The story of Cecil the lion hit hard in the West, but are we forgetting to have the same compassion for ordinary Africans?

No one could imagine such a tragic death for Cecil the Lion, a local favourite and a research animal, in Zimbabwe. Cecil’s death grabs the headlines and unleashes mounting international outrage. Yet, some question whether Cecil deserves equal, if not more, attention compared to the millions of Africans ‘killed or left hungry by [their] brethren, by political violence, or by hunger’.[1]

On the 1 st of July 2015, American dentist Walter Palmer, who paid $54,000 US dollars for local assistance, lured Cecil out of the protected territory and shot him with a bow and arrow. The arrow failed to kill him. Still breathing, Cecil was only shot dead 40 hours later. He was beheaded, with his corpse rotting under the sun.

‘In Zimbabwe, We Don’t Cry for Lions’, a controversial op-ed piece, Goodwell Nzou, the author, deplored the undue sympathy on Cecil’s death.[2] The lion, his childhood experience has taught him, are ‘objects of fear’ and ‘menace families like [his]’. The lion’s killer, be that ‘a local person or a white trophy hunter’, frees villagers from life threats. Nzou saw the uproar as the ‘starkest cultural contradiction’ he had ever experienced in the United States. Americans, he believed, should not ‘care more about African animals than about African people’.[3]

Zimbabwean blogger Fungai Machirori also calls for attention on political injustice in Africa. The missing of Itai Dzamara, an activist, serves as an example, not including the lives of over 10 million Zimbabweans struggling under the poverty line. She ridiculed that ‘in a time when the BlackLivesMatter movement continues to gain traction . . . the world . . . cast[s] no thought or concern for [African] people’.[4]

Despite what Nzou and Machirori have argued, the world cares about the Africans and others. The world has pumped billions of dollars into Africa for years. In 2012, the United States Agency for International Development alone gave over $2.5 million to 33 African countries.[5] The world has also tried to watch out for social injustice and suffering around the world, from victims of the Boxing Day Asian Tsunami in 2004 to the drowning Turkish refugees reaching Greek Dodecanese Islands.[6]

Besides, Nzou should not juxtapose trophy hunting with ‘killing a lion that poses a threat to human life’.[7] Trophy hunting is ‘a specific and selective legal form of wildlife use that involves payment for a hunting experience and the acquisition of a trophy by the hunter’.[8] Trophy hunters target the rarest and the oldest wildlife animals and import their body parts, legally or illegally, into their home countries. To shoot a fearsome beast with a bow and arrow, instead of a rifle gun, was ‘not the most efficient way to kill but rather a way for an egotistical hunter to prove his prowess’.[9]

The Cecil furore is a special case. People cry for Cecil’s death not just because trophy hunting threatens the survival of endangered African lions.[10] They also care what Cecil’s death symbolises: how the wealthy sneak through all legal loopholes and do whatever they want.

Palmer epitomises those in power paying no regard to law and justice. Palmer is a poaching recidivist. In 2003, Palmer was found guilty of fishing without a licence, a misdemeanour, in Otter Tail County in western Minnesota. In 2008, Palmer pleaded guilty to poaching a black bear in 2006. The bear, killed 40 miles outside of a legal hunting area, was transported by Palmer and others back into the legal zone. The federal government sentenced him for one year of probation and fined him nearly $3,000 US dollars. Despite the charges, Palmer continues his hobby. According to Safari Club International, an elitist trophy hunting organisation, Palmer has a record of 43 kills, including a polar bear and a mountain lion.[11]

The culprits shoulder no responsibility. In reaction to worldwide backlash, Palmer stated that to his knowledge, ‘everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted’.[12] His accomplice, the local guide Theo Bronkhorst, also denied any charges in court.[13]

Voicing out, sadly, fails to move the sclerotic leadership in Zimbabwe. Although the petition, ‘Demand Justice for Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe’, gathered more than one million signatures, it achieved little.[14] The Zimbabwean Government lifted the trophy-hunting ban, which was introduced for a week, on the 9 th of August.

The Cecil uproar, indeed, vents the seething frustration of the powerless over the powerful that control almost every part of our lives. Anger against Palmer and trophy hunting only explains part of the story. Palmer also represents a case of ‘yet another wealthy guy did as he pleased with no concern about the consequences’. In other times, the same could be said ‘to the middle class worker, or to our financial system, stock market, real estate market, the list goes on’.[15]

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/opinion/in-zimbabwe-we-dont-cry-for-lions.html?_r=1

[2] Goodwell Nzou is a doctoral student in molecular and cellular biosciences at Wake Forest University

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/opinion/in-zimbabwe-we-dont-cry-for-lions.html?_r=1

[4] http://voicesofafrica.co.za/beyond-cecil-lion-issues-media-need-cover-zimbabwe/ as cited in http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/03/africa/zimbabwe-other-problems-cecil-the-lion/

[5] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/208292.pdf

[6] For instance, see BBC coverage on the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-30537152

[7] This is part of the comment by New York Times reader Elizabeth Bennett. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/opinion/in-zimbabwe-we-dont-cry-for-lions.html?_r=0

[8] https://www.savetherhino.org/assets/0001/7279/What_is_trophy_hunting.pdf

[9] This is a comment by john795806 from Kenya on Nzou’s article.

[10] For the reasons to protect endangered species, please refer to https://ypte.org.uk/factsheets/endangered-animals-of-the-world/is-it-important-to-save-animals-from-extinction

[11] http://www.startribune.com/what-we-know-about-minnesota-dentist-walter-palmer/318943371/

[12] http://www.startribune.com/read-the-full-statement-from-walter-palmer/318947551/

[13] http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/world/africa/guide-who-led-hunt-that-killed-cecil-the-lion-in-zimbabwe-says-he-did-nothing-wrong.html

[14] http://www.thepetitionsite.com/821/738/351/demand-justice-for-cecil-the-lion-in-zimbambwe/

[15] This is a comment by New York Times reader Tom J. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/opinion/in-zimbabwe-we-dont-cry-for-lions.html?_r=1