CECIL THE LION – An Agent of Change
a narrative by Glenn Williams https://www.facebook.com/glenn.williams.3720
A hypothetical conversation that may occur in the future:
“Hi Dad. What type of animal is that?”
“Well son. That is a male lion. He was one of the most majestic and beautiful creatures ever to roam the earth. They called him the “King of the Jungle” and you could hear his roar from a mile away. People would travel from all over the world just to see him roam the African Plains. He was one of the most beautiful animals that ever existed.”
“Can we go see one?”
“I’m really sorry son. Unfortunately, the last lion became extinct around 2030.”
“Well, there were a lot of people out there that really loved the lion and fought a gallant battle to protect him and ensure that he would be around for your generation. Unfortunately, there were others out there that didn’t really care what happened to the lion and were more interested in killing one so they could stuff and mount his head on a wall and make a rug out of his coat. Then there were poachers that killed them solely for greed. Between the hunters and the poachers, the loss of habitat, and failure of the governments to act early enough to save them, they really never had a chance.”
“But that’s not fair Dad. I never had a chance to see one. What about some of these other animals, Dad? The elephant, the rhino, the hippo, the leopard, the tiger, the cheetah? What about them? Can we see them?”
“I’m sorry son. They are gone too. You see, this earth and the people, animals , plants, forests, insects…everything are all part of this thing they call an ecosystem. As designed, it is perfectly in balance, but it is very fragile. If one animal becomes extinct, then it sets off a chain of events that impacts every animal above and below him. Unfortunately, some people never grasped an understanding of this until it was too late. Now most of the great creatures you see today can only be seen in a handful of zoos. I’m really sorry son. Let’s go home.”
Is there anyone that looks forward to this conversation? Somewhere down the line, someone will be having that tough conversation and that will be a sad day in this world…unless we do something about this.
The recent tragedy of Cecil the Lion has become a touchstone in the lives of many worldwide; with the reactions ranging from the extremes of “Death to the doctor!” to “He didn’t do anything wrong”. However, the majority have an opinion that falls within these two extremes. And while I have no problems professing my love of animals and have my own opinions, I also recognize that emotional outbursts and name calling – while providing a temporary feeling of satisfaction – does not bring long-term change.
What does bring change is a cohesive, unified front toward a united cause; a consistent story supported by facts, and the patience and persistence to see it through. Unfortunately, Cecil’s story risks following the path of similar tragedies. Initially, there is public outrage and the story becomes a catalyst for change. Then, as weeks and months go by; new tragedies arise and replace the old tragedies. Soon the story fades into distant memories. People may still be dissatisfied or unhappy with the occurrence and the perhaps lack of perceived justice in this world, but the emotional element fades away and people more or less, just accept and live with the circumstances and go about their lives. And I also normally find myself in this group. But the daily reminders of Cecil on my computer screensaver tell me that this time it will be different and I will make a difference. And I ask that you too don’t let this story fade into memory without making a difference. This story needs to remain on the forefront of everyone’s mind.
The reality of Cecil is that regardless of the outrage, and regardless of opinion, and regardless of facts and emotion, 98% of people with an opinion on Cecil probably will not change that opinion. People that believe there is nothing wrong with hunting for sport are unlikely to swear off hunting; and those that are against hunting are unlikely to become hunters. Animal lovers refer to hunters as murderers and killers, and tell us that male hunters were born with certain unusually small body parts. And I won’t repeat what words are used to describe female hunters.
On the flip side, hunters name call animal lovers as weak, hypocritical because they demand justice for Cecil but not for other animals, or tell them they should focus their energy and anger on “more important issues”. Or as classic rocker Ted Nugent noted, these people are just ‘stupid’; because after all, who can argue with that? Why I agree that some people on both sides probably meet the scientific definition of “stupid”, the majority are not stupid. Rather, their opinions are based upon their backgrounds, their education, inherent beliefs, what they read and what they have heard. Unfortunately, so much of the static flying around the internet, the airwaves, etc. is based upon misunderstandings, exaggerations, lies, and emotion; and are simply propaganda to convince others to take their side.
