Brent Stapelkamp
Cecil and his lioness: This is Cecil when he had 20 or more lions in his family. Here, a lioness pays her respects. October 21, 2012. © Brent Stapelkamp
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Brent Stapelkamp
Cecil taking the air: This image was taken on the last morning that Stapelkamp ever saw Cecil. He and Jericho were interested in something on the other side of the railway line. May 27, 2015. © Brent Stapelkamp

Last summer when the world learned that a lion known as Cecil had been killed by a trophy-hunting dentist from Minnesota, the blowback came swiftly. Although it’s common practice for American hunters to travel to places like Africa and pay large sums of money for the privilege of slaughtering animals, Cecil happened to be a collared lion, one who lived on Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and was part of a multiyear study run by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University.

Cecil wasn’t just any lion—he was one of the Park’s most popular and a lion whose life had been documented photographically by researchers for a number of years.

“The minute the story broke there was a desperate need to put an image or a face to the name,” says Brent Stapelkamp, a photographer and former researcher with the Hwange Lion Research Project. “It just so happened that I had spent loads of time with Cecil getting the best photographs I could. These are the ones the world has seen. Once people could see Cecil’s image, I think that really made a difference.”

According to Stapelkamp, these images were crucial in drawing international attention to Cecil and the long-running controversy surrounding trophy hunting of endangered animals. A selection of Stapelkamp’s photographs of Cecil and the other lions of Hwange are currently on view at Anastasia Photo in New York City as part of Hwange: Cecil’s Kingdom.

Stapelkamp began working on the research project in 2006, although he didn’t start seriously photographing the lions living in the park until 2008—once he had some decent camera gear and lenses. He says that using photography in conjunction with the GPS tracking collars was an excellent way to help identify and track the animals, essentially creating a visual record their lives. Stapelkamp also happened to be the last researcher to photograph Cecil before he disappeared, and he was thrust into the spotlight once it was discovered that the lion had been killed.

“I was a reclusive and elusive lion researcher and all of a sudden the world was literally calling me. I would sit up until the early hours of the morning waiting for interviews in different time zones,” Stapelkamp says. “It was not an easy time for me or my family as we came under loads of pressure from every direction, but I felt it was the best opportunity to speak up for lions.”

The images on view at Anastasia Photo capture the day-to-day life of Cecil and the other lions at the National Park—the “holy grail” shots of lions stalking prey are presented alongside quieter moments of lions bonding and napping on the grounds as well as images that capture how physically close these wild creatures are to manmade infrastructure.

“I would hope that my images speak of the vulnerability of the species and their landscapes,” says Stapelkamp. “Where we were once in their world, they are now in our world and struggling to survive on our terms. Dispelling the illusion of wilderness is interesting to me.”

Hwange: Cecil’s Kingdom will remain on view at Anastasia Photo through June 5.

Brent Stapelkamp
Cycling is dangerous: Stapelkamp was in his truck with lions sitting in the grass on the edge of the road when a cyclist came into view. Despite his attempts to warn the cyclist, his desperate waving of arms seems to have been lost in translation. It was only when the lioness got up and walked onto the road that the cyclist braked and disappeared around the corner from where he came. February 15, 2010. © Brent Stapelkamp
Brent Stapelkamp
Safe for now: All that separates this lioness from a hunting area is the railway line on her right. The lions do seem to know where they are safe and where they are not. This was that same track where Cecil crossed over in the July 2015 and never returned. June 10, 2015. © Brent Stapelkamp
Brent Stapelkamp
Lucky the lion: Lucky seemed to have it all in life. Good looks, a great territory, and lots of lionesses. Sadly his name couldn’t save him from his fate, and he was caught and killed in a poacher’s snare. Snaring for bushmeat is one of the major sources of lion mortality in Africa today. December 10, 2014. © Brent Stapelkamp
Brent Stapelkamp
Little roar: A young cub, not content to sleep like the rest of the pride, yawns and gets ready to go and cause chaos. October 23, 2013. © Brent Stapelkamp
Brent Stapelkamp
Jericho and Cecil: The now famous partnership: Jericho and Cecil on the morning that was to be the last time Stapelkamp would see Cecil. Although unrelated, the two lions forged an alliance that was very strong until the fateful day in July 2015. May 27, 2015. © Brent Stapelkamp
Brent Stapelkamp
Even gods stare skyward: After Tommy had single-handedly brought down a large buffalo bull, a passing vulture caught his eye. April 29, 2015. © Brent Stapelkamp
Brent Stapelkamp
Down a lonely trail: One afternoon Stapelkamp was following a pride of lions and waited for the last of them to finish drinking at a small puddle. As the last lion started down a trail to follow the rest, he climbed out of his vehicle and lay on the ground alongside his truck to get this shot of a lion walking down a lonely trail. June 10, 2015. © Brent Stapelkamp
Brent Stapelkamp
Cecil and his lioness: This is Cecil when he had 20 or more lions in his family. Here, a lioness pays her respects. October 21, 2012. © Brent Stapelkamp
Brent Stapelkamp
A lion called Bush: Bush was a large territorial lion Stapelkamp had known for his whole life. In this image, he had just caught a buffalo calf and was refusing to let his brother, Bhubezi, share. Bush was eventually shot as a trophy just weeks before Cecil. July 18, 2013. © Brent Stapelkamp

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