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Pride of place

A year after the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, Shelley Cox reports on what his death taught us

The earliest recorded depictions of lions were painted on the walls of caves some 32,000 years ago. Ancient Greek storytellers used this majestic big cat in fables to represent bravery and courage. The species has been used for centuries as a symbol of power, royalty and stateliness.

But the human connection to the so-called ‘king of beasts’ is far more than emblematic. In the late Pleistocene era, an estimated 10,000 years ago, the lion was one of the most widespread large land mammals after humans. Today, there are just over 20,000 lions in Africa, a population decline of an estimated 42% over the past 21 years alone — a frightening statistic. The reality is that in another 20 years or so, we could be facing their extinction.

THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS LION: In July last year, Cecil was killed on the outskirts of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM VARLEY

Keeping a balance

Losing the lions would have a devastating impact on the balance of Africa’s fragile ecosystems. Lions are predators. Their elimination would result in a potential overpopulation of prey and herbivores, leading to the obliteration of vital vegetation upon which other species rely to survive.

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About Travel Africa

50 Secrets about Botswana • Riding in the Pearl of Africa • Walking with camels in northern Kenya • Diving Lake Malawi • Portraits of Addis Ababa • Tanzania's Lake Natron • Lions in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park • Namibia's Etosha National Park • South Africa's wild flower route in spring... and much more!
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