trip while still contributing in a good way?

RJ This question is a little like the topical “green” question.  Sure you can use local guides, places, products and travel less to countries that have unethical conservation practices and corruption, however, if we are to make a REAL difference in wildlife conservation ultimately we have to somehow be part of the greater movement that attacks the root causes of the problem and not just fights the symptoms with seemingly quick and easy wins.

If that visitor is planning a safari to Africa – book with someone who will at least expose you to the realities of conservation in Africa, amazing and tragic. Make sure you visit innovative projects and operations that are trying to address the bigger picture and not just ‘green-washing’ with a few Facebook posts and empty promises.  Most of all, expose and inspire your kids and young people to the natural world as it should be, not as it is heading.

What do you hope for the future of wildlife in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa?

RJ That it survives… seriously.  But also that people might soon discover, on mass, that they are not the top-dog in a human centric hierarchy in Nature, but are in fact a rather fragile primate that is hanging out on a very wobbly branch in the greater tree of life. Only then will wildlife anywhere be able to continue along its way up the branches of the same tree of life.

As a father what values are you trying to instill in your children for wildlife and places?

RJ If my little girls are a) exposed to wonderful wild places and things, b) brought up to care for, respect and be passionate about them, c) understand the bigger picture of the genius of Nature with her cycles, life lessons and inspiration, and, d) able to inspire others around them to have the same passion and care for their planet… then I will feel we’ve done a good job at instilling conservation and planet-friendly values in them.

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Any Final thoughts on lions or other wildlife that you would like to address?

RJ I think what is critical with all these sorts of things is to not focus on individual species like Lions or rhinos, or individual conservation cases only like Cecil.  We will never get anywhere like this. Activism demands a holistic approach to exposing the masses and the authorities to the issues at hand.  I think it is key for us all to realize that the concept of cause and effect is huge here, like a small butterfly wing flutter that can have huge ripple effects down the activism chain.

As such, I really would encourage anyone who cares deeply for the planet to think carefully before diving into this or that petition, social media frenzy or similar response to any one conservation issue. Fundamentalism has yet to work as a system. Tipping mass consciousness is what is required, and this requires lots of hands involved in the bigger picture – reducing human impact on the environment through cutting back on our population and the methods we employ to live on this planet.

The current models we use will not see us surviving much beyond the Lions and elephants on this planet, we all need to change our ways. That is more important than chasing down oddball dentists from Minnesota.

A huge thank you to Rob Janisch for contributing to this piece and sharing his insight and thoughts on wildlife conservation in Africa. Rob is a specialist nature guide, a co-trainer with biomimicrySA and he operates private guided Safaris in Africa, Into the Wild with Rob Janisch. Rob can be contacted directly at