Cecil & Jericho a Lions Life Amidst Trophy Hunting

In memory of Cecil & Jericho, the famous lions of Hwange National Park.

Beautiful things can be found everywhere, one just has to look closely. And such is it the case with the story of how Cecil and Jericho met to become one of the most loved lion duos among wildlife lovers, always and constantly accompanied by tragic losses for both males.

Cecil left and Jericho right
Image is copyrighted to Joe Keatinge

Jericho, along with his two brothers Judah and Job, was sired by Mpofu whose three brothers had all been trophy hunted. An incident that played a huge part in installing a hunting moratorium.

In the absence of hunting, young males in neighboring territories were allowed to reach maturity and thus they were soon pressing Mpofu from all sides, being outnumbered he left the area and formed a coalition with his three sons that dominated the Kennedy area for many years before in 2009 a fateful fight with Cecil and his brother Leander, pride males at Ngweshla during this time, led to a change that would effect each of the involved males.

Leander was killed in the battle, so was Mpofu who had sustained such severe injuries that he was put out of his misery by park authorities. While Cecil was left alone as a single male, still able to become a pride male of the Back Pans pride till 2012, Jericho soon experienced the same fate after his two brothers Judah and Job were again hunted right in front of his eyes.

Image is copyrighted to Joe Keatinge

Now alone he was forced to live in a small area of their territory which was next door to his rival, Cecil. After the two intruding males Bush and Bhubezi had pushed both, Cecil and Jericho, our of their territory Jericho led a few of his pride members out of the park which resulted in the killings of cattle. A circumstance that couldn’t be accepted by the local community who fought back with setting up wire snares to protect their livelihood.

When Jericho returned in the night he was caught in one of the fixed snares but he fought and ultimately broke free to make an escape – with the snare now around his neck. It tore deep into his flesh and so when he was finally found and freed by Bryan Orford a few weeks later his condition had noticeably deteriorated.

Image is copyrighted to Kelly Hougaard

His rescue came at the cost of being able to keep tracking him as the collar was removed to allow the wound to heal properly. So the contact broke off for over a year. A long time of uncertainty where nobody was sure where he would be and if he would still be alive. But the day of his return would come and when it was finally there, to everyone’s surprise, he was accompanied by his long term arch rival: Cecil!

Two rival males who had bloodily fought each other in the past, who had caused death on both sides, had now teamed up to beat the odds, together they reclaimed the Kennedy area and took over the Mac-Spice pride and the Somadada pride.

When Cecil was killed in July 2015 with 13 years of age, again right in front of Jerichos eyes, Jericho still held on for over a year till he – now aged 12 – died of natural causes in October 2016. He was found peacefully resting under the shade of a Diospyros bush.

As tragic and sad the story of Cecil & Jericho might sound, she’s also filled with inspiration and beauty that only nature is able to create. The story of modern lions is embedded in Jericho and it is up to all of us to ensure that also future generations will still experience the magnificence of lions. 

Information credits: Brent Stapelkamp, Bryan Orford

This post was in collaboration with Lions of Africa, follow them on Facebook for more updates on Africa’s iconic big cats here.

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