What Was Denied to Cecil the Lion

Only three dull incisors remained in the lion’s mouth. His top right canine, chipped and half the size of the others, has long outlived its usefulness. All his teeth were the color of ancient ivory.  A boil the size of a golf ball grew to the left of his crusty nose that not even flies would touch. His face was long and narrow for a lion, with hollows above his eyes, and when he turned around I could see every knot of his spine. At night from my tent I could hear what his body confirmed – he has not had a meal in days as he called out for his pride. SA 710          Of all the lions I’ve seen in my life, and there have been many, this one has stuck with me the longest. From our guide we learned that he and his brother ruled Londolozi for many years. In his youth he wore a magnificent black mane, now still dark but lusterless from age. They both sired many cubs and had been together all their lives. They were even together the two times I saw them at the ripe old age of 17, an age unheard of in the wild.
This is the honor denied to Cecil the Lion. Many people were disgusted by the shape that the two brothers were in. Their gaunt appearance was beautiful to me then and even more so now. Those deep set eyes told a history. Those yellowed teeth grew dull by ripping flesh, gripping napes of lioness necks and reproducing.  They were allowed to age gracefully. Together.
The last time I saw the pair, the healthier of the two (okay, I admit it, I named him Norton), gave a deep yawn before turning to face me. His mahogany eyes held my gaze before his left eye winked. In that wink I like to think we shared an understanding. I saw him for what he was – a graceful old soul that lived a long, fulfilling life. He saw me for what I was – someone appreciating that life.

SA 717

India vs. Africa on Lions and Rhinos

When the rest of the world is having conservation issues with endangered and threatened species drastically on the decline, India has been seeing the populations of their species thriving. A new report out has shown that the endangered Indian rhinoceros population is growing – despite poaching. This is a stark contrast compared to its African counterparts who are disappearing faster than they can be counted and are expected to only be in zoos by 2030. Another animal in India that has an African equivalent, the Asiatic lion, has also been making a comeback. What is India doing right and how is Africa failing so severely?

In the early 1900s there were around 200 Indian rhinoceros alive in India. Over the years the numbers grew with a surge between 1975 and 1986 where they went from 600 to 1700. The numbers were starting to show a downward trend from 2002 to 2006, but thankfully this did not continue. Rhinos showed a 27 percent rise since 2006 with numbers of the enigmatic giant going from 2,006 to 2,544. This is an impressive increase, especially since poaching has not been eradicated and is still ongoing – 18 rhinos were killed this year.

Similarly, Asiatic lions have seen a population increase in India as well. Their success story has been beautifully captured in Roshan Patel’s film, Pride, which has received much recognition. In 1905 there were less than 50 Asiatic lions alive and they were facing extinction. Today there are more than 400 and the number keeps increasing. The population has grown 13 percent since the last count in 2005. A good portion of these lions, 40 percent, are young, which bodes well for the future of the species.

In contrast, Africa is losing both their rhinoceros and lion population that could potentially render both extinct in the wild by 2030. Western black rhino, a subspecies of black rhino, was officially declared extinct last year. Since 2002, black and white rhino populations have fallen. The lion population has fared no better. Back in 1860, there were 100,000 lions in the wild. Today there are approximately 32,000 left. The population decrease of lions is largely due to habitat loss, spread of diseases due to climate change,  and drought.

India nevertheless faces similar threats but still manages to have impressive increases in population. What are they doing right? In the case of the Asiatic lion, the Indian state of Gujart which is home to the entire population of the feline, they have tremendous pride for their lions. There have been many efforts to educate the public of the important role the lions play in the habitat. And they paid off. For the Indian rhinoceros, similar efforts have also been made. Anti-poaching camps have been established in and around wildlife sanctuaries and preserves, the Environmental and Forest Minister has sought out conservation and legal experts to figure out more effective ways to protect the beasts. Africa has made similar efforts, but it seems like they have not taken the matters as seriously and are corrupt internally. Hopefully if India keeps getting recognition for their efforts Africa will pay attention and follow suit.