Discover: How has Cecil’s death affected your study?
David Macdonald: It’s important for us to understand how lion societies react to mortality of all sorts within the population. At a scientific level, Cecil’s death — to put it coldly — is another data point for us in studying the consequences of adult male pride lions dying, which can include social turbulence and infanticide.
A less scientific answer has to do with the attention and donations Cecil’s death has brought to a project that operates hand-to-mouth. Millions of people are sending a signal that they value lions and big carnivores and wildlife. It’s a historic moment, one we must grasp to ensure that conservation does not simply go on with business as usual.
How will you spend the money?
Most of these donors have given money because of their interest in lion conservation in the landscape occupied by Cecil and other members of his population: Zimbabwe and the adjoining countries, particularly Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. It had always been our plan to expand the work beyond the park to these adjoining lands. We are also growing the project in its existing areas and will expand our intensive biological study of the lions so that our policy and conservation advice can be more evidence-based. In addition, we will be training a lot of marvelous young Zimbabwean conservationists.