So, where are the facts on Cecil, and where is the fiction? First, we need to eliminate the white noise; that is, those comments that are designed to mask, confuse or distract from the real truth. The purpose of this narrative is to help weed out the propaganda, the outright lies, and bring the reader back to the real issue; which is:
Should Trophy Hunting Be Banned?
“This story would have not even made the news if Cecil wasn’t given such a cute name.” No question. Giving someone or something a name personalizes the story. Ask any good prosecuting attorney why they continue to repeat a victim’s name to the jury – particularly a murder victim that cannot speak for his or herself. The jury connects emotionally with a “Jim” or a “John” more than they would if the person was simply referred to as the “the victim”. This humanization naturally does the same for animals and “Cecil” has become a beloved lion rather than just one of hundreds of lions that are hunted down for “fun” each year.
That said, Cecil was not named because someone thought it would be cute. Cecil was named by the Oxford University researchers that have been studying lions in Hwange National Park these past nine years; and he was named after Cecil Rhodes (i.e. The Rhodes Scholar”). Sure, they could have named him Lion #269 and they could have named Jericho Lion #273. However, it generally is easier to remember a name over a number; and the naming of animals is a practice that has been used by researchers for generations.
I can only assume that some people have tried to make this an issue because they believe the animal lover sector is simply outraged only by the death of this particular lion. Yes, they are outraged by the senseless death of Cecil. However, Cecil is the symbol of the outrage many have had over trophy hunting for years – an activity that appears to contribute nothing to society and only serves as a selfish act to stroke the ego of the “mighty” hunter….mighty being in quotes because four-wheel drives, high beam spotlights, high powered rifles, spotters, baiting techniques and canned animal shoots are not exactly terms that suggest a fair fight or what I would deem worthy of the word “mighty”.
I’m sure the hunter brags to his friends back home as to how ferocious the animal was when he was shot. However, in Cecil’s case he was not being ferocious. He was just walking along, not harming anyone and simply following the bait. He was shot, suffered in misery for 40 hours before they finally shot him to death. He was not ferocious…he was not threatening…he was just living the life of a magnificent male lion. But because he was one of the more popular lions in the park, a lion that from most accounts, appears to enjoy the attention and was very social able with the park visitors, the outrage and anger quickly moved into social media and went viral to the point that it became a story. However, whether he had a name or not, this point has no relevance whatsoever to the issue of trophy hunting – right or wrong.
“Cecil supporters are hypocrites because they are outraged over Cecil, but not other lions or other animals.” This argument assumes that Cecil supporters don’t have similar opinions or beliefs about these other animals; and that simply is not true. As I have continued to emphasize, Cecil is the embodiment of the cause. He is not the first animal that was subject to a senseless death and unfortunately, he will not be the last. However, Cecil has brought an issue to the forefront that many have been arguing for years. Now that this has garnered national and worldwide attention and is now stirring a true debate that threatens the livelihood of these hunting clubs and the trophy hunters, they are scrambling to distract and raise points that are meaningless to the issue.
“Cecil supporters are hypocrites because they don’t have a problem with eating other animals.” There is no absolute answer here that everyone will agree; and we could debate this ad nauseam. Those that are vegans can exempt themselves from this conversation because they can rightfully argue that they are not responsible for the killing of any animals. For the rest of the population that do partake in eating meat, poultry and / or fish for sustenance, and for those that hunt for purposes of putting food on the table, this is vastly different from hunting for sport. True to the core animal lovers may disagree with a practice of eating anything, but those attempting to bring this argument into the conversation do so for no other reason than to move the subject off topic and force people to take the side of either” “no animal should be killed” or “the killing of all animals is okay”. Those are arguments that can be debated in different venues. But, the simple question we are addressing in Cecil is whether it is right for an animal to be killed for sport? Period.
This isn’t that big of an issue, or there are more serious issues facing our world.” No doubt that there are a lot of serious issues facing our world these days; however, your prioritization of important issues is not necessarily the same is my prioritization. It doesn’t mean you are wrong and it doesn’t mean that I am right, but again, this is an argument simply used to confuse, convolute and distract people from the real issue – which again is trophy hunting.
