Score One for Cecil the Lion

Ever since the news broke regarding the horrific murder of Cecil the lion, I’ve been following this story closely, because just for once, I’d really like to see a poacher brought to justice. This time, it might actually count for something. This time, we have a poster child to put a face on everything that’s wrong with a world which is destined to drive lions and tigers and other big game animals to extinction.

The government of Zimbabwe wants to extradite Walter Palmer, which Muchinguri of Zimbabwe referred to as a “foreign poacher,” but allegedly, nobody knows where Palmer is. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to talk to Palmer as well, but despite numerous efforts which included phone calls, knocking on the door, emails, and public requests plastered all over the news, nobody can get ahold of him directly.


Palmer is issuing public statements from his hidey hole, such as espousing regret for killing the famed and popular Cecil the lion who lived in a protected game reserve, and alleging that he didn’t know that this was a tagged, famous lion. Did he know that killing Cecil would allow him to brag about killing the “world’s biggest lion”? Bragging rights are this hunter’s stock in trade. He targets the biggest and the best.

Cecil, being a rare lion in that he had a black mane, when still ALIVE, was worth at least $100,000 per year in eco-tourism. Palmer alleged that he had “not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S.” regarding this incident, which Zimbabwe press releases refer to as a “poaching event.” It’s a little hard to contact someone who doesn’t want to be found.

In the meantime, the news media is speculating about what’s going to happen to Palmer legally for killing this “iconic attraction,” and the bottom line is, few believe that he will be extradited or go to prison. Muchinguri said in a news conference that “the illegal killing was deliberate… properly orchestrated and well-financed to make sure that it succeeds.” Cecil the lion was slaughtered on July 1, 2015.

Restitution and a big fine just isn’t going to cut it, because it won’t prevent Palmer and other trophy hunters from doing this again. Trophy hunters who are willing to pay upwards of $50,000 to kill a big game animal that could end up going extinct in just a few decades, aren’t going to be deterred by paying a fine.

Word on the street is that Palmer lawyered up. Media speculation doesn’t believe that the United States will ship him off for Zimbabwe justice because of overcrowded conditions in Zimbabwe prisons, food shortages, lice, and other factors. That leaves money. And the defense lawyer speaking on behalf of Theo Bronkhurst, who was Palmer’s guide, spoke of a potential $400 fine for Bronkhorst in addition to a $20,000 “compensation bill” for Cecil’s death. I predict that when Palmer’s “restitution” goes public, the American public will be “strongly advised” by the president to accept it, leave Walter Palmer alone, and move on.

The last time Palmer got caught in an illegal hunt, for which he made “false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” he was fined a piddly $3,000, obviously not enough to prevent him from doing it again. Even a fine of $20,000 or $50,000 or $200,000 is not going to send the message that hey, we are NOT going to tolerate this bullshit any more!

In an unrelated case from 1997, a trophy hunter made a $20 million dollar donation to the Smithsonian Institution. His association with the Smithsonian allowed him to seek a special permit to import an almost extinct animal that he’d killed. The article mentions “vigorous lobbying campaigns” from hunting associations to “relax import restrictions.” Make sure to read page two of the article, because it’s a real eye opener.

The issue of trophy hunters targeting rare and endangered species is not new, and it has been in the spotlight before. The Smithsonian paid more than $280,000 in legal fees and offered testimony in a 1990 case involving the killing of rare animals in China.

We didn’t fix it in 1990, or in 1997, or the countless other times that this issue has been brought to the fore, and here we are now, facing it yet again. If you’re rich enough to pay $50,000 to kill a lion, such as a rare lion with a black mane who lived in a state park, then you aren’t going to sweat paying big fines, any more than the big game trophy hunter who donated $20 million to the Smithsonian. These men have big money, so fines are not going to protect Earth’s endangered species from them.

Once the legal speculation regarding Walter Palmer’s killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe died down, the next thing the news media came out with was a report that Palmer had hired a spin doctor to repair his damaged reputation, and shortly after that a bunch more news stories came out that sounded suspiciously like a spin doctor preparing the public for Palmer getting off easy.

And then came a welcome piece of news. Score one for Cecil the lion! Two public relations firms dropped Palmer like a hot potato, presumably because the backlash had gone “thermonuclear” and they, also, had come under attack for representing him.

