Cecil The Lion: What His Life And Death Means For Animal Rights

Cecil The Lion lounging in Hwange National Park In Zimbabwe

The death of Cecil the lion has hit us hard. He was a majestic creature living protected in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and an active participant in an Oxford University research project. Cecil had a pride and cubs, but American dentist Walter Palmer paid $55,000 for what he believed was his right to kill, skin and decapitate the lion.

Social media outrage was quick and overpowering, forcing the dentist to close his practice, which has a growing shrine of stuffed animals (including one for Cecil) outside his front door, and disappear.

Ideas on what to do with the wayward dentist, once he’s finally caught, run from extradition to Zimbabwe to setting him loose amongst a pride of lions and allowing them to hunt him for the sport of it.

But no matter what ends up happening to Palmer, what does Cecil’s death mean for animal rights? Has global awareness been raised that animals are not here simply to feed us or wile away an afternoon waiting for them so we can shoot them and mount their heads on our walls? Or, after all the hullabaloo dies down, as it surely will, will we all just go back to our lives and turn a blind eye to the needless killing?

The Cost Of Conservation and Protection

The argument for being able to kill exotic beasts is that the money hunters pay to do it goes towards the upkeep of the kind of conservation land Cecil lived a protected life on. But as the Huffington Post has proven, that argument doesn’t really add up.

Certain studies have discovered that only a small percentage of the money from trophy hunting gets into the local economy. And that’s not all; Evan Hjerpe, director of the Boise, Idaho-based Conservation Economics Institute, talked about how bringing trophy hunting into the mix complicates the whole picture.

“Trophy hunting can maximize the price of permits, but it can create conservation backlash. Hunters are targeting the largest and most beautiful species, and that may impede other strains of conservation funding. If certain funders don’t like that there’s a trophy hunt going on, they may withdraw funding for that program. It’s a sticky situation.”

A Cecil By Any Other Name…

Cecil was a lion with a name, and a beloved one to boot. Maybe that’s why people are up in arms. Would they get as upset if it was a nameless lion who didn’t live in a protected park or even another animal without a name?

Salon cited the fact that during our outrage over the death of Cecil, another northern white rhino died in captivity, leaving only four left in existence, and five elephants on the endangered list were shot by poachers for their ivory tusks. Plenty of animals die everyday and we don’t paint the internet with our ire for each and every one of them.

The message seems to be that Cecil’s death is just another drop in the bucket — a large drop, but that it will, nevertheless, return to calm, as it must. It’s really up to us what’s going to happen with animal rights now that Cecil is dead.

Putting A Positive Spin On An Otherwise Senseless Act

When Jimmy Kimmel devoted an opening monologue to Cecil on July 29, he called for some positive action instead of a witch hunt for Cecil’s killer.

Here’s Cecil the lion, enjoying time with his pride during his prime. R.I.P. Cecil.


[Image courtesy Andrew Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Unit via Slate]