A Magnificent Encounter with Cecil the Lion

by Sandy Salle on August 25, 2015

Post image for A Magnificent Encounter with Cecil the Lion

Article by Hills of Africa client, Lisa Lenhart

My husband and I were fortunate enough to visit South Africa, Victoria Falls, and Zimbabwe in the spring of this year. We have tried in recent years to celebrate life by taking trips and experiencing new things rather than buying more “stuff.” The trip to Africa was a truly life-changing experience and a perfect example of why travel is so vital to gaining a true understanding of others.

We visited Cape Town and Victoria Falls before we took the trek to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe for a four-day safari. I had no idea what I was getting into!

After a long car ride we arrived at the entrance to the park and were transferred to an open-air Jeep to drive another two hours to camp. Almost instantly, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, and hundreds of bird species greeted us.

I was overwhelmed by the peacefulness of the drive, despite the enormous wild creatures that were almost within arm’s reach of our vehicle.

It was marvelous. And this was just the beginning.

We were welcomed with open arms upon our arrival to the camp, and we met Peter, who guided our twice daily safaris for the next three days.

On the first afternoon and the next two days, we tracked magnificent creatures and were fortunate enough to spot a cheetah, a leopard, a few creepy snakes, and more kudu, elephants, zebra, and giraffes than I imagined existing. Watching the interaction among the species was incredible.

During our last afternoon safari, we ran into incredible good fortune. I have no idea how he managed to accurately see what was moving near the trees hundreds of meters away from our Jeep, but Peter spotted the magnificent lion off in the distance. He quickly maneuvered the vehicle through the brush to catch up with the lion. It was absolutely amazing.

After driving through the dense brush, suddenly we found ourselves right in front of Cecil the lion. I was so excited (and scared) that I almost let out a cry. We parked and watched Cecil gracefully stride across our path and head to our right. We sat and watched for a few moments, and when Cecil was out of our sight, Peter turned the Jeep around so that we could intersect Cecil again at the pond.

zimbabwe sunset

Again, we sped through the bush until we spotted Cecil again near the pond. We stopped the Jeep, and this time Cecil walked right past us. We could have probably reached out to pet the amazing creature, but thought better of it. I was so amazed that this potentially vicious creature wanted nothing to do with the humans in the SUV. He glanced at us, and he continued his pursuit. We watched him in awe until he disappeared into the bush again.

That evening, we headed back to camp with mixed emotions. We felt such joy at seeing Cecil, the famed lion. But at the same time, we were unhappy that this was our last true safari drive.

We had only one more drive ahead of us…the drive we would take in the morning on our way out of the park. Little did we know that the final drive would bring us the rarest and most spectacular experience we could have imagined . . .

On our way toward the entrance of Hwange National Park during that final morning, Peter chose to take a detour to an area where he heard that a lioness might be hiding her cubs. As we rounded the corner and slowed, Peter began to call out to the lioness. And then the magic began to unfold.

She appeared on our right at a cautious pace. Then, out from the bushes came one precious lion cub followed by another. The mighty roar of the petite cubs sounded more like the meow of a housecat. It was such a beautiful scene, but the serenity did not last.  A second lioness appeared, clearly agitated. Peter explained that this second female was a nomad, and she was there in attempt to take over the cubs in order to become a member of the pride. The lionesses argued. Another lioness of the same pride appeared, and corralled the cubs away into protective hiding far from the nomad.

lion cubs

Hearing the commotion, Cecil made his grand appearance. We watched in awe as he fought with the nomad. His deep and powerful growl rumbled through the park. Despite the anger with which he approached the nomad, his every movement was graceful and calculated. After a short vocal exchange, we watched in amazement as Cecil chased the nomad away into the distance, sure with the intention to end her life in order to protect his pride. We were left awe-stricken. An amazing example of the true circle of life had just unfolded in front of our very eyes.

cecil zimbabwe

cecil the lion


Fast forward 5 months later. My husband and I were absolutely devastated to hear the news of Cecil’s death. We are heartbroken to know that a human could selfishly take the life of any magnificent creature, let alone this iconic lion. Our sadness led to anger as the details of the hunt unfolded. I am certainly uneducated with regard to hunting laws, so I feel as though I am ill equipped to lay blame on any one specific person.

I just know that many who were fortunate enough to encounter this stunning creature share my sadness. I only had the opportunity to be in his presence twice. I cannot imagine the grief that the guides and staff at the Hwange National Park have experienced as a result of Cecil’s death. My condolences, thoughts, and prayers, are with all who experienced the joy of observing Cecil in his home at Hwange.

save the lions cta

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sonya Alexander August 27, 2015 at 12:05 pm

That was really lovely. Thanks for sharing that.

Janet August 27, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Truly blessed you are to have met Cecil! I am a part of his legend!!

S Schroeder August 27, 2015 at 1:24 pm

WOW! What a great story! Such a magnificent being he was! I truly hope his death will not be in vain and that trophy hunting will be brought to its knees as a result. The fury is not dying down and people are heartbroken and angry. You were SO lucky to have seen him! I know I will be forever roaring for Cecil and fighting to stop the slaughter because of man’s greed and ego.

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