Cecil the Lion, as he was known, was a lion who lived in Zimbabwe. You’ve probably seen the media storm and public outrage this week about his murder. A wealthy American paid to hunt down Cecil—at night, by luring him out of a preserve—and shoot him with a crossbow.
It was nothing but a cowardly act by a small-minded trophy hunter, hell-bent on proving his sense of worth by killing others.
What I learned from the frenzy this week is that it pays to have a name. Cecil was a lion who’d been photographed by tourists for years (he was 12 or 13). He was GPS-collared and was part of an Oxford University study. But he was no different from many other lions that wealthy westerners (usually Americans) pay to kill. Six hundred lions are killed in trophy hunts every year, according to National Geographic.
Cecil sparked public outcry because he was well-known. In the same way we mourn for a celebrity’s death, but not the random people who also die.
For most people, the lion is a majestic creature. King of the jungle. We don’t associate them with food or clothing. That’s another thing Cecil had going for him. People around the world have issued hate mail and death threats to Cecil’s killer, and vigils and protests have sprung up at the man’s business.
Most of the people disgusted with Cecil’s death likely also eat and wear other animals. It’s a disconnect. Melanie Joy addresses this topic in-depth in her book, Why we Love Dogs, Eat pigs, and Wear Cows. This phenomenon (of loving some animals and eating others) she calls carnism. The book explains how people compartmentalize and justify this discrepancy.
It’s okay to mourn for Cecil. His death was a tragedy. His pride is in jeopardy, and his cubs will likely be killed by competing lions. But we need to also mourn for the millions of dogs and cats who are euthanized each year because they have no homes. And for the billions of farmed animals whose lives are brutal and short. They are all as precious as Cecil and as deserving of life.
We can’t stop evil people from hunting (although signing the petition to ask Zimbabwe to stop issuing hunting permits or the petition to include lions on the endangered species list would help). But we can adopt dogs and cats and never buy from breeders. And we can choose to not eat animals.
If you’re not already, please go vegan—for the countless animals just like Cecil, who are worthy of our admiration and who want to live.