So if public relations firms for Walter Palmer aren’t behind the media spin doctors, then who is? Maybe the pro-hunting lobbyists, or maybe the government itself, because millions of people are going to be royally pissed off if Palmer doesn’t end up in prison.

People like me, who aren’t buying into his declarations of innocence, or the whitewash job that lions really aren’t endangered and that trophy hunters are providing a necessary service to both the wildlife, and to the human life in Africa.

People like me, who believe that unless his punishment is severe, as in serving time in prison, this will just keep on happening until all of the lions are dead, and all of the tigers are dead, and all of the elephants and rhinos and polar bears and leopards and other big game animals are dead.

All of these magnificent animals, and others, are in genuine peril of going extinct if we don’t do something to stop it NOW. The senseless slaughter of Cecil the lion put a face on a very serious issue, and we have a chance to make a difference.

So what should you know about the whitewash job that somebody is trying to hide behind? Let’s analyze the myths.

  • Myth #1: The hunter did not know that Cecil was a famous lion. He trusted the guides.
  • Myth #2: Allowing trophy hunters to hunt lions is the only way that we can protect the lions from extinction.
  • Myth #3: Trophy hunting brings necessary money to poor communities, and trophy hunters are providing food for hungry people.
  • Myth #4: Cecil was at his life’s end anyway. He would have died within a year or two.
  • Myth #5: Lions are not an endangered species. It’s not like they will go extinct just because of a few trophy hunters.

Debunking Myth #1: The hunter did not know that Cecil was a famous lion. He trusted the guides.

What is the likelihood that Cecil’s death was a case of mistaken identity and not a case of deliberate lion poaching as the government of Zimbabwe and others allege? That Cecil was mistaken for just another wild lion that nobody recognized?

Cecil the lion had a black mane, which marks him as rare and unusual, and it paints a trophy hunter’s target on his back. In addition, killing Cecil SPECIFICALLY allowed Palmer to boast bragging rights for killing the “world’s biggest lion.” This does not sound like a random kill to me. It sounds like a TARGETED kill. Especially when you take into consideration that Palmer wanted to kill a “massive elephant” after slaughtering Cecil the lion, but could not find one that was “large enough.”

On the night that Cecil was killed, Jericho came out of the park first, but Palmer did not shoot Jericho. Instead, he waited. Cecil and Jericho reigned jointly over a small pride of lions, and they were the only two males. Brent Stapelkamp, who was studying the Hwange lions through an Oxford research program, is quoted as saying that the hunters waited because they didn’t want a blonde-maned lion, they specifically wanted “the big black-maned lion.” Cecil and Jericho were tracked by the GPS collars that they wore, so there would be a record of their movements that night, including Jericho exiting the safe zone in front of Cecil.

The grass had just been cut in the location where Cecil was shot, the same location that the hunting party had dragged an elephant carcass to lure the lions, as if to clear the area so that nothing would obstruct the hunter’s shot. Cecil was delivered to Walter Palmer “like a pizza” according to Stapelkamp.

Keep in mind that lions control territories. Each lion pride carves out a region for itself and defends that region from other lions. It’s no different than humans dividing ourselves into countries, or even buying a house and a piece of land and putting up a No Trespassing sign.

If you come up to the edge of my property looking for a dog to photograph, or steal, or kill, then you expect to encounter my dog specifically, because this is his territory. When the hunters chose a location from which to lure a lion out of the Hwange National Park so that it could be hunted, they chose Cecil’s territory.

Walter Palmer’s hunting guide in Zimbabwe was professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst, of Bushman Safaris — the very founder and owner of Bushman Safaris since 1991. In other words, Bronkhorst worked this region for 24 years. His company is based out of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, which is less than 50 miles from the border of Hwange National Park, according to maps of the park and Google’s map measuring tool. A random search of Zimbabwe safari companies in general shows that both Cecil and Jericho were indeed well-known lions, personally named on tourism safari sites. A Victoria Falls online guide to Hwange National Park features a photo of Cecil and Jericho.

This was not the first time that a lion was lured out of the protected nature preserve to be killed, according to lion researcher Brent Stapelkamp. It happened several times before and nobody was ever caught. The senseless murder of Cecil the lion, one of the park’s major tourist attractions, was the “final straw.” Stapelkamp and others decided that it was time for this to stop. They were fed up with hunters getting away with killing lions from the park. Presumably that’s how the story went public.