Or, when posed a similar question as to why he supports so many animal rights issues, Captain Paul Watson (if you are not familiar with him, you should be) states that the ecological law of interdependence states that we cannot live on this planet without the other species – therefore saving animals is also saving people. Besides, people who demand that I should not be concerned with helping animals and should be helping people are usually not doing anything themselves to help people.”
“Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemmingway both hunted wild animals and they were known conservationists. “ First of all, just because Roosevelt was one of the great Presidents of the United States and Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest writers of our time, does not mean that they were right on this issue. More importantly, the world is quite different than it was 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, there were in excess of 300,000 lions in Africa. Today there are 20,000 to 30,000. That is a 90% drop over a 100-year period. There were also no four wheel drive vehicles or high powered rifles back then — and other technological advancements and conveniences we have today that basically eliminates the “man versus beast” mentality of kill or be killed. The advantages man has today doesn’t even make this a sport anymore.
For those that believe it is okay to trophy hunt today because it was accepted back then, need I remind them that slavery was also an accepted practice by most 150 years ago. I think it is safe to say the majority of the population has a very different opinion today – although human trafficking in this world has also reached crisis level . But not- withstanding the ethical or moral issues of hunting for the “thrill of hunting”, the primary reason this argument is not valid is that we have lost 90% of the lion population from 100 years ago.
The whole idea of evolution is that we are supposed to evolve into higher beings. There is a reason that we no longer live in caves, that we no longer rely on fire as the only means for heating. The hunting of animals in prehistoric times was a necessity because it was either kill and eat, or don’t kill and die. It was a matter of survival. Today, trophy hunting is definitely not about survival, and our evolution advancement should be far enough along that we recognize this ecological interdependence and the importance of animals in our world….not to hunt, but the importance in their contribution to the ecosystem. And this does not even begin to address the other contributions animals provide to us. Watch a nature program on television and note your sense of calmness and wholeness with the world around you. Compare that to a “shoot ‘em up movie.” How do you feel after watching that?
“Trophy hunters are conservationists because…Part I.” This brings us to the crux of this discussion and the primary defensive that the trophy hunters defer too…believing that this will immediately put the question to rest. But to be fair, let’s address this question. If trophy hunting is truly an act of conservation and “you must kill an animal to save an animal”, then perhaps this is a legitimate justification for trophy hunting.
The argument is primarily two-fold: (1) hunters weed out the weak, ensuring that only the strongest and healthiest contribute to the gene pool, and thereby improving the overall health of the species; and (2) the fees paid for trophy hunting is invested back into the infrastructure of the local communities; thus it contributes to conservation and saves the animals.
So, the argument goes that by establishing an economic value for a lion, a tiger, a bear, an elephant, or a rhino, that ensures survival of the species. In other words, if the economic value of a lion is $50,000, only a handful of people will have the financial means of which to kill the lion, and so very few lions are killed. However, if the lion has no economic value, then killing him or her will not be restricted only to those with financial means, and more will therefore be killed. I don’t believe this argument truly supports itself; and would suggest even further that establishing an economic value has had an opposite effect and has a direct impact on the dramatic increase in poaching of these beautiful animals.
The Dallas Safari Club just auctioned off a hunting permit for a black Rhino for $350,000. Guess what the economic value of a black rhino is now? $350,000. And guess what economic value the black rhino has to poachers? $350,000. And do you think a poacher now has a greater incentive to poach black rhinos now that they know hunters will pay $350,000 for a black rhino. Of course they will. The answer is painfully obvious.
But going back to the conservation argument, in answer to the first point, this might be true if the hunters truly targeted the weak and the old; but they don’t. They seek the biggest, the largest, and the most formidable of beasts. What hunter seeks out the weakest animal, mounts the creature on the wall, and then brags to his friends: “Yes, this animal only had three legs, was starving, and on death’s door when I shot him. See how I helped preserve this species. Aren’t you proud of me?”
