The response to the tragic killing of Cecil the lion has been nothing short of extraordinary. Outrage and anger have combined with sadness and determination to (at least many of us hope) spark many positive changes in lion conservation. At least in this way, Cecil’s death won’t have to be in vain.

And nobody is hoping that more fervently than the very last person thought to have photographed Cecil, Brent Stapelkamp: a field researcher for the WildCRU Oxford project that tracked Cecil, the last person to dart and collar Cecil, and the 500px member behind many of the most popular photos of Cecil currently circulating all over the Internet.

Cecil and Jericho: This is the last known photo of the great Cecil, taken just a month before he was killed. Cecil is laying down in the foreground.

Cecil and Jericho: This is the last known photo of the great Cecil, taken just a month before he was killed. Cecil is laying down in the foreground.

We’ve been working closely with Brent since the news of Cecil’s death broke earlier this week, helping him license his beautiful images of Cecil to major publications around the world.

Editor’s Note: If you follow 500px on Facebook, you already know this, but we’ll share it here as well: Any profit we make from licensing images of Cecil is being donated to WildCRU, the project that collared Cecil. And not just from the last few days, but in perpetuity. It’s our small contribution to this amazing lion’s legacy.

But we wanted to know more about these photos. We wanted to know the story behind them… what it was like to photograph The King. Fortunately, Brent was willing to share. Scroll down to read the story behind the last time he was Cecil for yourself.

tiring work this by Brent Stapelkamp on

The Last Time I Saw Cecil

I have the unique position in all of this in that I am a field researcher on the Oxford project and was the last person to dart and collar Cecil. As a profession I spend time in the company of lions! I know…

I think the most popular Cecil images were mostly taken on the very last day that I ever saw him. I was racing to the south eastern corner of the park to try and catch another lion for a collar change. At the “Kennedy” area I took a little side road that leads to the railway line and remember looking left out of my window at a superbly “back-lit” zebra. I half pressed the brake pedal and reached for my camera before deciding that I really didn’t have the time for that as people were waiting for me 35km away!

I turned my head back to the road and there were the two lions in the road ahead! Cecil was lying down in the road and Jericho was a little bit off to his left. I instinctively reached over to my big lens and pulled off the dust cover.

I have your back by Brent Stapelkamp on

Clenching my stomach muscles as I hefted the camera and 400 mm Lens onto the beanbag I had set on the window’s edge whilst steering the now slowing cruiser with my knees. Before I had stopped the switch was flipped and I was taking shots.

They spent a few minutes with me there before some distant sound caught their typically feline curiosity and I had to follow them a little distant behind as they headed towards the boundary. Cecil was behind Jericho now and I could see his breath as he walked into the sunrise. As luck would have it (I am the world’s luckiest man!) Cecil sat down in the most perfect light and I took the shot that I have called “since the beginning!”

It seemed to me that was such a timeless scene probably repeated a billion times before man came along, and yet one we are quickly losing the chance to see. That was the last time I saw Cecil.

Since the beginning! by Brent Stapelkamp on

After sharing this story with us, Brent made it a point to tell us that, “out of this tragedy there will be some very positive changes in lion conservation.” We hope he’s right.

To help with those positive changes yourself, be sure to visit WildCRU and click one of the two donate links provided at the top of that page. The project’s work doesn’t stop with Cecil’s death… if anything, what they’re doing is more important now than ever.