Cecil also had a very large, prominent, easily-visible tracking collar because he was part of an Oxford University lion study. Since the study began, a whopping 39% of the lions tagged for the study have been slaughtered by trophy hunters: 24 of the 62 tagged lions are now dead, their heads probably hanging on some trophy hunter’s wall. “Cecil was not afraid of people and so relatively approachable,” the article added. This video shows tourists photographing and filming Cecil, who does all but pose for the jeep full of tourists. You can also see that he is collared.

Wildlife photographer Paul Runze echoed the approachability of Cecil the lion, and Runze posted a video that he’d taken of Cecil the lion four years ago, with commentary. He pointed out that Palmer was working with a man whose property was adjacent to the park where Cecil the lion lived, and stated that there aren’t just a bunch of lions running around where you’re saying “Who’s that? Who’s that?” because the locals know who these lions are.

Debunking Myth #2: Allowing trophy hunters to hunt lions is the only way that we can protect the lions from extinction.

American trophy hunters are responsible for killing over 50% of the lions that die every year in Africa by trophy hunting. And the rarer the animal, the more bloodthirsty the hunters are to kill it.

In one instance, an endangered sub-species of Kara Tau Argali sheep, scientifically known as Ovis ammon nigrimontana, of which only 100 were left in the entire world at the time of the killing, was allowed by the government of Kazakhstan to be killed by a trophy hunter who was willing to “donate” millions of dollars to the Smithsonian, who assisted him in seeking an import permit.

Public outrage interfered with the process of getting a “special permit” to import the trophy. Allegedly this was not an illegal hunt, in spite of the rarity of the animal. Wayne Pacell of the Humane Society of the United States said that “trophy hunters can do almost anything they want in these countries if they have enough money.” So big fines are not going to protect endangered species from going extinct.

Trophy hunters also claim that lions and other animals would quickly go extinct without this form of hunting. The logic is that as long as lions are valuable, i.e. worth $50,000 as a head to be hunted, the locals are willing to tolerate lions and wildlife habitats in their vicinity. But that as soon as trophy hunting is banned, lions lose their value and the locals kill them off for food, or to sell for lion bones, or to get rid of a livestock-eating nuisance. Allegedly trophy hunting pays for the very existence of wildlife habitats, and safari operators finance anti-poaching efforts. If this is true, if hunting the Hwange lions benefits the Hwange National Park, then why was a Friends of Hwange Trust set up to counteract a lack of funding for the park, which caused the water holes to dry up in 2005 and animals to die? And why isn’t Theo Bronkhorst or his company listed as a donor in 2014?

And you DON’T want to know what a “canned hunt” is… If you think what happened to Cecil the lion is beyond comprehension for any ethical person, these trophy hunters are so greedy for the kill, that they’ll gladly put a bullet into a TAME lion in a fenced enclosure. Is this what trophy hunters mean when they refer to “maintaining wildlife habitats?” And does the number of lions bred just to be hunted, add to the overall lion population as reported? We need to get angry, and STAY angry until world governments get together and put an end to this bullshit.

Debunking Myth #3: Trophy hunting brings necessary money to poor communities, and trophy hunters are providing food for hungry people.

Cecil the lion was famous in his own right among eco-tourism guides because he was approachable and easily photographed by tourists. His very existence, ALIVE, was valued at millions of dollars over the course of his life, from sightseers and tourists. Zimbabwe would have earned more in five days just from the tourism that Cecil the lion drew, than was earned from this one-time senseless slaughter. Cecil the lion was Hwange National Park’s biggest tourist attraction. Now he’s just a hunk of dead animal, killed to stroke one man’s ego — One Man — a man who boasted to a bartender that he now held the record for killing the world’s biggest lion, and he showed her pictures on his cellphone according to news reports.

After Cecil the lion was shot with a crossbow and spent the next 40 hours running for his life, the hunters caught up with him, then shot him dead with a rifle, skinned him, beheaded him, attempted to hide or disable the tracker he was wearing, and then left the body to rot.

THEY LEFT THE BODY TO ROT.

