Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Word's Response to Cecil's Death

The above lion isn't Cecil. I photographed him in Kruger National Park.

Not only is it incomprehensible to me that anyone would want to kill an endangered animal (fewer than 20,000 wild lions in Africa today) but to lure Cecil from the safety of a national park and then to shoot him with a crossbow...? I have no words to express my repugnance. He was not even killed outright, but suffered for hours before finally being shot with a bullet. And his magnificent head severed from his wounded body. And this behaviour is described as a “sport.” 

Only one good thing comes out of this – thousands... have read the story and also been shocked… 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.”  Jane Goodall, Ph.d., DBE

(Jane Goodall is the Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace.)

In the face of all the terrible things that are happening to people in the world—exploitation, rape, slavery, corruption—it can seem kind of irrelevant that some American dentist guy, Walter Palmer, hired some Zimbabwe guy Theo Bronkhorst from Bushman Safaris to use bait to lure an iconic lion out of the sanctuary of a game reserve into a private one so he weaken it by shooting it with a bow and arrow then shoot it two days later with a gun. If you’re thinking simple bow and arrow let me disabuse you. He had high tech stuff.

But I think that the outrage over the death of an iconic lion is beautiful. Photos of the trophy hunter, sitting with his high tech bow and arrow and guns and a big grin on his face next to the dead lion went viral. Fury exploded on the internet. And Jane Goodall’s wish for action and greater awareness started coming true.

A petition calling for full accountability and punishment of those involved in Cecil’s death has 1,149,543 signatures so far (on 1,265,461 have signed another, calling for US and EU Authorities to “act swiftly to stop the decline in lion populations across Africa... and ban the import of any hunting trophies that threaten the survival of these majestic animals.” (on  A newer petition calling for SAA to ban the transport of hunting trophies has 143,647 and counting (

For the record, SAA issued a ban after Emirates did three months ago then lifted it because, they said, the DEA now has tougher compliance measure for permits—politspeak for oh goody we can pretend to care but still get on with the important business of making money no matter what the cost to Africa’s wildlife.

But SAA’s initial action inspired the Chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee, Chris Green, to create a petition calling for Delta Air Lines, reputedly the main transporter of hunting trophies from SA to the US, to stop all transport of exotic animal hunting trophies (the photo below of the brave, manly hunter with the lion he killed was used for that petition).

British Airways, Lufthansa, Qantas, Qatar, Etihad, Iberia, Singapore and Brussels all already had total bans on transporting hunting trophies.

Most big organizations don’t like to be shown up, especially in such a competitive industry.
SAA doesn’t care, apparently. But perhaps this latest petition will awaken their sensibilities.

On 1 August, Zimbabwe suspended permits for all bow-hunting and hunting lions, leopards and elephants in areas outside of HwangeNational Park. Let’s hope the suspension becomes a ban cast in stone.

The head of the slaughtered lion has been confiscated as has Bronkhorst’s license. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe said in a joint statement that neither the hunter nor the landowner had a permit/quota to justify the slaughter and that the hunt was illegal. Bronkhorst and Honest Ndlovu, the owner of the farm on which Cecil was killed, are facing charges in Zimbabwe, which has begun proceedings to extradite Palmer to face them too.

In the US, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, co-Chair of the US Congressional International Conservation Caucus, called for Palmer and the killing to be investigated. And US Senator Bob Menendez introduced an Act that extends the ban importing and exporting officially-named endangered species to those that have been proposed for the Endangered Species listing.

The UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution to strengthen efforts to address illicit wildlife poaching and trafficking. That one sounds a little toothless, but it’s a start.

There are so many people in the world and the media that feeds on the gruesome is as alive as a cancer cell replicating, so every worst aspect of humanity seems larger than life. It’s easy to believe that humanity is heading fast towards its own destruction. Guns and war, rape, slavery, corruption, injustice within ‘justice’ systems, phenomenal poverty, homelessness; you name it, it’s somewhere on the news. And in the content of so many movies and TV series now.

We seem to have become a race predominated by people who don’t care about being accountable or couldn’t be bothered or are too scared, too busy, too otherwise occupied to care, even if the consequences are right in front of them.

The operative word is ‘seem’. Call me na├»ve but I think the picture is distorted. There are plenty of people holding themselves accountable and caring when others are hurt at a personal and global level, and doing something about it. There’s a ton of exposure around slavery, exploitation, etc. Huge efforts and money are put towards stopping the horrors and changing the lives of those who’ve been rescued.

That so many also can be concerned about lions in Africa has been an inspiration to me. I’ve heard criticism that more people worry about a lion than about suffering humans. It’s not true. I Googled “Cecil the lion” and got 1,25 million results, then Googled “Help African children” and got 2,85 million results. Caring about animals doesn’t mean not caring about people. So I reckon it’s okay to be passionate about a lion that shouldn’t have been killed, especially in the light of Cecil being one in only 20,000 that are left because we haven’t been bothered enough so far.

As a postscript, Cecil fathered 5 cubs and there was concern that they’d be killed by the new leader of the pride but Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit, which studied Cecil at Hwange National Park before he was killed said that a male lion, unrelated to Cecil, has stepped in to protect the cubs.