Cecil the lion is dead, killed illegally in Zimbabwe by Walter Palmer, an American dentist and recreational big-game hunter who paid about $55,000 for the privilege.
The details of Cecil’s killing are disturbing — and they’re important for understanding why this has become such a controversy.
The majestic lion was lured out of a national park with food, shot with a crossbow, tracked for 40 more hours, then finally killed with a gun the following morning, before being beheaded and skinned.
“Large, powerful, but regal”
Cecil was a famous and beloved lion in Hwange National Park, known as the ‘Pride of Zimbabwe’. He was identifiable by his unique black-fringed mane.
The lions in the park have been studied by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at Oxford University as part of a scientific project that has run since 1999 and his movements had been followed since 2008.
“Cecil was the ultimate lion,” says Brent Stapelkamp, a field researcher with Oxford University’s WildCRU, who knew Cecil perhaps better than anyone else.”He was everything that a lion represents to us as humans,” Stapelkamp says. “He was large, powerful, but regal at the same time.”
“The collaring of lions like Cecil have given us a vast amount of knowledge about lions and their behavior in the environment,” Stapelkamp told National Geographic.
Global outrage grows
The death of Cecil the lion triggered widespread rage, indignation, even disgust and horror. Palmer received a flood of hate messages and activists posted the dentist’s private details online. Protesters gathered outside Palmer’s dentist office, where services have been discontinued in the midst of the controversy.
Famous primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall spoke about Cecil, saying, “He was not even killed outright, but suffered for hours before finally being shot with a bullet … And this behaviour is described as a ‘sport.'”
“Only one good thing comes out of this,” she said. “Thousands of people have read the story and have also been shocked. Their eyes opened to the dark side of human nature. 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.”
The film Blood Lions premiered on 22 July at the Durban International Film Festival. The film uncovers the ugly story behind South Africa’s predator breeding and canned lion hunting industry
Blood Lions follows acclaimed environmental journalist and safari operator Ian Michler, and Rick Swazey, an American hunter, on their journey to uncover the realities about the multi-million dollar predator breeding and canned lion hunting industries in South Africa.
It is a story that blows the lid off claims made by these operators in attempting to justify what they do. Last year alone over 800 captive lions were shot in South Africa, mostly by wealthy international hunters under conditions that are anything but sporting.
In conjunction with the film, a Blood Lions campaign has also been launched with the aim of putting an end to this practice where, “at least two or three captive bred or tamed lions are being killed in canned hunts each day in South Africa.
Cecil’s death created an outrage among animal conservationists, prompted responses from politicians and many other people. A number of celebrities publicly condemned Cecil’s killing, including Mia Farrow, Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Goodall, and others.
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) July 28, 2015
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) July 29, 2015
— Dr. Freek Vonk (@freekvonk) July 29, 2015
I hope that #WalterPalmer loses his home, his practice & his money. He has already lost his soul…
— Sharon Osbourne (@MrsSOsbourne) July 28, 2015
— Ricky Martin (@ricky_martin) July 28, 2015
What an excellent example of evil cowardice as Dr Walter Palmer beheads that majestic creature. That title “Dr” should be revoked.
— Lisa Vanderpump (@LisaVanderpump) July 28, 2015
Animals are not trophies. Ever. #CecilTheLion
— mia farrow (@MiaFarrow) July 29, 2015
Jimmy Kimmel on the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Calls for trophy hunting ban
The killing of Cecil has renewed calls among activists for a ban on trophy hunting of animals such as lions in Africa.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (WCTF), told the Star on Wednesday that a moratorium should be placed on trophy hunting in Zimbabwe after Cecil’s killing.
“You have to decide what conservation is,” Chris Mercer with the Campaign Against Canned Hunting told National Geographic. “I would define real conservation as the preservation of natural functioning ecosystems. On ranches where farmers buy animals, put them on their land, bring the hunters on to shoot them, and then go back and buy more — that has nothing to do with conservation.”
Lions are designated as vulnerable on an international “red list” of species facing threats. African lion populations have fallen almost 60% over three decades, and as few as 30,000 of them are left across the whole African continent, living in isolated populations.
Trophy hunters legally kill at least 600 lions per year. Export of lion trophies to the US account for 64% of lions killed.
The US government is currently deciding whether to add lions to its Endangered Species Act, which would ban their import.
Through petitions millions of people are urging governments to take stand against trophy hunters.
Big-game hunters in the crosshairs
The killing of Cecil the Lion has stoked a debate around a growing trend in trophy hunting of endangered species. The question about the legality of Cecil’s hunt has shined a light on the dark side of legal trophy hunting, which is allowed in some African countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa and banned in Botswana and Zambia.
Many people around the world are increasingly voicing their opposition to big game hunting, both illegal and legal.
Conservationists and politicians have called on the EU to ban the import of lion heads, paws and skins as hunters’ trophies from African countries that cannot prove their lion populations are sustainable.
Zimbabwe calls for US lion hunter to face trial
Investigations suggest the killing of Cecil was illegal because the landowner “was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015,” said a statement from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Fleeing from the attack, it took more than 40 hours for the hunters to track Cecil and finish him off with a rifle, the Zimbabwe authorities said.
The dentist admits that he paid $50,000 to travel to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and used a dead animal as bait to lure the lion out of the protected area.
Palmer is now in hiding somewhere in the United States, and his exact whereabouts remains unknown.
The US dentist who killed a lion in Zimbabwe should be extradited to face charges, Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri has said. Walter Palmer’s extradition was being sought so that he could “be held accountable for his illegal action,” she said.
The US Department of Justice declined to comment on the extradition request but confirmed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was investigating the circumstances of the lion’s death.
Effect on Tourism
“A lot of people travel long distances coming to Zimbabwe to enjoy our wildlife and obviously the absence of Cecil is a disaster,” Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe said on Tuesday.
Zimbabwean government officials stated that the killing of Cecil had already caused a drop in tourism revenues. A significant drop was noted in Hwange National Park, where the lion had lived.
Many international tourists, who had planned to see the lion, had cancelled their trips. “This killing is a huge loss to our tourism sector that was contributing immensely to the national wealth”, said Emanuel Fundira.
Head of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Karikoga Kaseke, said that “Tourism was booming, but Zimbabwe was now perceived as a country which was not interested in protecting and promoting animal rights, and this had also had a negative impact on the tourism sector.”