By Leonard Ncube
HWANGE – Slain world famous Cecil the lion’s cubs and their mothers have disappeared from Hwange National Park, sparking fears they may have been killed by males out to start a new pride.
American dentist Walter Palmer killed the collared Cecil on July 1 with a bow and arrow, during an illegal hunt at Antoinette Farm in the Gwayi area.
Palmer killed the much-loved rare black-manned Cecil, who tourists flocked to view in the Hwange National Park, after luring it out of his sanctuary using the carcass of another animal.
Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 to shoot the big cat which had a GPS tracker.
Cecil left behind seven cubs which are now about 10 months old, according to researchers.
The seventh cub disappeared soon after Cecil’s death. Ecologists feared at the time that the young pride might not make it in the jungle. The problem, researchers have said, is that none of the lionesses has a collar.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in August dismissed as untrue reports by the Western media that one of Cecil the lion’s cubs had been killed by a rival male who was trying to mate with its mother.
The reports could be true as researchers say there are now six cubs after one of them disappeared while the other six and their mothers have not been spotted for two weeks.
A news crew drove around the Hwange National Park for four days and failed to spot the pride.
Safari operators and tour guides who have in the past weeks been hunting for the three lionesses and the six cubs have failed to locate them.
A senior lion researcher in a project run by Oxford University at Hwange National Park, Brent Stapelkamp said there were fears the cubs could be in danger as they have not met with Jericho, Cecil’s brother since the 13-year-old big cat was killed.
“They have not been seen for some time now and I spend a lot of time now looking for that pride. The last picture was taken more than two weeks ago with their mothers,” he said in an interview at his office near Hwange Main Camp.
Stapelkamp said the biggest challenge was that none of the three lionesses had a collar for tracking.
“In the last three months the world has been dying to see the cubs but the problem is that the pride doesn’t have a collar. The world is largely concerned about how the cubs are doing,” he said.
Stapelkamp said Cecil’s pride initially had eight cubs and one of them died before Cecil’s death while another went missing in August.
“Cecil and Jericho were a team and now we are worried that the cubs are vulnerable to attack by male lions. When a male dies there are some big males who can fight the remaining males and kill the cubs.
“The danger is they may be killed by two males who can then chase Jericho away to mate with the lionesses quickly to start their own pride. The cubs and Jericho haven’t met since Cecil was killed,” said the researcher.
He said they hoped the females may have shifted territory to hide the cubs from danger while reports from safari operators are that Jericho has joined another pride and is mating with a lioness in the same territory.
There are also reports about a new pride that has entered the same territory. Stapelkamp said they would cherish the day when the cubs and their mothers could kill an animal and feed on it so they can be spotted.
Safari operators have also joined in the search for the cubs as their clients want to see them.
No comment could be obtained from ZimParks as its spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo had not responded to question sent to her via email yesterday. The Chronicle