No, the hunter is looking for the animal with the largest tusks, the largest antlers, the largest mane, the largest animal. I am not bringing the topic of deer hunting into this discussion because deer are not a threatened species and I view this as a very different subject matter. But to use as an example, has a deer hunter ever bragged about how small that two-point buck was? No, but does he brag about a 14-point buck? Of course he does. Those that can afford it (and many who can’t) buy the biggest house, the biggest car, the most expensive diamond. Not because we need it, but because it strokes our egos and makes us believe we are something bigger than we are. Same goes for hunting. The Sierra Club and similar hunting organizations give out awards for killing the largest animal, not the smallest animal.
Why are elephant tusks on average, much smaller than they were 20 years ago? Simple… because in seeking to kill the biggest and strongest, it is the weak that remain to populate the gene pool. This will continue to perpetuate a downward decline in these majestic animals. Is there any question that there is absolutely no support for this argument?
Now for the conservation part. On the surface, this sounds logical. After all, if the $50,000 spent to kill Cecil truly went to the local economy; or if hunters paid an average of $40,0000 per lion for the estimated 600 male lions that are killed each year, that would generate $24 million in annual revenue. That would indeed contribute much to the local economies, to hire more park rangers, to spend on conservation education to the locals, etc.
The problem with this argument is that it assumes that this $40,000 or $50,000 actually makes it to the local communities. It does not and therefore, contributes very little to conservation. The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservations reports that only 3% of revenue from trophy hunting ever makes it to the communities affected by hunting. The rest goes to national governments, foreign-based outfitters, and dare I say, in the pockets of many corrupt politicians and others (Many of these African countries don’t exactly have great track records in responsible and honest government) . So, using these figures, Cecil’s life was basically worth about $1,500.
The fallacy of this argument is that it assumes trophy hunting as the only solution and the only financial means to hire park rangers and to help support the national parks and other protected areas. But, studies show that hunting only contributes one-tenth of 1% to the Gross Domestic Product of these African countries. Compare this to ecotourism (i.e. photo safaris) that contributes an estimated 12% to GDP. I agree that you can’t simply ban trophy hunting without making a commitment to ecotourism. There is no question that although a very small percentage, at least some of the licensing and permitting fees do indeed support the conservation program. However, if you could replace an activity that contributes one-tenth of 1% to the local economy, with one that contributes 12% to the local economy, why would you not do that?
According to recent research, the average lion is deemed to have an economic value (there is that word again) of $50,000 per year for the ecotourism industry. But, that is $50,000 for a live lion, not a dead one – and therefore, meaningless to poachers, unless the poachers convert to kidnappers and begin operating their own Poacher’s National Park and begin catering to this same photo op crowd.
So, a lion that lives an average of 13 years will generate, on average, $650,000 in revenue to the economy over their lifetime. Cecil was 13 when he was killed, so, over the course of his life, he generated $650,000 to Zimbabwe’s economy. He was killed for $50,000. But, by all accounts, he was a very healthy lion and could have lived for another five or six years, which would have yielded another $250,000 to $300,000 in revenue for the country. So, there is your “economic value” comparison.
And despite the lopsided comparison of $50,000 to hunt versus $650,000 to photograph, the true comparison is even more lopsided. Studies show that lion cubs have a mortality rate of nearly 80% during their first two years. And there is no question that there are numerous reasons for this: starvation, poaching, elephant and buffalo attacks, hyenas and nomadic lions seeking new prides. So, hunting is not the sole reason for the decimation of the lion population.
As most people probably understand, and as cruel as it seems – when establishing himself as the leader of a pride, the male lion will typically kill the cubs sired by his predecessor; thereby having the opportunity to sire new cubs with his pride. Cecil and Jericho as a team stood a very good chance of defending their pride against other nomadic lions. However, with the loss of Cecil, the odds are against Jericho to defend his territory are sadly, slim…or at least the odds are against him. That said, Jericho will risk his life to defend his territory, and the female lions will fight to their death to defend the cubs.
