One Year Later, Cecil the Lion's Legacy Lives on Through His Cubs
It’s been a year since the death of Cecil the lion, the 13-year-old, black-maned animal who was lured out of the Hwange National Park animal reserve in Zimbabwe on July 1, 2015 and killed by American dentist and trophy hunter Dr. Walter Palmer.
But Cecil’s legacy has continued at the Hwange National Park, with the help of Cecil’s non-biological “brother” Jericho, who is now ruling his pride.
“Cecil’s three females and seven cubs are still all alive and well and still within their normal home range,” Andrew Loveridge told the Chicago Tribune in May. He was part of the team who tracked Cecil through a GPS collar as part of Oxford University’s WildCRU Trans Kalahari Predator Project.
“They have survived almost a year after Cecil’s death,” Loveridge added.
Children’s book author Craig Hatkoff and his two daughters – Juliana, 21, and Isabella,17 – collaborated with lion research photographer Brent Stapelkamp on Cecil’s Pride: The True Story of a Lion King, documenting the cubs’ lives since Cecil’s death.
African Geographic also reports that, Xanda, one of Cecil’s surviving sons, was seen mating with two lionesses, producing a handful a “grandcubs.”
News of Cecil’s death sparked worldwide outrage for the animal, who was a fixture on safaris at the park. Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio remembered Cecil’s death on Instagram Wednesday, using it as a reminder of the devastation of the big cat population.
“African lion populations have experienced devastating population declines, over the past three decades, with as few as 20,000 remaining in the wild and continue to be needlessly hunted for sport and their trophies imported to the U.S.,” he wrote, linking to a report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare that provides an in-depth look at the trophy hunting trade and its largest abusers. “Don’t let his death be in vain.”
Many celebrities spoke out about the incident last year, including The Talk co-host Sharon Osbourne, who tweeted “I hope that #WalterPalmer loses his home, his practice & his money. He has already lost his soul.”
Namibian-born model Behati Prinsloo, wife of Adam Levine, asked Palmer to stay out of Africa entirely. “Bored idiots that think trophy hunting in Africa is a sport need to be stopped,” she captioned an Instagram post. “How can we still allow people to hunt down these incredible animals. I want my kids to grow up seeing these animals in the wild, NOT on your wall.”
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There has been progress since the attack. The French government officially banned the import of lion trophies, and the US Fish and Wildlife expanded the US Endangered Species Act to provide more meaningful protections for African lions.
Palmer, who owns a dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota, was not charged for killing the animal, after Zimbabwe officials concluded he had conducted his big game hunt legally.
Zimbabwean Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said the dentist went to Zimbabwe for the hunt with “all the papers” in order. He reportedly paid $55,000 for the hunt, and was introduced to the animal after guides used elephant meat to entice Cecil to leave park. Palmer shot the lion with a crossbow, tracked him for 40 hours and finally killed him with a gun.
The 55-year-old hunter admitted to the killing shortly after news broke, saying he regretted it and blamed his hired guides for allowing the death to occur.
“I hired several professional guides, and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted,” he said, in a statement.
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”
Zimbabwe authorities have charged the hunter guiding Palmer with failing to prevent an illegal hunt. He is due in court in September.
“I feel absolutely sick to know that the literally tens of thousands of dollars my family has paid him over the years – my braces, crowns for my parents, bridges for my grandmother, countless cleanings, fillings and tooth whitenings – has gone to fund animal-killing vacations,” one of his patients told PEOPLE.