Let’s all calm down about Cecil the Lion

Hysteria strikes Cambridge as animal dies in Zimbabwe


The second we start valuing animals’ lives over that of humans we have a big problem.

Walter Palmer paid to kill a lion in what he believed to be a legal manner. There was a mix-up, the wrong lion was killed, and uproar ensued.

But I don’t think you’re angry because he killed the wrong lion – I think you are angry that he killed a lion. Our newsfeeds have been plunged into hysteria over the culture of hunting.

Lion < human.

600 lions are killed legally, and more illegally, every single year. Why do you care so much about this one?

Is it because he has a name? “Cecil the dead lion” is – after all – a lot more emotive than “dead lion no. 34758”.

Walter Palmer apologised for killing “a well-known favourite”.  Had Cecil not been well known – had he numbered in the other 600 – would there have been a problem? I for one didn’t notice any hysteria over any of those.

What made the story initially newsworthy was Cecil’s part in an Oxford research programme – he was being tracked by the University for a research-project into conservation.

But you’re not crying and sharing meaningless articles on Facebook because he was being tracked by Oxford University. (Are you?)

It was the Oxford stamp, admit it

And you’re probably not crying due to some personal affinity you held with Cecil. But then again, I don’t know you. 

You’re stamping your feet and you’re crying because you’ve seen a photo of a dead lion and so has everyone else; and when everyone starts it takes a lot to hold back the tsunami of hive-mind hysteria. A lot.

This hysteria is not only utterly unnecessary (as hysteria usually is), but it’s misplaced.

Last month a black rhino was killed in Namibia, one of four allotted for hunting each year. The permit had been auctioned at $350,000 – which went straight into the hands of the Namibian Wildlife Conservation service.

He was called Leroy.

Palmer paid £50,000 in Zimbabwe to kill your newest best friend Cecil.

These legal hunting practices exist for the very sake of conservation.

In Namibia the population of almost every wild animal has increased since independence in 1990. “Without hunting we simply will not have the animals that we have today and we simply will not have the areas under conservation that we have today,” said Hermann Meyeridricks, president of the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa.

Allowing land owners to charge for the hunting of their animals provides them with an income. This income needs to be derived from somewhere. So without hunting, landowners traditionally turn to farming and cattle ranching – which is damaging to whole species and ecosystems – not just individual lions like Cecil. (#RIP).

According to Panthera, a charity for big cats, lion populations have fallen from 200,000 across Africa to just 30,000 today – because of habitat loss caused by human population growth. The biggest threat to Cecil and his mates is not a hapless dentist called Walter, it’s population growth and it’s globalization.

Hunting gives land a value. And it incentivises people to preserve it. This is, at the moment, necessary for species conservation.

Didn’t see that one coming

And maybe deriving income from hunting is necessary for conservation because it’s the only viable means available to these nations. Why?

Well, maybe because the West has sapped sub-Saharan Africa of its resources and wealth for too long – very much to the extent that they cannot afford to preserve their wildlife and ecosystems any other way.

Why are we so happy to screw over African countries by reaping the benefits of globalization but scream in indignation when independent African nations use globalization to their own benefit – by getting dentists called Walter to fund their conservation projects?

And also – isn’t it pretty typical of the West to dictate to another country how it ought to function? Does anyone else get that lingering odour of colonialism? Or it that just me?

The issue isn’t clear cut. Experts are undecided about hunting as the best form of conservation and who knows where the money paid for Cecil went; Zimbabwe’s cash flow is about as transparent as a brick wall – but the point remains – if the death of 600 lions a year is the only way these nations can preserve a whole species then so fucking be it.

You are sad because you saw a photo of a dead lion.

I cry every time

And some of you are happy to destroy the life of a man with a family because of it.

And some of you are even happy to issue actual death threats to this poor man. (As an aside: have you all gone absolutely fucking mental!?)

What you clearly aren’t sad about is the far greater tragedy – the effects of globalization and the currently inescapable poverty of these countries.

Let Zimbabwe manage its conservation projects the best way it can.

Don’t value the life of one lion over the existence of a species.

And certainly don’t value the life of a lion over that of a man. 

Get a grip, and if you must be this hysterical (if you must) – then be hysterical over the actual issue at hand, not over a photo of a dead cat.