It’s been a few weeks since Cecil the lion was shot and became a posthumous celebrity and an unwilling martyr against trophy hunting.
Trophy hunting happens every day. This doesn’t make it right. It is cruel, barbaric and cowardly – hardly a man versus beast battle. But, rarely does it make the news.
What was different with Cecil the lion is that he was well known in Zimbabwe, a local celebrity. No longer was this seen as a ‘victimless’ crime… for once the truth got out.
The level of anger and dismay at the death of Cecil was truly overwhelming.
Many were outraged by the fact he was killed at all, that he took 40 hours to die and by the fact that had this been another lion (not Cecil who was tagged and ‘protected’) then this would actually be legal.
With wild lion populations decreasing by 60% in the last three decades and fewer than 30,000 African lions left in the wild, it seems so illogical this could be the case.
All around the world Walter Palmer’s face became well known – here was the dentist that killed animals for fun. Other pictures soon emerged, of him posing proudly beside a leopard, a bear and even a rhino – more of his trophy kills. The question on everyone’s lips was how could someone who was clearly intelligent and medically trained derive pleasure from this?
Sometimes we unite in tragedy. I don’t quite know what it is that makes one event lead to global outrage when others don’t, and in honesty sometimes it doesn’t seem as though we always pick the most appropriate story to focus on. But it’s certainly the case that the world united against the pointless killing of magnificent creatures like Cecil.
What we saw pan out isn’t uncommon though. Where a handful see harmless fun in killing things, the majority see pointless and cruel suffering, not acceptable in modern, civilised society.
When it comes to the world of animals, trophy hunting is just one problem. In the UK, time and time again polls show around 80% of the population want to keep the ban on fox hunting, yet a small minority do all they can to undermine or repeal the ban in any way possible.
Then there’s commercial whaling. It’s banned globally. Any sane mind knows it is wrong to kill these, often endangered and globally protected, species. But, Iceland (mainly owing to one man’s whaling crusade), Japan and Norway go against the wishes of their people and the global community and carry on killing whales.
It’s against all logic and, incidentally, even against good economics, as there is no real demand for whale meat.
These killings are often wrapped up in a package that others can digest. Trophy hunting is defended as conservation, despite research showing as little as 3% goes back to the local communities and the rest goes to hunting firms and government officials. Fox hunting is dressed as wildlife management and something that is good for the countryside. Whaling is often defended as scientific research.
I sometimes wonder who the killers of these animals are trying to convince – us or them?
It’s good to see people unite. That’s how things change. Let’s all hope the outrage that Cecil the lion’s pointless death caused leads to positive changes in laws and in attitudes. Let’s hope he didn’t die in vain.
Philip Mansbridge is UK Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
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