3 Things the Killing of Cecil the Lion Brought to Our Attention

Recently, the killing of a Zimbabwean lion named Cecil grabbed national attention, sweeping through Facebook and news media. People's responses ranged from grief over the death of a beloved animal to anger that people would make such a big deal over hunting a lion, to outrage that others were outraged. Such is the world we live in today, where news travels fast and people have the Internet to voice their opinions almost instantly. Without touching on the criticisms some have voiced questioning why others care so strongly about the death of a celebrity lion, there are still things many of us have learned from this event.

3. This Kind of Hunting Is Controversial and Triggers Strong Reactions In People.

Trophy hunting is controversial in general. There are plenty of people (myself included) who have no problem with people who hunt for food. Certain species of animals have populations that need controlling in order to preserve the overall health of that species. Whitetail deer are a good example of a commonly hunted species that falls into that category. However, trophy hunting, and particularly exotic trophy hunting, in which rich people travel to foreign countries to kill animals like lions or elephants, is difficult for many people to accept as a responsible activity. The kind of trophy hunting that Walter "America's Most Hated Dentist" Palmer engages in is an entirely different kind of hunting, and makes him far different from trophy hunters who are looking for the largest whitetail buck they can find roaming around America. It takes a special kind of hunter, one who is wealthy, to travel to Africa and spend tens of thousands of dollars for the opportunity to lob an arrow into a lion or other big game. One has to wonder if the organizers of these types of safari hunts throw in an old-fashioned pith helmet for their clients to wear while they release their arrow or pulling the trigger on a high-powered rifle. According to some reports, Palmer later tried to impress a waitress young enough to be his daughter with photos of the dead lion. Hard to really understand the sort of mentality behind actions like that.

2. Lots of Excuses Were Made

The organized "hunt" that resulted in the killing of Cecil sounds like a sleazily run operation, and the details of the actual hunt are depressing. Cecil was a locally famous lion and star attraction at the Hwange National Park, the wildlife reserve he primarily lived in, and he wore a tracking collar that researchers used to study him. The hunting guides, whom Palmer paid to organize the hunt, lured Cecil out of the protected area of the reserve and onto land where they considered it legal for him to be killed. Palmer then shot the lion with an arrow, which failed to kill him, and the poor beast suffered for 40 hours, until he was again tracked down by the hunting party so the dentist from Minnesota could finish him off with a rifle. Then the crew found he had a tracking collar, tried in vain to destroy it, beheaded and skinned Cecil, and left his carcass behind. When confronted with accusations of wrongdoing, Walter Palmer claimed that he relied on the local game guides he hired to follow the law, and didn't know anything was illegal. Nothing about his excuse sounds particularly convincing, particularly since Palmer already had legal problems stemming from lying to authorities about illegally killing a bear in 2006. The man has a creepy hobby and a shady past, and should've had some idea that the hunt that resulted in Cecil's death was probably illegal. For a guy whose passion in life is big-game hunting, it seems reasonable to expect he could spend a few hours online researching laws regarding hunting in the countries he planned on traveling to. He apparently spent more than $50,000 to hunt a lion. How much effort would it have taken to find out what was legal and ethical to do on a hunt in Zimbabwe? It's hard to believe that he is without blame in this. As for trusting the local guides to know the law, it's also ridiculous to believe that people whose livelihoods rely on tracking down threatened wildlife in developing countries so wealthy Westerners can kill them for their trophy rooms are always going to obey the law. Fifty thousand American dollars probably buys a certain lax attitude toward what is legal or not in many parts of the globe, and rich hunters like Palmer are likely aware of that fact.

1. It's Not Just Cecil

Cecil was a sort of celebrity in the lion world, so his illegal poaching outraged people in a way that they might not have been otherwise. Quite a few people have questioned the public outcry for an animal whom few of us were aware of until news of his death began making the rounds. The thing is, it takes stories like Cecil's to wake up a lot of us to these types of issues. Certain animal species are threatened or endangered worldwide, and for reasons more complicated than an abundance of bloodthirsty, overcompensating rich dentists, but illegal poaching and unethical hunting practices continue to occur. One of the strangest things about the outrage over Cecil's killing is that unless one looks at the broader picture, it's easy for many of us to forget that thousands of endangered animals are poached every year without much notice. Cecil's fate was awful, and Walter Palmer seems like a pretty terrible person to many, but it's too easy to focus on one convenient villain instead of looking at the far larger tragedy that is playing out daily among animal populations in Africa.

The same week that Cecil was killed in a shady guided hunt, poachers killed five elephants in Nairobi for their tusks. That story didn't make the rounds the way Cecil's did, but is a sad example of the kind of constant killings that go on without much notice. Big-game trophy hunting looks obscene to many people, but it's important to remember that it is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to other forms of animal exploitation that are seriously shrinking the game populations in African countries. Regardless of one's opinion on big-game trophy hunting, most of us agree that the laws controlling it should at least be enforced, and hopefully we can stop the kind of practices that led to Cecil's killing. It's still important to look at more effective ways to reduce illegal poaching of all endangered animals, and not just the famous ones.
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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.