Je ne suis pas Cecil… and neither was the lion (and that’s not his brother either)

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I was originally asked to write this piece by The Spectator, but apparently I was a bit too late filing my copy – zoology professors and professional hunters are hard to round up at short notice – so here it is, unexpurgated and unimproved.

AFH

Photo courtesy of Slate -  ©Andrew Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Unit

Photo courtesy of Slate – ©Andrew Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Unit

Je ne suis pas Cecil… and neither was he

I never cease to be surprised either by the posturing courage or the sheer inhumanity of the expressions of ‘moral’ outrage on social media, but this recent furore over the death of the ageing Zimbabwean lion everyone knows as Cecil really has been quite special.

The complicity of the press is particularly grotesque. CNN went as far as to run a photo of the big cat with the caption, “Cecil the lion probably never knew how beloved he was,” surely winning some sort of prize for most redundant use of the modifier ‘probably’ in journalism.

He also certainly didn’t know he was called Cecil, a hilarious piece of nominal colonialism by British conservationists working in the country bloodily carved out of the Dark Continent by Cecil Rhodes and for almost a century called Southern Rhodesia in his questionable honour. (Rhodes is a distant relation of mine.)

This lion is called 'Bailey' (wild animals should not be named) the only male lion at Colchester Zoo. He was born on June 27th, 2007 at Woburn Safari Park. His father, 'Shane', was born at Knowsley Safari Park in June 1997, and his mother, 'Tamby', was born at Woburn on October 13, 1998. All these lions are descended from those brought into the UK from Uganda by Jimmy Chipperfield, of Chipperfield's Circus, to counter the inbreeding of British lions over the centuries.

I took this photo on January 23rd this year and put it on Facebook with the following caption:
“This lion is called ‘Bailey’ (wild animals should not be named) the only male lion at Colchester Zoo. He was born on June 27th, 2007 at Woburn Safari Park. His father, ‘Shane’, was born at Knowsley Safari Park in June 1997, and his mother, ‘Tamby’, was born at Woburn on October 13, 1998. All these lions are descended from those brought into the UK from Uganda by Jimmy Chipperfield, of Chipperfield’s Circus, to counter the inbreeding of British lions over the centuries.”
(Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

I myself fell under the aesthetic spell of lions aged nine –thirty years ago – in London and Colchester Zoos, joined and raised funds for the WWF from that point on, went up to Oxford to study Zoology under renowned Africa ecologist Dr. Malcolm Coe, and myself visited the Hwange Reserve almost twenty years ago where I followed the pride made up of the grandparents, and probably parents, of that lion, whom I photographed at the time.

Following the pride in Hwange National Park (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Following the pride in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in 1996 (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

[Read more…]

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King Richard III: A savage blank canvas…

As I was on holiday in France this piece was filed too late for publication in The Spectator, so I’ve posted it here – AFH

King Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, in portrait and remains...

King Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, in portrait and remains…

The only remarkable thing about Richard III is how unremarkable he was…

Watching the reburial of King Richard III, this writer was struck by how the unearthing of his bones was being sold to those who would buy it as the unearthing of the ‘truth’ about a much maligned monarch. Conversely, Shakespeare’s play of the same name was being touted as the very zenith of propaganda and the Bard of Avon himself as a sort of Goebbels with the tongue of Goethe; history’s most gifted author prostituting his talents to defame the last and most discrete of its true kings, the Plantagenets, to justify the brash and barbaric usurpers who followed, the Tudors.

Frontispage from the First Quarto

Frontispage from the First Quarto

I myself, attempting to judge events in the context of the time, take the view that the Duke of Gloucester – the name by which he was most commonly known, having held the title from age 9 – was nothing more than a minor product of those crude times whose only notability lay in providing inspiration for one of our greatest artist’s first decent works and through that stabilising a nation that had suffered two generations of civil war. In death and dramatic ignominy Gloucester achieved more for his country than his rather prosaic savagery did in life.

The first point to be made is that there isn’t a historian worth the name who doesn’t hold Gloucester responsible for the death of his nephews – the 12-year-old King Edward V and his younger brother Richard, 4th Duke of York – the ‘Princes in the Tower’.

On the death of Gloucester’s eldest brother, King Edward IV, Gloucester became Lord Protector and had the princes sent to the Tower of London “for their own safety”. He then announced that young Edward V’s coronation would be delayed, and not long afterwards the children were proclaimed illegitimate due to their father’s alleged bigamy. Two weeks later – 6th July 1483 – Gloucester was crowned King of England and France (and Lord of Ireland.) The princes were neither seen nor heard from again. [Read more…]