Cecil and Jericho actually protected two separate prides, including a total of 12 cubs and multiple lionesses. So beyond Cecil; the tragic and senseless killing of Cecil has not only ended his life, it has put to great risk Jericho, the female lions and all 12 cubs. As Professor David Macdonald, founder of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit as Oxford University so succinctly put it, “The death of one lion is not just the death of one lion, it is a cascade.”
So, we aren’t talking about the loss of a single lion and the loss of his economic contribution. We are talking about $650,000 per lion, multiplied by five… six…eight… twenty. If any of these twelve cubs are subsequently killed because Jericho cannot protect them by himself, then they produce no offspring; and their offspring produce no offspring. And if any of the female lions are killed while defending the cubs, they produce no more offspring either So, is it the loss of one lion (Cecil), the loss of his entire pride or it is even beyond that?
Are we talking about one lion or a hundred lions? Are we talking about $650,000 in lost lifetime revenue for one lion, or $65 million in lost revenue for 100 lions? I say that Dr. Palmer needs to pull out his checkbook. He needs to add a few more zeros to that $50,000 “murder for hire” check.
A hundred years ago, there were over 300,000 lions roaming the African plains. Today there are as few as 22,000 to 30,000. While trophy hunting is only one of several causes attributable to the reduction of the lion population, Cecil’s death is directly attributable to trophy hunting and the 600 lions killed every year can be directly blamed on trophy hunting. So, over a ten-year period, that is 6,000 lions; and how many additional cubs or lionesses were killed because the males were not there to protect them? Even if the number of lions killed by poachers, starvation and other natural phenomena remained, take trophy hunting out of the mix and how many lions would we have today. Well, we know at minimum, 6,000 – because that is the number killed on average the past 10 years by trophy hunters. But of course, the number would be much larger.
Although I am certainly not touting violence as the answer, I have an alternative solution that may be a bit on the macabre, but maybe it should be addressed. Given that park rangers have been given the order of “shoot to kill” any poacher, an extreme solution might be to deputize animal trophy hunters and instead of shooting the animals, they can shoot the poachers. Now, that is a story they could tell their friends and it would be much more dramatic and entertaining than a story of killing a defenseless animal. Because killing poachers is not deemed illegal, the hunters would not have to worry about facing murder charges, and perhaps they would pass a law legalizing the taxidermy and mounting of a poacher. What a story to tell their friends! to see a poacher’s head mounted above the hunter’s fireplace. It certainly would be a good conversation piece, and you eliminate or substantially reduce two of the threats to the survival of lions and species: hunters and poachers. Maybe not the best answer…but maybe it is. If these hunters really want to test their resolve and prove their manhood, then going after poachers that can equally match on firepower, that sounds like a true test to me. I will then be the first to say “Yes, you are truly a real man.” Anyone know what the economic value of a poacher is?
“Trophy hunters are conservationists because”…(Part 2) a by- product of trophy hunting is an additional food source for the local communities. I can’t speak universally on this issue and I will give the benefit of the doubt that in many cases, this is probably true. However, as it relates to Cecil, this definitely did not happen. No, his carcass was left abandoned in a field for the buzzards and hyenas, and providing sustenance for the locals was the furthest consideration from their minds.
And regardless of the circumstances, I seriously doubt that these trophy hunters truly are thinking about their proud humanitarian efforts of contributing a food source while at the same time, killing these magnificent creatures.
SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?
Should Doctor Palmer be extradited and face poaching charges? Those who defend him say no, because he relied upon a 3rd party to arrange the expedition and did not know Cecil was illegally killed. And of course, he expresses regrets because he “took” the lion. If you believe that killing a beautiful creature like Cecil make you a real man, then at least be man enough to tell like it is. You killed him, you murdered him….you didn’t “take” him. Be proud of your action!
Aside from that, does anyone believe he is really sorry? (more on that below.) No, he is only sorry because his face was plastered in newspapers and social media across the world and he became public enemy # 1. He is only sorry because he was caught. This is a man who has already been fined for illegally killing a black bear outside of an established hunting zone; and paid $127,500 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit out of court. So, he is not exactly a poster child for ethical behavior, and therefore, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.
