Some people say that it's crazy to give a lion a name, that ultimately a lion is just a lion and that it's just one of many. But, the truth is this one was different.
Cecil the lion was killed by a wealthy American dentist named Walter Palmer in a misguided apparent show of strength, skill and machoism. Apparently using a cross bow takes great skill. But with all due respect Walter, I think I could shoot an arrow at a 150kg lion that had been lured close to me and cause an equal amount of pain. I would probably also fail to make a clean kill, and also cause 40 hours of inevitable suffering, as was the case this time. I could probably even then track down the wounded lion and shoot it at close range.
The thing is though, I never ever would, and nor would any of the millions of people around the globe that are truly outraged by this pointless slaughter for cash. The simple reason why we wouldn't is because we have a moral compass, and because we respect wildlife and the need to live in harmony with nature. And also, I have no need to attempt to prove myself or my manhood. If I wanted to do that I'd probably just go to the gym or challenge someone to an arm wrestle!
So, what started as a seemingly regular hunting trip for Walter Palmer has changed his life in ways he couldn't possibly have imagined. Now the tables have turned and the hunter has become the hunted. Walter probably now faces losing his business and even prosecution in Zimbabwe. But this man's fate and future earning potential aren't the real issues.
One issue is that the trophy hunting industry is often claimed to be big business for Africa. Though, IFAW has found that while nature based tourism does play a significant role in national development, trophy hunting is insignificant as across the investigated countries and trophy hunting income was only 1.8% of tourism revenues.('The £200 million question', 2013)
Another big issue is that trophy hunting is often conveniently packaged up under the guise of conservation, like all hunting tends to be (in the UK for example, equally barbaric fox hunting is always absurdly dressed up as pest control or wildlife management). So is it right for rich westerners to be able to fly in, shoot some wildlife and then jet off?
Many people are surprised to hear that many African countries, including Zimbabwe, have a model that allows wildlife to be shot for big bucks. The idea is that the money from these big game hunting expeditions flows right back into conservation, helping local communities value and protect their wildlife. But the facts of this are starkly different. IFAW's study showed that as little as 3% of income from this activity goes into conservation.
Assuming that this model is the same for the hunting concession that allowed Walter Palmer to kill Cecil for a bit of fun, of the $50,000 paid by Walter to fund his bloodlust, only $1500 would have found its way back into conservation! When Cecil was alive however, he was one of Zimbabwe's key tourist draws, helping prop up a massive safari industry which helps to create and maintain thousands of local jobs each and every year. And this in a country that, given the political situation, may be said to have little to attract overseas visitors without the pull of nature.
Then there's the pure conservation argument. Nature, by its very own virtue, has a pretty natural way of managing itself. With the loss of the dominant male, Cecil's pride will now be invaded by other males, fights will occur and his six cubs will most likely be killed. Whilst bloodthirsty tourists continue to kill, the cycle will start again.
African lions have lost over 60% of their population in the last three decades and there are now fewer than 32,000 African lions in the wild. Killing them, or any endangered wildlife for 'fun', just doesn't stack up, no matter how you cut it.
Cecil was just one, and yes, because he was 'famous' and had a name he is getting more attention, but that isn't the point. Every single one matters, and Cecil is one of hundreds of lions killed pointlessly for 'pleasure' and a photo on social media each and every year.
Let's hope this global outrage makes Cecil an unwitting martyr for the cause, now so many people recognise that this just isn't acceptable.