Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why Cecil the Lion's Death Matters

Cecil the lion - Photo credit to Bryan Orford/YouTube
By now, most people know about Cecil the Zimbabwean lion who met his demise due to scrupulous tactics of local poachers and a wealthy dentist from Minnesota named Walter Palmer. All of these men are now facing poaching charges in the African nation, and the dentist may face other charges here in United States. Furthermore, the dentist has actually temporarily closed his dentistry due to the outpouring of public outrage and his family has received death threats. Some people are also outraged at the pressure the dentist and his family are facing.

While Cecil and the dentist may be the celebrities of this tale, the story is so much bigger than either of them. Poaching situations like this happen every day across the globe and even here in the United States. While some countries take poaching seriously, here in the United State, poachers like Walter Palmer rarely see jail time and usually do not pay a hefty fine. Palmer admitted in 2008 to lying to a federal agent about the area he shot a Wisconsin black bear. He had a hunting license for a specific area but illegally hunted forty miles away from the area and claimed he shot and killed the bear in the authorized zone. For this episode, he was facing a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He was sentenced to one year probation and fined nearly $3,000. In 2003, he was caught fishing without a license in Minnesota and paid a minimum fine. With such little consequence, it is no wonder Palmer and others like him continue to have illegal hobbies that wreak havoc on wildlife and the ecosystem.

Palmer, now known as the notorious dentist, has already established himself as a big trophy hunter. As a member of the Safari Club International, he is listed as having 43 big trophy kills on record, and these other kills include a polar bear, a walrus, a mountain lion, moose, dear, buffalo, a wolf, rhinoceros, and California Bighorn sheep. The Safari Club International is notorious for killing animals for sport, and in a rare move by them, Wednesday night, they suspended Palmer's membership as well as the guide he used in Zimbabwe in light of the investigation into "unethical hunting practices".

While several African species are considered endangered, it does not stop them from being hunted to near extinction, and what they do is actually legal. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, over 600 African lions are estimated to be legally hunted for sport each year. With only about 30,000 lions remaining in Africa, this means that 2% of the total lion population is wiped out every year.

Most hunters also aim to shoot a healthy male lion which also affects populations, not only from removing reproducing males, but when a pride's leader is killed, the rising male of the pride usually kills any male cubs that were produced by the previous pride leader that was killed. Since Cecil was killed, it's predicted that rising pride male Jericho will kill off all of Cecil's male offspring. Not only does this wreak havoc on the lion's pride but on the entire ecosystem, removing natural predators for absolutely no reason beyond someone's "thrill of the kill".

Sadly, wealthy American tourists, are making the largest takes in Africa and a 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare claims that 64% of all African lions killed for sport between 1999 and 2008 were killed by American tourists. Unfortunately, the number of lion trophies imported into the US is rising, and in 2008 the number of lion trophies imported was more than twice in 1999.

Hunting wildlife for sport must be stopped across the United State and abroad. With the public outrage over Cecil's death, we need to use this momentum to make changes for wildlife. Below are just a few ways we can make a difference:

  • stiffer fines for unethical hunters like Palmer and for guides that commit illegal acts,
  • ban big game trophy mounts from being imported into the United State, especially those that are considered threatened or endangered species, 
  • teach future generations respect for wildlife and that they shoot trophy animals with a camera instead of a weapon, and 
  • bring stories like Cecil to light in order to bring more awareness of poaching and endangered species.

Hopefully, the media continues to share stories like Cecil's and people continue to be outraged at people like Walter Palmer. These heartbreaking stories need to heard and are much more important than stories about deflated footballs and what Hollywood starlets are wearing. While this may be shocking to some, these stories are even more important than Donald Trump.

While I could write much more on wildlife and poaching, I will stop here and save more thoughts for a future post. While Cecil's death is sad, it can also be a catalyst for significant change for wildlife. In closing, I ask that you talk to others about poaching and respect for wildlife. Likewise, please support Nature Abounds and other organizations that are working on wildlife and other environmental issues. With your support, we can make a difference for the other Cecil's out there.


  1. Great article. I am appalled at the 2% kill rate of an already dwindling species for "sport" and big money. And that number does not even take into account the kills due to the shifts in the lion pride structure (more infant lions killed). I agree with you.

    1. Thank you, Antonio! Hopefully Cecil's death can be a catalyst for change.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Melinda,
      While some of your points are on target, sport hunting is a tool recognized by conservationists around the world that can be used to benefit conservation of certain species -- especially those which are more dangerous to local people. For sure regulations need to be improved, enforcement of best practices strengthened and quota setting done in line with behavioral ecology of the species, but I believe banning trophy/sport hunting would doom more species than it would save.

      Please look into this further and try to talk to people who are working to save these species, even reach out to some professional hunters to understand their ethics around their work. SCI is a good place to start.

    2. For some good reading, check out this paper by IUCN: