The Lion Prides of Hwange
Päivitetty: 31o heinä 2019
Text and photos: Kaisa Sirén
We are flying on a tiny plane above Zimbabwe. After a couple hours of flying the plane makes a bumpy landing to the sandy runway next to Hwange national park. The park is famous for its huge elephant herds and many lions. But what brought it to international news was when an American dentist killed a lion called Cecil in 2015, just few months before our arrival.
I had heard of the lions, but I was most looking forward seeing the huge elephant herds. During an evening safari our guide received info of a lion herd. And we hit the jackpot: There were 32 lions lying under a tree! The lead male is Bhubezi, who has assumed control of this pride after the death of Cecil. It’s lying in the shadow with the females and young males. Our guide drives very close to the lions and I’m really scared. They could jump into our open Jeep any time. But they could not care less about us. They just rest, roll around in the grass, have some friendly little fights, and one of them even gets up and walks to the water hole. It is unbelievable that we can look these kings of the savanna from so close.
Bhubezi looks a lot like his father, Cecil. It has a handsome, dark mane and it deserves respect as the boss of his pride. It checks on all of the female lions and sits down next to them. Bhubezi is a rare type of leader; it has accepted cubs of other males into the herd, when usually male lions kill the other cubs to make sure his own genes survive. Maybe the reason why this pride is so relaxed is Bhubezi’s big heart.
Our guide suspects that this pride will soon split because it’s difficult to hunt enough food for so many lions. But instead it grows with one. Suddenly a few females notice something and get up. And then a lonely female lion arrives. The lions meet, rub their sides against each other and push against each other. It is clear these lions have met before. They only exchange a couple growls and then the newcomer is welcome into the pride.
And then the water hole gets more visitors. A huge line of elephants walks towards us. I can count 26 elephants, including a few very young ones. It’s lovely to watch the little elephants bathing. Hwange National Park doesn’t have natural water holes, but humans have built pumps that pump water from the depths of the earth with solar power. All animals here are dependant of the humans. Hwange has approximately 44 000 elephants and that’s about as much as the area can support. Elephants don’t only drink a lot, they eat even more and the park may run out of suitable food. Elephants can live in groups of up to 300 animals and they eat everything they can. Transporting the elephants to other national parks is too expensive; this poor country can’t afford that. It’s interesting to see how Zimbabwe solves their elephant problem. I hope not the same way as Botswana, which has allowed trophy hunting.
Cecil the lion was the most famous resident of Hwange National Park and brought many tourists to the park. The park isn’t surrounded by a fence, so animals can just walk outside. In case of Cecil it was drawn out of the park by hunters and was shot dead with an arrow. The trophy hunter paid $50 000 to illegal hunting guides. Hwange has 500 lions and they are not at all in risk of extinction, so every year 9 permits are given to trophy hunters near the park. The permit is expensive and the money is welcome since the country is so poor. Unfortunately this practice also leads to poaching and illegal hunting guides. The client can’t always tell if people offering trophy hunting trips are working legally and responsibly. University of Oxford has researched lions in the area since 1999. Cecil had a GPS tracking collar and he was research animal who was used to humans, and he was still killed by a trophy hunter. Researcher Andy Loveridge says that he would allow that 9 trophy hunting permits per year, but those hunters need to follow the rules and avoid animal suffering. That did not happen with Cecil.
On our last evening in Hwange we can see 6 lions on their way to hunt. Our guide says Bhubezi’s pride has now split. I do not know how Bhubezi and the pride are doing nowadays. The newest information available online is from February 2019. Bhubezi has been seen in Hwange National Park, but he’s now old. Bhubezi is now 11 years old, thin and was moving tiredly. It no longer leads the pride, but at least it has defied trophy hunters and survived by avoiding traps and baits. I hope that when he dies he can die with honour.