How is that feeding people? Even the money isn’t reaching the local community, it’s being pocketed by the hunting industry and government officials, according to an article on trophy hunting in the New Yorker.

Tourism, however, promotes the protection of endangered species as proven by the country of Rwanda, and it brings money into the communities. Ex-poachers in Rwanda earn more by being eco-tourism guides than they did as poachers. Eco-tourism fees support modern schools and electricity in nearby villages. Locals can sell souvenirs to tourists, as opposed to trophy hunting where the money primarily goes into the pockets of rich people and governments.

Debunking Myth #4: Cecil was at his life’s end anyway. He would have died within a year or two.

Cecil the lion was nowhere near the end of his lifespan. Contrary to the many misguided or misinformed news reports, lions don’t die of old age at 15 or 18 years old. The true life span of a lion is 25 to 30 years. A lion living in a protected environment, such as a zoo or a protected game reserve, where they are supposed to be safe from being shot by trophy hunters, can live as long as 30 years — Thirty Years. The only reason you see the number 15-18 bandied about is that they are killed off in the prime of their life, by trophy hunters, poachers, farmers, deadly wildlife traps, and other lions. Several other sources bear this out as well:

  • “They have lived 30 years in captivity.” — International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada
  • “The oldest known lion was 30 years old.” — Encyclopedia of Life
  • “Maximum longevity: 27 years (captivity)” — Animal Aging and Longevity Database
  • “The full length of a lion’s life does not appear known, but it has been ascertained that they will live to thirty, and it is said even till forty years.” — The Great Roosevelt African Hunt and the Wild Animals of Africa, by Axel Lundeberg and Frederick Seamour, in 1910
  • “They are said to live to an age of thirty or forty years.” — A Synoptic Text-Book of Zoology for Colleges and Schools, by Arthur Wisswald Weysse, Ph.D., in 1911
  • “The natural period of a lion’s life is generally supposed to be 20 or 22 years. Such is Buffon’s limitation, but the animal will, it seems, live much longer. Pompey, the great lion which died in 1760, was said to have been in the Tower [of London] above 70 years; and one from the river Gambia is stated to have since died there at the age of 63.” — The English Cyclopaedia, Volume 2, by Charles Knight, in 1854
  • “There are cases on record where lions have lived to be seventy years old in captivity, although they lose much of their beauty and show signs of decay rather early, in spite of the best of care.” — Brehm’s Life of Animals, by Dr. Alfred Edmund Brehm, in 1896

The discrepancy in aging could be attributed to species of lions, as two have gone extinct. It could also be a case where lions today are highly stressed by humans, on the run from hunters and poachers and farmers protecting livestock, and even in humans stress takes a toll. We don’t allow them to live in the freedom that they once enjoyed, even in the wilds. People are everywhere. Being in a zoo or enclosure is not conducive to optimal health, either, much like a sedate person who doesn’t get enough exercise. Most of all, hunters WANT us to buy into this notion that they are simply culling aged and elderly lions. So somebody created a “new normal” for the lion’s lifespan.

Cecil was only 13 years old, and he had a family. Cecil originally had eight cubs. Only two lions protected this lion pride, Cecil and Jericho, and now that only one lion is left to protect two families, there is a high probability that young male lions from outside the pride will attempt to take over the females, which means killing Jericho and all of the cubs. If this happens, Jericho and the cubs don’t stand a chance. One lion cannot hold his own in a takeover. What’s more, Cecil’s black mane may have offered additional protection just for being black, because black-maned lions are less likely to be attacked by outsiders, giving their offspring a higher survival rate.


After Cecil disappeared, Jericho called out to his friend, reaching out at night with strong deep contact calls. In the meantime, he was the sole male protector of Cecil’s lion cubs, along with three lionesses. Jericho is in danger not only from rover lions, but of being taken down by trophy hunters as Cecil was, because Jericho’s favored haunt is a farm near where Cecil was killed. At one point, Jericho wandered off to spend time with a female lion, who was also collared and being tracked by GPS.

