CECIL AND THE HWANGE LION KINGS
Text and photography by Makhosi Ncube
In May 2008 researchers sighted two five year old male lions at Mangisihole Pan, and so named them the “Mangisihole Boys”.
Towards the end of the year they had moved from the eastern part of the park where they were first sighted and were now associated with the Ngweshla pride, led by a male named Ugly (I am curious as to the reason for his name). A ratio of 2 to 1 ensured the Mangisihole Boys won the fight easily. As part of their victory dance they did what all male lions do – they killed the cubs of the former leader and then went on to mate with the females to start their own bloodline. The larger male was darted and collared and given a name. A name we have all come to know: Cecil.
However, like all reigns theirs was not immune to the blood and scars associated with being the king. In this case their rivals became a coalition known as the Askaris, made up of three brothers and their father. Of interest, the word Askari is Arabic, meaning either “soldier” or “army”, and during colonial times it referred to the native soldiers. That said it was during one of the skirmishes in the middle of 2009 the first casualties were recorded on both sides of the fence. Cecil lost his brother, but the Askaris paid a huge price for their victory; their father, known as Mpofu, succumbed to his wounds died at the age of twelve years.
Left on his own Cecil proved to be no match for the three vengeful brothers out to avenge the loss of one of their father. With his tail between his legs and licking his wounds he was forced to flee, leaving his pride. Perhaps in a twist a fate Karma visited Cecil, for what he had done to the bloodline of Ugly was now done to his bloodline.
Cecil soon found himself another pride without a male further east and there he began a new reign. This pride was called the Backpan’s Pride, and there he reigned supreme for about three years till the year 2013.
Meanwhile the Askaris took over the Ngweshla area and lived like kings, with access to the prime area in terms of prey species. Then once again fate reared up her ugly head, and struck a double blow that forever changed the dynamics of the lion prides in Hwange. Judah and Job, two of the Askari brothers, were shot by trophy hunters. The second blow: like Cecil the remaining brother could not rule such a prime area alone. it was just a matter of time before he was displaced. And he was; by a new coalition of brothers named Bush and Bhubesi.
This new coalition went on to score another major coup. Cecil’s pride felt their wrath when they came for him and successfully ousted him from his throne, leaving him once again homeless.
This is where the story gets interesting. While Cecil is out licking his wounds near Manga 3 who does he run into but the remaining Askari brother, also licking his wounds. Two male lions, bitter rivals… think Mayweather and Pacman, Mike Tyson and Evander Hollifield or better yet think El Classico, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid!
The people observing this see the fight of the century evolve, they see the greatest battle in the animal kingdom unfold… in their dreams.
For these two males seemed to say: “Let’s let bygones be bygones and put the past behind us. We are old, beaten down and homeless. Let’s unite and create one force.”
And that’s what happened right there and then; with some head rubbing a new coalition is formed. Two of the biggest and baddest became one force. Cecil and Jericho, the last of the Askaris, united and became brothers. These two lions could teach us humans a thing or two about forgiveness and unity. About letting bygones be bygones and becoming one powerful unit.
United as one force they took over the Ngweshla pride and reigned supreme for the next couple of years. Cecil, with his world famous black mane, was the more dominant of the pair. They had just welcomed in a new litter of seven cubs – five female and two male, still just a few months old when that fateful day arrived in July, 2015. The world woke up to the news that Cecil was no more…
Born in Bulawayo on the 30th April, 1989, wildlife has always been a passion of mine. Today, almost thirty years later l am following that passion, working deep in the heart of Hwange National Park as a guide for African Bush Camps (ABC) at Somalisa Camp. I love wildlife and people and my job combines both. As a result I can safely say I love what I do and l do what l love.
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