Please sign Brent’s petition below:
Shortly after the world learned of the heinous murder of Zimbabwe’s famous lion Cecil journalists and TV reporters alike zeroed in on one lone lion researcher stationed in the now world famous Hwange park in Zimbabwe: Brent Stapelkamp. This self described ‘lion obsessed, reclusive wildlife type’ was mercilessly thrust into the limelight and interviewed, filmed, questioned and quoted endlessly in the months that followed. Needless to say his life was forever changed and he readily admits that it ‘has been a bit chaotic and all the attention quite overwhelming’. Unfortunately for Brent this is not likely to end anytime soon as he’s constantly called upon to confirm or deny vile circulating rumors about Jericho also being slain or ‘Cecil’s females’ and cubs missing or worse. I’m here to confirm that he’s doing a stellar job on his Twitter page where he recently posted a new pic of the aforementioned females followed by a collective sigh of relief among the self proclaimed ‘Cecilizers’ around the globe.
So who is this man? One thing is for sure: he’s certainly NOT the usual middle aged, crusty, ‘spare-tired’ lion expert, who gets hauled out into the wilderness for a quick sound bite, we usually see. In fact, he couldn’t be any farther from it. Certainly part of the worlds fascination with Brent is his intimate knowledge of lions and Cecil in particular but the fact that he looks like a cute San Francisco hipster headed to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert certainly doesn’t hurt either.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Brent this past week, albeit over email as apparently Skype is a no-go out in the African wilderness and a round trip ticket to Zimbabwe isn’t really in the cards at the moment. I wanted to know more about what he does on a daily basis and how he’s using his newfound fame to speak up for the lions in Africa.
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First the facts: Brent has a Wildlife Management degree from the UK which he earned in 2006 and as a native Zimbabwean has been fortunate to use his knowledge of lions in particular in his favorite place on earth: Hwange park. The park is an astounding 14600 km2 and home to an estimated 500 lions of which he knows 200 intimately. Currently 30 are collared including Jericho and one of the prides females. He’s quick to add that he changed Jericho’s collar a week after Cecil’s murder so he could be ‘monitored carefully’. The data collected is used to learn about lion behavior and about what threats they face. One of these threats is the growing pressure of human population growth on the park boundaries and as a result Brent has created a human/ lion conflict program called The Long Shield Lion Guardians.
Brent did of course also study and collar Cecil for 9 years and is quick to point out that although Cecil was an old lion his physical health and teeth were in top condition and he could have easily lived several more years. When I question him about the last recorded movements of the collar his response is crystal clear: ‘we saw that the collar was removed from Cecil’s body and systematically carried around and dropped only to be picked up and moved again. I believe this was done to fool us into thinking that Cecil was alive’. He further states; ‘my personal belief is that Cecil was the specific target of this hunt and its planning’. He vehemently denies that hunting guide Theo Bronkhurst could NOT have known that this was in fact Cecil as his fame was widespread in the region. Further, he thinks ‘the ethos behind trophy hunting is perverse. Shooting the biggest for a record book alone is obscene’. He’s of course also deeply disappointed that extradition charges against Dahmer – I mean Palmer (oddly I keep confusing the two) were dropped as he’d ‘like to see an example made so it doesn’t happen again’.
Although Brent’s immediate answer to how he felt after learning Cecil was murdered by a trophy hunter is ‘anger’ I suspect it goes a lot deeper than that. He shares his favorite memory of Cecil which was the last time he saw him with his pride-mate Jericho. ‘They looked so powerful as they walked away from me and I could see his breath in the sunrise’. Cecil has indeed become a powerful symbol of change as it pertains to lion conservation and the growing hatred and outrage against trophy hunting. He admits that it’s a bittersweet experience for him but that ‘Cecil certainly rocked the world and what a fitting tribute if he is the stone that drops Goliath’. I couldn’t have put it better myself (and frankly I’m a little peeved that I can’t take credit for that prosaic golden nugget).
So how do we rid the impoverished African wilderness regions of the scourge of trophy hunting? Brent reiterates that lions must have an alternate value than a trophy on a wall. He urges the world to ‘come and fill our lodges’ and give them that value thru photo tourism which does indeed benefit the local communities in ways that trophy hunting simply does not.
So what’s next for Brent the undisputed lion champion? He’s championing (see how I did that? Clever eh?) for lions to be defined as a UNESCO Heritage Species. As such they would be recognized as belonging to the world’s people not just Africans. The UNESCO funds and elevated status offers increased protection of them and their habitats. A win-win. Let’s all help in this endeavor and sign the petition above.
Fight on brother. Much respect and Angel Bearhugs from LA.
Written by: Ines Romero of Cecil’s Angels
All lion photos below are from Brent’s private archives.