Tony Jackson looks at the truth behind the hype that surrounded the killing of Cecil the lion
On 1 July 2015, an elderly 13-year-old black-maned lion, anthropomorphised by the name of Cecil, was legally shot but wounded in an area outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The hunter was an American, Dr Walter Palmer, using a bow under the guidance of professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst. The lion was tracked and despatched 11 hours later. Dr Palmer had a permit to hunt a lion and was not charged with any crime. It was, in hunting terms, a non-event; nevertheless the press got hold of the story and it went viral.
What had been a relatively unremarkable hunting encounter caused a worldwide flurry of media attention and hysterical outrage from animal conservationists, celebrities and even politicians. The unfortunate Dr Palmer, a dentist, at once became a figure of hate. More than a million people signed an online petition called Justice for Cecil. Musicians composed works to honour the deceased lion, a late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, by weeping on television, managed to raise $150,000 in donations for Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), which had been responsible for tracking the lion. Artists created works dedicated to the deceased big cat, while PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) suggested that Dr Palmer should be hanged.
Anti-hunting conservation organisations
Most dangerous of all, the incident provided an opportunity for anti-hunting conservation organisations to propose new legislative measures aimed at banning aspects of hunting.
The repercussions were worldwide. Five months after the incident, the US Fish and Wildlife Service added two sub-species of lions in western and central Africa to the endangered species list, making it increasingly difficult for US citizens to hunt these animals. France, the Netherlands and Australia banned the import of lion trophies and more than 40 airlines refused to transport hunting trophies from the big five species. However one airline, South African Airways, which had instituted a ban in 2015, lifted it three weeks after the Cecil incident. Zimbabwe at once suspended big game hunting — but lifted the ban 10 days later.
So why such a global fuss about the hunting and death of a lion? The truth of the matter is that none of the “facts” churned out by the anti-hunting lobby were correct and simply reveal their ignorance. The animal was one of 45 lions in Hwange National Park that had been fitted with research collars by a team of scientists from Oxford’s WildCRU. Dubbed Cecil, the lion was well known to visitors to the park.
Few male lions reach the age of 10
He was not an important pride male and at the advanced age for a lion of 13 — few male lions reach the age of 10 — had been forcibly evicted from his family pride inside the park and was superfluous to the game reserve’s lion population. As is normal in this situation Cecil was hounded and harassed by younger, stronger males. To escape persecution, he took up permanent residence on adjacent private land just outside the park’s boundary. He remained there for three months.
The inescapable fact of animal life is that when an erstwhile dominant male lion is deposed, starvation, being killed or incapacitated by other lions or torn to pieces by a pack of hyenas will likely be the cause of its eventual death. When the animal’s physical condition declines due to malnutrition, diseases that it may have borne all its life without a problem erupt to hasten its death. A once dominant male lion in the Kruger National Park, when ejected from his pride, rapidly deteriorated and it was only a matter of time before he was shot. When examined, his stomach was found to contain nothing but chewed-up porcupine quills.
The lion legally shot by Dr Walter Palmer was saved the suffering and indignity of a thoroughly unpleasant death. This is not understood by those who have no real knowledge of wildlife management nor the realities of life and death in the animal world.
Walt Disney world
By giving a wild animal a human name, an illusion is created that meets the demands of the Walt Disney world which motivates so many of the so-called animal lovers who hold the delusion that an old lion, having served its pride, should live the rest of its life in tranquility and peace. The fact of the matter is that Cecil the lion was lucky to be hunted and shot before declining into a certain lingering and unpleasant death.
My good friend Allan Schenck, who is a leading hunting outfitter in the eastern cape of South Africa, has pointed out that Cecil was one of 65 other lions that had been hunted legally outside the Park boundary. He was also one of 45 lions tagged with research collars by the scientists from the Oxford University Research team, the purpose of which was to determine just what happened to territorial male lions after they had been deposed by younger and stronger challengers inside the Park.
Incidentally, one of Cecil’s sons was shot this July by a hunter outside the Hwange National Park. The hunt was perfectly legal, the lion was more than six years old and the professional hunter, Richard Cooke, took care to return the electronic collar the lion was wearing to the researchers in the Park. Dr Andrew Loveridge from the Department of Zoology at Oxford University fitted the collar in October 2016. The lion was monitored daily and the research team was aware that he had been outside the Park for six months. Dr Loveridge noted that Mr Cooke had returned the collar and explained that the lion had been hunted and shot under legal conditions.
The Cecil the lion saga
The Cecil saga was manna from heaven for the animal rights lobby. The entire story consisted of highly emotional fabrications designed to rouse an ignorant public’s conscience and, as is always the case, the more intense the debate the more cash it generated for the animal rights coffers. However, the facts surrounding the drama were swiftly exposed by Ron Thomson, a founding member and now chief executive officer of the True Green Alliance (TGA), a relatively new southern African organisation. It was established to discredit and counteract the pernicious and expanding doctrine of the animal rights movement and to help create a society properly informed with regard to the principles and practices of wildlife management.
Mr Thomson, a leading expert in practical wildlife management, has exposed the nonsense surrounding the Cecil affair and, as a result, the TGA is now fielding a team of experts that will constantly and actively counteract animal rights propaganda and help to destroy the credibility of the animal rights movement, not only in southern Africa but also globally.
The Cecil the Lion incident was exploited by the animal rights movement to generate funds and global interest for their philosophy, itself based on ignorance and a total misunderstanding of wildlife conservation and management. However, the truth will always out and, given sufficient media exposure, Cecil may not have died in vain.