He should be extradited and should face charges because he was complicit in the illegal killing. You have to ask yourself the question, “If he didn’t think they had done anything wrong, then why did they try to destroy the radio collar?” According to Lion Aid, it is not illegal to kill a collared lion. So, why destroy the collar? And why didn’t the law abiding Dr. Palmer seek out Zimbabwe officials or U.S. officials to let them know these other hunters were trying to destroy the collar? After all, he was there. Shouldn’t the act of destroying the collar raise a question in his mind that perhaps something illegal had occurred.
No, rather than having a concern for this suspicious act, after killing Cecil, he then asked the Zimbabwean hunter accompanying him if they could find him an elephant larger than 63 pounds (the weight of one tusk) to shoot…which apparently is a very large elephant. When they told him they could not find one that large, he left the country and flew back home. So, this is how sorry he was about “taking” Cecil. As soon as he killed a collared lion, he immediately was seeking the next kill. And notice that he was not asking for them to find the smallest elephant; so to my earlier point about weeding out the weak.
So yes, he should be extradited and he should be charged and he should face these charges, because everyone should be held accountable for their actions. But as much as I would like to see him punished, I no longer focus my anger and energy on this little man…and anyone else desiring to see a change and a ban on the hunting of lions and other threatened species should not spend any more time or energy on this little man either.
No, I have said Cecil is our touchstone and he can be the agent of change toward trophy hunting. So, utilize your energy to support The CECIL Act – or the “Conserving Ecosytems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies” Act that would extend restrictions on the import and export of animals that are being considered for inclusion under the Endangered Species Act. Write your congressional representative and ask them to support this. Ask them to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to upgrade the lion to a “threatened” species. Continue to pressure the transportation companies to ban the shipping of animal trophies.
The challenge of course is that the majority of individuals that trophy hunt are those with significant wealth and therefore, can hire the lobbyists to influence the politicians. They can hold campaign contributions as a penalty or reward for voting for or against certain legislation that would curtail or help their trophy hunting industry. The good news is that the number of people desiring to shut this industry down far, far exceed those that want to keep it afloat.
Whether that reason is the love of animals, the love of lions, the Occupy Wall Street crowd that hates the one percenters, those that don’t like the wealthy white elite, whatever the reason. Or perhaps you would like your children or your grandchildren to have an opportunity to see a lion in the wild and not just in the zoo or in an old National Geographic video, you will do something to make a difference.
And to the trophy hunters that still believe that big game hunting is conservation and helps to save these species, I have a couple of additional, alternative solutions that perhaps you might consider. As an avid photographer, I can assure you that $50,000 will buy you the absolute best, top of the line photography equipment you can by. Develop that talent; and not only could you display hundreds of the magnificent photographs of these animals in your home, you could make multiple prints and donate to the various wildlife organizations, and you could even sell prints and use this as an alternative revenue source. Hunting wild animals really only truly provides you one opportunity to brag of your greatness. Photography offers three: (1) touting your photographic skills, (2) touting your contribution to nature and conservancy through donation of your photography and (3) touting yet another way to make money.
Or, you could simply donate the money and benefit from a generous tax write-off. I’m sure all of these African parks would gladly accept a $50,000 check and think what that would do to help wildlife. Or for those that criticize animal lovers that there are much more important issues and crisis are facing today. Maybe you are right. So why don’t you contribute that $50,000 to those causes that you believe animal rights groups should be spending their time and energy on.
And finally for those trophy hunters that tout they do more for conservation than those non hunters? Well, as a non-hunter, I am proud to announce that I saved a lion today. In fact, I saved a lion yesterday. I saved a lion last week, and I saved 365 lions last year. Why? Because I did not shoot a lion today, I did not shot a lion yesterday, and I will never shoot a lion. Give me a better example of conservation than that.
Glenn Williams is an avid amateur wildlife and nature photographer, and has a love for animals, particularly the big cats. He is extremely passionate as to the plight and threat to our wildlife, and devotes much of his time to conservation and awareness of threatened and endangered species. When he is not at home, he can be found traveling with his artist wife throughout North America, seeking new adventures and photo opportunities and inspiration for his next article.