Tribute to Cecil the Lion: What We Can Learn from His Death

July 31, 2015


The Story  

As many of you already know, Cecil the Lion was killed this month by American dentist Walter James Palmer. The thirteen-year-old animal was well known to tourists who visited the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe for his friendly demeanor. According to The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Dr. Palmer partnered with two other men, a farmer and professional hunter, reportedly paying an estimated $50,000 for the opportunity to hunt and take down the famous lion.

Despite it being illegal to hunt wildlife at night, the group located and lured Cecil out of protected territory by tying a dead animal to the back of their car. Dr. Palmer then shot the lion with his crossbow, wounding but not killing him. Afterwards, the group tracked Cecil for almost two days before Dr. Palmer finally fired several fatal shots from his gun. Once dead, the men skinned and beheaded Cecil, but not before taking gruesome photographs posing with him. Officials say that there were also unsuccessful attempts to destroy Cecil’s collar that was fitted with a tracking device for research by Oxford University.



Photo: NY Daily News

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority stated in a press release that “. . .both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.” What’s worse, Cecil had 12 cubs, all of which will likely be killed by the remaining male in the pride.

The world was outraged by the death of the beloved lion, taking to social media to vent their anger and sadness. As a result, the Twitter and Facebook accounts of Dr. Palmer have been taken down along with his professional web site due to negative comments. His dental office has remained closed. Currently, he is wanted in Zimbabwe for poaching charges.

While Dr. Palmer claims he had proper permits and was unaware that the hunt was illegal, this is not the first time he has violated wildlife regulations. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges of killing and transporting a black bear in Wisconsin 40 miles outside of protected territory and has other smaller, hunting related convictions.

Why did this happen?

Unfortunately, Cecil symbolizes the brutal reality of trophy hunting and hunting tourism that has become so prominent in today’s world. Dr. Palmer isn’t the first wealthy person to pay a large sum of money to kill animals. Kendall Jones, a blonde cheerleader from Texas sparked extreme indignation on the internet after she posted photos of herself posing with her kills, including a lion, giraffe, white rhino, and threatened African leopard. Why is this being allowed? Avid hunters often cite conservation as their number one reasoning behind killing, stating that they donate millions each year to protect habitats, bring back endangered species, and generate funds for economies. Further, hunting tourists in Africa may donate the meat of the hunted to feed nearby impoverished villages.

That said, it seems pretty obvious that hunters only fund conservation efforts in order to be able to continue killing animals. And not surprisingly, plenty of corruption and contradictions exist. For example, according to the Humane Society, past president Kenneth Behring of the infamous International Safari Club, an organization of which Dr. Palmer was a member, paid the government of Kazakhstan to shoot a Kara Tua argali sheep while only 100 remained at the time.

Can good really come from bad?

Absolutely. When tragedy occurs, it is easy to be overwhelmed with feelings of anger and sadness but what we should be doing is asking ourselves how can we make Cecil’s death meaningful? How can we restore honor back to the beautiful creature who touched so many hearts? There is always something positive to be garnered from negativity. Cecil’s death has shone an important and bright spotlight on both hunting tourism and trophy hunting. He has been the catalyst for much-needed discussion and debate that will ultimately lead to change.

Protests have been scheduled to take place in front of Dr. Palmer’s dental office in Minnesota. Emirates SkyCargo airline has also banned the transportation of trophy hunting cargo, following in the footsteps of South African Airlines, the continent’s largest airline. Other carriers with total bans include Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and British Airways & Iberia. When will the United States follow suit? There is currently a petition that has reached over 380,000 signatures demanding Delta Airlines, one of the world’s largest airlines and the only carrier to offer direct service to South Africa, end its transport of hunting trophies.

Kenya banned trophy hunting nearly 40 years ago, and in the past two years other countries like Botswana and Zambia have done so as well. There are now several petitions from various organizations calling for a ban on trophy hunting, including one on the site Care2Petitions that has already reached over 800,000 signatures as a result of Cecil’s death.




Photo: Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr

Gandhi once said, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” I stand by his words. While trophy hunting and tourism are not likely to stop any time soon, we can still educate ourselves and continue to push for an end. Cecil’s death was certainly a terrible tragedy, but he has opened the eyes of many and for that, humans and animals alike should be forever grateful.


Want to get involved? Check out the wonderful petitions and organizations below. And don’t forget that you can always create change in your own community by volunteering to help local animals in need!

Care2Petition asking Zimbabwe to stop issuing hunting permits for endangered animals, in honor of Cecil.

Delta Airlines petition asking Delta to stop the transport of trophy hunting cargo.

African Wildlife Foundation

National Geographic Big Cats Initiative

Lion Guardians


Savannah DiGregorio is a writer from Nashville, TN currently pursuing her love of literature and the environment in school. When her nose isn't buried in a book, she enjoys spending time with her three crazy dogs, tutoring, hiking, and browsing thrift stores in search of the perfect antique typewriter to add to her collection.


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