Cecil the Lion's Final Portrait: "He Was the Most Confident Lion You Ever Met"

Cecil the Lion with Brother Jericho - H 2015
Brent Stapelkamp

Cecil the Lion with Brother Jericho - H 2015

"He was confident, but not aggressive … not really playful — more regal. He was a lion and he knew it."

The man who snapped the last known photo of Cecil, the celebrated lion who was recently killed by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, has spoken out about his memories of the animal who he had been observing for roughly six years. 

In an interview with The Telegraph, photographer Brent Stapelkamp, 37, said that Cecil was "the most confident lion you ever met ... He knew he was the biggest on the block." Stapelkamp has worked as a researcher for Oxford University's lion project in the Hwange National park since 2006.

Stapelkamp's final photo of Cecil shows the lion lying beside another male lion named Jericho. The image was taken a month before Cecil died in an area only a mile from where he was killed.

On July 1, Cecil was lured out of a protected area by a hunting guide and shot with a bow and arrow by Palmer. He has since said that he "deeply regrets" killing the lion.

In the interview, Stapelkamp also described the origin of Cecil's name and how he rose to a place of supremacy among other lions in the park. Cecil was first identified in 2008 or 2009, when he was spotted with his brother at a watering hole on the southern boundary of Hwange park called Magisole Pan, which translates to "White Man's watering hole." The brothers were named after two powerful white men — Cecil Rhodes, a mining tycoon and politician in South Africa and Leander Starr Jameson, the second Administrator of Rhodesia.

Cecil became the most dominant male in Hwange park when a fight between the two brothers and another dominant male named Mpofu led to the death of Leander. Mpofu sustained critical injuries and ultimately had to be put down by park rangers, leaving Cecil to assume the position of dominance in the area.

Stapelkamp further described that despite his prowess as a fighter, Cecil "was confident, but not aggressive … He was not really playful — more regal. He was a lion and he knew it, and everyone else be damned — he was the biggest cat on the block, and he didn't have to be playful."

Cecil wasn't particularly afraid of humans either, and seemed willing to play his part in the park as an icon. Stapelcamp explained that "you could get two or three photographs out of him, without him moving, and he was used to Safari vehicles. He was a total lion experience."