Cecil The Lion and how safaris have changed

Who shoots lions? To most people in the 21st century, the idea of three men gunning down a big cat seems as mad as it is vile. But as Cecil the lion found out, there are people out there willing to spend $40,000 doing just that. American dentist Walter Palmer could have bought a car, or spent a year travelling the world in comfort with the money, instead he chose to spend it killing Cecil.

Maybe there really is something primeval in us that makes us want to track and hunt. But over the last fifty years that urge has been put into nature-spotting safaris instead of nature-hunting. We track lions like Cecil with cameras now instead of bolt-action rifles. And that’s not just good for them, it’s good for us too.

Peacefully interacting with big cats (and other animals) means that we can get closer to them – if you’ve seen some of those photos of people with lion or leopard cubs climbing over them, just remember that it’s because there are no loud noises to scare them away (such as hunting rifles). Not threatening lions or other cats on your safari means they are happy to let you walk or drive between them.

And because they’re not running away from you all the time, you can watch them in luxury if you like in tented camps, or take kids to see them without exhausting anyone. In some camps, animals come through at night to drink from water troughs and rivers so you can watch them by moonlight.

Walking safaris in Zambia and Tanzania are especially good for getting up close and personal with lions because there are no car sounds to drive them away. They tend to be a bit more rough-and-ready as you walk between camps but it’s worth it if you’re the active type. Walking safaris often use fly camps – these are nothing to do with flying, but used to refer to fly sheets, simple sheets stretched over a line to act as a tent at night. But nowadays, it’s not quite that basic – a simple dome tent is normal. And staff will usually be on hand to cook on an open fire for you.

So sure, I can understand the thrill of a hunt. But now there are better ways to do it – ways to get that buzz without killing beautiful or endangered animals like Cecil the lion.

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