When it comes to gratitude, we have long memories at WildCRU, says David Macdonald

August 11, 2015

When Andrew Loveridge and I started the Hwange Lion Project, having been exhorted to do so by our friend the late Lionel Reynolds while we were sipping with him from a thermos of coffee amongst elephants at a moonlit waterhole in the late 1990s, we started from scratch, with zero budget. In the flood of support for our project in recent weeks, but remembering that WildCRU has no institutional funds and relies heavily on philanthropy, it may be hard for many of our supporters to realise just what a struggle it is to start projects in our hand-to-mouth world, but Andy and I remember vividly. As has been widely discussed during these days, the first landmark achievement of the Hwange Lion Project was working with the Zimbabwe National Parks Authority to introduce a moratorium on lion hunting in 2005. It seems appropriate now to remember the early donors who put faith in us before the project had a track record. At a personal level, we think especially fondly of the late Rivington Winant (formerly of Balliol, Oxford) and his widow Joan whose support, personally and through their charity, continues to this day with our work on clouded leopards. Of charities, we remember especially the gamble that the Mitsubishi Fund for Europe and Africa took on us, and then, of government, the British government’s wonderful Darwin Initiative for Biodiversity. There were others too, Boesak and Kruger, Darnton, Disney, Frankenberg, the Hwange Conservation Society, Marwell, Rufford, SAVE, together with flights from British Airways and food and accommodation from Touch the Wild Photographic Safaris. I hope all these people, who put their money where our mouths were before we really had much to report, will all feel that we have repaid their faith in us. By the way, since 2005, the project has grown, but still depended on donations and grants, of which that from the Recanati-Kaplan Foundation was one element of a gift that has been transformative for WildCRU – our centre now formally bears their name in gratitude for support of Dr Tom Kaplan and Daphe Recanati-Kaplan. The Hwange project has also benefited hugely from WildCRU’s core programme with the Robertson Foundation, and from Panthera, SATIB, the Big Cat Initiative, Fairburn Trust, John Fell Fund and Wilderness Trust. To these thanks we now add the more than 12,000 recent donors, every single one of whom will shortly be receiving a brief message. Their collective generosity is deeply moving, and we hope that many of them will continue to support our Hwange Lion Project, and perhaps WildCRU’s work more widely but, as said, in this exciting moment as we look forward, Andy and I also look back to those without whom there would have been no project, and very probably no Cecil.

Donations can be made at