At one point it was actually reported that Cecil’s cub had been killed by a rival lion in an effort to stake a claim over the lionesses and the territory which had belonged Cecil and Jericho. This report was inaccurate in that the cub had actually died prior to the killing of Cecil, and the cause of death wasn’t given. The death of Cecil could still trigger the death of his seven remaining cubs, and unless Jericho succeeds in teaming up with one or more male lions, he is at risk, too. Reports that one of Cecil’s cubs was killed by rival lions after his death was in error, in spite of reports to the contrary, according to David MacDonald of WildCRU (Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.)

Debunking Myth #5: Lions are not an endangered species. It’s not like they will go extinct just because of a few trophy hunters.

Zoo director Jungle Jack Hanna estimates that there were 450,000 lions in 1947, which dropped to about 100,000 lions in the 1970s, and that today, there are less than 30,000 lions. That’s a decline of 93% in 68 years.

The African Wildlife Foundation gives similar numbers, estimating between 500,000 and 600,000 lions in 1900 versus 30,000 today, for a decline of 95% over the past 115 years.

Lion Alert gives a decline of 68% over the past 50 years, from 100,000 lions down to 32,000. Panthera Wild Cat Conservation estimates that lions have vanished from over 80% of their historic range, and have gone extinct in 26 countries. Kenya is expected to join the list of countries where all the lions are extinct by the year 2030.

There are even estimates that the number of lions worldwide is actually only 20,000 rather than 30,000. Hunters, however, argue these numbers with dismissive counter-arguments that we can’t possibly know how many lions existed in 1947 or any other year, as if that can justify the senseless continued slaughter of these majestic creatures.

Defenders of Wildlife predicts that wild lions will become extinct by the year 2020. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicted that “unless aggressive measures are taken to protect lions, their prey and habitat,” lions will go extinct by 2050. They will not withstand the expected human population explosion in addition to all of the other threats.

More than 560 lions are killed every year in Africa by trophy hunters, and as many as 62% of lion trophy hunters are estimated to be from the United States, so yes, if the U.S. government gets serious about preventing big game animals from going extinct, it will make a difference. Other countries need to get serious as well, however, to stop the doom that these animals are facing. Poaching and human-lion-conflict issues need to be dealt with in conjunction with trophy hunting for these majestic big game animals to have a chance at survival.

So where does this leave us? Cecil the lion is dead. Tigers are on a fast track to extinction and lions aren’t far behind them. Big fines are not going to stop rich trophy hunters (or poachers who profit from body parts, or ego-motivated killings.) Somebody is working hard to convince the outraged public that we are overreacting. And in the end, we probably won’t get satisfaction for this senseless, brutal, death of a lion whose home was a protected game reserve.

Unless Palmer ends up in prison, the global outrage that he encountered may be the only backlash that makes trophy hunters think twice. Especially if PR firms realize the folly of taking on this type of client. When I read that two public relations firms didn’t want to touch this with a ten foot pole, I cheered, out loud, fist in the air, standing in my living room.

Yeah! Score one for Cecil the lion!

Tears rolled down my cheeks and I looked upward, giving thanks.

Cecil, we won’t let your death be meaningless. This time, we have a face to represent a species of majestic big cats, begging not to be hunted to extinction.

This time, we have a face to represent all of the evils whose end game will be a world where lions, and tigers, and elephants, and leopards, and rhinos, and polar bears, have all gone extinct. Where our great-grandchildren look at photos of their ancestors (meaning you and I) and ask, “Why did you let this happen, grandpa? Why didn’t you stop it?”

Do something. Say something. Blog about it. Talk about it. Tweet it. Share it. Don’t let this issue die. Don’t let the media sweep this under the rug. In just two days, the slaughter of Cecil the lion and everything that it represents fell off the top stories in the news media. Is that all his life was worth? Just two days? Is that the extent to which we, as human caretakers of planet Earth and all of its species, are willing to invest in the gift of living on a planet rich in biodiversity?

Part I — Cecil the Lion is Dead — Justice for Cecil
Part II — Score One for Cecil the Lion
Part III — Restitution by Walter Palmer for Killing Cecil the Lion

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For more news stories on the horrific slaughter of Cecil the lion, read these:

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I became aware of the rapidly declining populations of the big cats in 2013, while researching the back story for King of the Forest, which is the third book of An Acre of America Backyard Nature Series. This back yard nature photoblog features full-color photos and fun facts about the amazing insects, animals, and plant life that lives on our one acre.


An Acre of America Backyard Nature Series for Adults

    

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