I’m sure almost everyone has heard of the tragic death of Cecil, a beloved pride leader in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. This was a great loss to not only Cecil’s pride, but the entire lion population, and the entire world. What is shocking to me however, is while this is not the only time an animal has been the victim of trophy hunting, it is by far the most popular. I want to further explore what has made Cecil’s death cause for international outrage, and what we can hope to come from it in the future.
Cecil roamed in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa. At the time of his death, he headed a pride of several females and cubs. Cecil was also part of a study by Oxford University, and wore a GPS collar to track his movements. Walter Palmer, a dentist from the United States, is the one who killed Cecil. It is believed that he spent about $50,000 to go on this hunt for a lion. Palmer has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars killing other African wildlife, including giraffe, rhinos, leopards, and elephants. These “trophy hunts” run a fine line on what is and isn’t legal. Perhaps the most disturbing part of Cecil’s death, is how Palmer came to “hunt” him. Palmer and his two native guides did not actively go out and track Cecil to start. They bated him with a carcass, outside the borders of Hwange. So, they led him out of the protected area, so they could kill him. Rather than just shoot him in the head and be done with it, Palmer chose to use a bow and arrow, allowing Cecil to escape. Cecil was not found by Palmer and his guides until 40 hours later, when he was finally shot in the head for the kill.
It was at this point, according to the guides, that they “suddenly” realized the lion was wearing a GPS collar. They removed it, and tried to destroy it but couldn’t which is how researchers were able to find his slain body sometime after the tracking stopped. I just want to pause for a moment and say that this man, and others like him, utterly disgust me and I am more motivated than ever now to prevent such events from occurring in the future.
It didn’t take long for social media to get this story, and it exploded! My entire Facebook newsfeed was full of posts about Cecil. Everyone from conservations groups, television stations, and celebrities filled my phone with images and cries of outrage for Cecil. With all of this came some rumors as well, as one that stated that Cecil’s brother (apparently they aren’t even brother), Jericho, had also been killed. This was an awful rumor, as some said Jericho was taking care of Cecil’s cubs after his death (it is common in many leaders in pack animals to kill an old leader’s offspring in order to produce his own with the group's females). This is one downfall of social media, just as quickly as good information spreads, so can bad information. What’s clear is this: Walter Palmer paid thousands of dollars to fly halfway across the world to kill an endangered species to mount on his wall, and in his attempt Cecil suffered greatly for almost two days. Despicable.
The cries of outrage turned to action, as people began to protest outside of Palmer’s dental practice. The office was forced to shut down for the protection of the staff, as death threats have been issued. Palmer is in hiding, and no one has heard from him since his initial statement of the matter. His two guides are facing prison sentences, while Palmer is being called back to Zimbabwe to answer for his actions. Accountability is crucial I believe, but what else can we do in the wake of this tragedy?
Among the numerous posts I have seen on Facebook, it is the ones of celebrities that I find the most important. They have a farther reach, and their voices can be heard louder than most. Some that I remember on my news feed were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ricky Gervais, and Jane Goodall, all of whom asked for change and prevention. So far, one really big thing has happened: Major airlines are forbidding the transport of “trophies” from animals. While I am not sure how this was ever legal to begin with, I am happy that these companies took such quick action. After all, who is going to want to kill one of these animals if they can’t mount the heads in their homes? So far, Delta, American, United, and JetBlue have banned export on their planes. While this doesn't cover all animals (only lions, rhinos, buffalo, elephants, and leopards are included), this is still a huge step. While official laws can take time, companies like Delta are able to change these policies immediately, making it difficult for trophy hunters right away, and preventing more animals from being killed.
There is also a new documentary coming out, called “Racing Extinction.” The film promises to be amazing I’m sure, and the timing couldn’t be better. Perhaps the best part was the initial advertisement for the film. Only weeks after Cecil stormed social media, images of endangered animals were projected and broadcasted live on YouTube on the Empire State Building in New York City. Millions of people were able to see this live and over the internet. What a perfect way to raise awareness when we need to the most.
While outrage and anger are certainly being felt across the world right now, what we must really ask ourselves is what to do next? What can we do now to change? How can we help the remaining lions, and all endangered animals? Instead of focusing anger on Walter Palmer, we need to focus all of our energy on preventing this from happening again. He is not worth the effort to worry over, animals are. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for us all to be ballsy. Being tough isn’t killing an animal, being tough is helping an animal. Jane Goodall said it best. “Only one good thing comes out of this – thousands of people have read the story and have also been shocked. Their eyes opened to the dark side of human nature. Surely they will now be more prepared to fight for the protection of wild animals and the wild places where they live. Therein lies the hope.” Knowledge is power, and Cecil has given us the power to change. Let’s use it.
Nicole is currently employed at a university, caring for lab animals. She has always been an animal lover, and more recently an animal activist.