Our book of the month for April is the magnificent and thought-provoking Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil & the Future of Africa’s Iconic Cats by Andrew Loveridge, published by Regan Arts.
The death of Cecil the lion in 2015 sparked a major international, and perhaps unprecedented, outcry, in which big-name celebrities, politicians, and the international media all took part.
Big cat hunting is legally licensed in Zimbabwe, and dozens of lions are killed every year. The man who killed Cecil – American dentist and recreational hunting enthusiast Walter Palmer – shot the thirteen year old lion with a bow and arrow, wounding him. Hours later Cecil died after being shot again, this time by Palmer’s rifle. Nothing about this was illegal and Palmer has never been charged with any crime; he had a permit to hunt, and Zimbabwean authorities state he is still free to visit the country, although not to hunt there.
Aside from Palmer, zoologist Andrew Loveridge is the other man at the centre of Cecil’s story – he had being studying the lion for eight years before Cecil’s untimely death. A research fellow in the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford, Loveridge was born and raised in Zimbabwe, and has dedicated the last eighteen years to understanding the lives of big-cats and how to protect them from the threats they face in the twenty-first century. Lion Hearted is Loveridge’s account of the Cecil story, based on his research and observations of Cecil’s life and the vexed and clouded issues of his death. It is also an interrogation of our relationship to nature, conservation, and the future of our planet’s wildlife.
Africa’s lion population is estimated to have shrunk by 43% in the last twenty years. Since Cecil’s death the U.S. added lions in India, western and central Africa to its endangered species list, making it more difficult for U.S. citizens to legally hunt and kill these lions. However, Cecil’s son Xanda was subsequently also killed by trophy hunters, in 2017.
The UK has long been known as a nation of animal lovers, and fans of BBC1’s recent Big Cats documentary series – which highlighted the need for greater efforts in conserving habitats in order to protect wild cats – will find Loveridge’s thorough and well-considered account of Cecil and the wider issues facing endangered species worldwide compelling and necessary reading.
The book has already been discussed in the Evening Standard and National Geographic, and is sure to court further attention that will contribute to Loveridge’s call for improved protection and conservation efforts for big cats and their habitats. “Lions are one of the most beloved animals on the planet,” Loveridge observes. “They are the national symbol of no fewer than fifteen countries… Surely, we can think of a better way to save the wild animals we love besides killing them.”
Lion Hearted by Andrew Loveridge is published on 19 April by Regan Arts
(9781682451205, h/b, £20)