Lion Hearted

Andrew Loveridge / Regan Arts / 280 pages

Author Andrew Loveridge is a veteran wildlife biologist with many years’ experience working on lion research in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Raised in Zimbabwe and educated at Oxford, he’s the biologist who, in 2008, first applied a radio collar to Cecil, one of the park’s most habituated and approachable lions. He tracked and studied Cecil until that fateful night in 2015 when the big cat was shot with an arrow by an American dentist as Cecil fed on bait.

Analysis of the radio collar transmissions is the firmest evidence that Cecil was shot in a location where lion hunting was prohibited, and that “Cecil the lion died slowly and painfully to allow a hunter the ultimate vanity of claiming he had killed a huge lion with a bow and arrow.” It apparently took 10 to 12 hours for the mortally wounded Cecil to die. The data further provides evidence of a cover-up: Some time after Cecil died, his radio collar was moved to a place where lion hunting was authorized. And then the radio collar disappeared. But the data remains.

Cecil was one of 41 lions Loveridge and his team have radio collared that were later slain by trophy hunters. In Africa, a dead male lion’s cubs are soon killed by the next adult male to take over the pride, so the loss of these 41 adults actually reflects the losses of hundreds of young. “It is a fallacy,” writes Loveridge, “that old males can be trophy hunted with little disruption to lion society.”

Although he clearly objects to trophy hunting, Loveridge expresses worry that, absent other measures, shutting down the trophy hunting business could result in loss of lion habitat. Unfortunately, he does not mention the Kenyan experience. Kenya banned trophy hunting in 1977 and never looked back. And the Kenyan lions today have much better numbers and demographics as a consequence.

Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil & the Future of Africa’s Iconic Cats introduces readers to the intricacies of lion society and is fascinating on that basis alone. But its importance lies more in its sound repudiation of several tropes that the trophy hunting industry has for decades used to shore up its perverted sense of sportsmanship and wildlife conservation.