I was not intending to write about Cecil the lion but have received many questions from readers and friends who know that I am from that area of Africa and also that I work a lot with animal rights and animal rescue, as well as the fact that I have a particular interest in both poaching and cats! The first question from people has always been why Cecil has caused such a furore when so many animals are poached every day and it barely causes a ripple in the public indignation pond. My thoughts?
Cecil was magnificent
He was enormous and he had the most beautiful long black mane. Black-maned lions are very rare and you seldom get such long manes in hot climates.
Cecil was known and he was loved.
He had a name.
Cecil did not mind tourists and used to stand patiently for ages while they photographed and filmed him. He was very photogenic and used to walk very slowly, blinking as he went. He had beautiful wise eyes. Tourists used to go to the Hwange National Partpark just to see him and he was an unofficial mascot of the park. He was known and he was loved. There was a great deal of footage and thousands of photos taken of him which the media has had access to. He touched the hearts of all who saw him in real life. He was not an anonymous, unknown lion as almost all poached lions are. In the first video you can hear the guide fondly telling the tourists about Cecil. If you can only watch one video, watch the second one. The third one you have to click through to YouTube to watch.
Cecil was collared and protected
He was part of an Oxford University study and was clearly collared. As such he was protected. In addition, all the researchers following him as part of the study were extremely fond of him. One of them said ‘At a personal level I have watched this lion… and gloried in his magnificence and beauty’
You can see clearly in many of the photos and in both of the videos above that he was collared.
All three of the above means that there are many people who knew and loved him and there were lots of beautiful photos and videos of him for the media to use.
Cecil was an underdog (and people love underdogs)
In 2009, Cecil and his brother encountered an established pride, which resulted in a fight in which Cecil’s brother was killed and both Cecil and the leader of the pride were seriously wounded; the leader was subsequently killed by park rangers because of the wounds he had received in the fight with Cecil. Cecil retreated to another part of the park where he eventually established his own pride which had up to 22 members. In 2013, Cecil was forced out from the area by two young male lions into the eastern border of the park. There, he created a coalition with another male lion named Jericho to establish two prides which consisted of Cecil, Jericho, half a dozen females and up to a dozen cubs sired by Cecil or Jericho. (Wikipedia)
The photos below are of Jericho and Cecil fighting in May last year. To me, THIS is the fighting that animals should do. Within the food chain, part of the natural order, natural selection. NOT being subjected to animal experiments, circuses, zoos, hunters, organised fights or poachers. You can see from these photographs exactly why lions are known as kings of the jungle, the rulers of the animal kingdom, and why so many countries use them in their coats of arms as symbols of power and strength. And you can see why Cecil was one of a kind with his huge black mane and imposing size. Cecil was 13 and Jericho is 11.
Cecil had cubs
Babies of any kind always make the issue more emotive. Particularly in this case, because when a lion pride loses its leader, the new dominant male (in this case Jericho, or, if he could not maintain dominance in the hierarchy, the new dominant male) usually immediately kills all the cubs to end the line of the previous pride leader.
A bittersweet feel-good ending
and to add to the poignancy of the story, Jericho did not, as was expected, kill Cecil’s cubs but is now looking after them and making sure they are safe.
Walter J Palmer is a perfect villain
Well, what can I say? He and his so-called professional guides lured Cecil out of the park because they knew they could not kill him in the park, blinded him with spotlights, shot and wounded him with a crossbow, and then let him suffer for 40 hours before finally killing him, skinning him and taking his head. They attempted to destroy the collar and then hid it in a tree.
Palmer has previously been found guilty of both fishing without a licence and also poaching a black bear, for which he was sentenced to one year of probation and fined nearly $3,000. He also settled a sexual harassment course from a former patient and employee out of court for $127, 000. In addition, it is reported he tried to pick up a waitress in a bar by showing her pictures of Cecil and saying he killed the biggest lion in the world. So, he already had a bit of a dodgy reputation and a habit of skirting the law.
I can see and understand Palmer’s point that he did everything the right way. He paid a huge sum to make sure he did everything legally. He trusted the locals to do right by him. I truly respect the fact that he tried to do everything the right way, even if I do not agree with big game hunting. He was not to know his professional guides were going to lure a protected animal out of the park. But personally I can never see the point of professional big game hunting for sport. I come from a hunting family (and my family are well aware I do not support it). I understand culling. I eat meat. But personally, the Walter J Palmers of the world are a big no no for me. For me it is no sport if you have a gun and they don’t. It certainly does not make you a big strong man (or woman as the case may be). It just makes you an asshole.
Ironically Walter Palmer, DDS is now the one being hunted and I am sure it does not feel nice. He probably feels hurt, upset, unfairly attacked and hounded. Just as Cecil felt. And his life has been destroyed. If he manages to keep his dental practice going, he will have to look over his shoulder for the rest of his life. People do have short memories but this is not going to be forgotten. He will always be the man who shot Cecil. Right now he is a pariah. All the PR agencies who he tried to get to help him manage the crisis were tripping over themselves to get away from even being named in the same sentence as him. And for the rest of his life, every move he makes to carry on his ‘hobby’ is going to cause outrage, backlash, threats and a furore. And hopefully Cecil has made a difference. Both in life and in death. Not just for lions and for poaching but for other things as well. Other animals, other injustices. He will continue to roar, through all of us. And he will continue to live through all of us.
And the last question people ask me is
‘Why does this matter when so many children/chickens/cows/soldiers/babies/women are killed each day?’
My answer is that there are enough causes to go around. Everyone has something that resonates within them and touches their heart for a particular reason. Just because something does not matter to you, does not mean it does not matter. Trying to force a cause on someone because you believe in it is like trying to convert someone to another religion. It usually does not work and makes people resent you. All you can do is respect other peoples’ choices of what to get het up over and support what is in your own heart. I have always supported animal causes because the people in my life have been awful. Animals have always loved me unconditionally, never left me and been there for me in my darkest moments. Which is why I volunteer at an animal shelter, sponsor cages at rehabilitation facilities, support a wolf sanctuary, campaign against rhino poaching and animal experimentation. I know there are others who support the things I cannot. And for that I am immensely grateful. And as a very wise friend of mine pointed out ‘Just because people react to and care about this one issue doesn’t mean that don’t care about any or all of the others. So many who criticise the reaction to this atrocity seem to assume that it means people only care about this not anything else. That manifestly is not true!’
Thank you for reading. It was an honour to write this post. RIP big boy.