The king is dead


Cecil was, we are told, “famous.” A protected resident of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, the 13-year-old male lion wore a GPS tracking collar and was, we are told, an “attraction” for visitors to the game reserve, the largest in the country, identifiable by his black mane. That black mane now sits on a head that was severed from his dead body, presumably awaiting a taxidermist in Minnesota to stuff it and mount it for the wall of a dentist’s surgery. Around 40 hours before his head was removed, the still living Cecil was tempted outside the national park’s boundaries using bait and shot with a crossbow.

The dentist who shot him is Walter Palmer, the grinning fucking bastard in the shot that was shared all around the world, who now claims. “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite … and part of a study until the end of the hunt.” So no remorse for shooting a lion with a crossbow and causing it untold pain for 40 hours before it was eventually put out of its misery with a bullet, but some remorse for doing so to a “local favourite.” He says he “relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.” It’s legal to shoot lions, just not this one. It’s interesting that even when speaking in his own defence, Palmer uses the verb “took” when he admits to killing the lion (“I had no idea that the lion I took was …”). He can’t even say the word for what he did.

I don’t care whether Cecil was “famous” or not. I don’t care whether he was tagged or not. I don’t care whether he was or wasn’t within an arbitrary “protected” area or not. What are sentient human beings doing “legally” shooting lions in Zimbabwe, other than feeding the local economy and giving themselves a hard-on? That the possibly impotent Palmer is an American rather feeds into an existing archetype of trigger-happy Yanks whose rifles will have to be prised out of their cold dead hands before surrendering them. But I don’t care what nationality he was, or what job he does (or did, when he’s been run out of Minnesota by an angry mob – or would be, if that angry mob ever left their houses); I only care that he seemed to be pretty pleased with himself for mortally wounding a large wild animal.


What century is this? In the ugly days of Empire, colonialists thought nothing of entering a foreign land and shooting anything unusual they found there, including the native humans. (And if that didn’t finish them off, they gave them diseases they’d brought overseas with them.) But we live in more enlightened times, now. We appreciate that the earth’s resources – animal, vegetable and mineral – are finite. The African lion is not an officially endangered species (the Asian lion is), but it is categorised as Vulnerable (“faces a high risk of extinction in the near future) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And anyway, it’s being hunted in Zimbabwe and elsewhere for sport. A special sport whereby the opposing team have no equipment and you do. Palmer was not intending to eat Cecil for survival or wear his skin for warmth, as far as I know.

The only good to potentially come of Cecil’s brutal and sadistic death by a serial killer is that the image speaks louder than words, and who knows, maybe it will seriously raise international consciousness about conservation not just of wildlife, but of the wild they live their lives in. He was not called Cecil. Other lions did not know him as Cecil. Humans who at least wished only to study him and trace his movements and conserve him named him “Cecil” to make it easier to log him. They meant no harm.


Lesson one: let us not tar all dentists as inhuman murderers. Lesson two: let us not use the death of #CecilTheLion to get all high and mighty about who cares the most about what and whom. I’ve seen a lot of largely American traffic on Twitter calling for people sharing the Cecil hashtag and their outrage to “REEVALUATE” (often typed in caps) and spare a thought for Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old African-American woman who died in a Texas jail on July 13 after being arrested for a minor traffic violation. I have spared many thoughts for her since learning about her death and seeing the dashcam footage of state trooper Brian Encinia threatening her (“I will light you up”). It is possible to care about a lion and a woman. I suspect I am not alone in this regard. I wish it wasn’t always men who wreak this violence.

Postscript: I trod on a snail on Monday, by accident, after the rain brought them out. I killed it. I am able to use the word for what I did. But I didn’t pay anybody for the pleasure, and in fact experienced only sorrow and regret. Nor did I get a selfie with its corpse.



4 thoughts on “The king is dead

  1. Exactly. Exactly. Thank you for putting it so well. And your point about “trigger-happy Yanks” (I’m a Brit but have lived in the US a long time)—there are plenty of those, true, but there are also plenty who are horrified and sickened by the gun violence here and by the evil killing of Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Although I did see someone wearing a “Keep Calm and Carry Guns” T-shirt the day after the Charleston church shooting. No words.)

    What is it with people and their hideous “need” to hunt down any animal, from overbred imbeciles going after foxes to just-folks shooters of moose (I’m in Maine) to those bastards who kill, skin, decapitate, and stuff protected creatures like Cecil?

    And, yes, you can be outraged about Cecil and outraged about Sandra Bland. I am. You don’t have to choose, and the Twitter holier-than-thous calling for those posting about the lion to #reevaluate will likely never understand that.

  2. Wish I could work out how to post your stuff to Facebook (whether or not anybody is listening). Just posts hyperlink-which is not enough, I think to get people to click. Anyway, thank you for your blogs.


  3. Excellent post Andrew. Given the outpouring of rage from the US, it does make me a mite angry that there isn’t this much “universal” condemnation when innocent people are gunned down (as they most frequently are) in their own country. Where’s the universal outrage and demand for retribution/justice then? It’s a funny old planet….

  4. I actually think “took” is somehow worse than “killed”. Killing the lion is nothing: a trivial matter of firing a projectile into a defenceless animal from a cowardly safe distance. We could all kill a lion if we really wanted to – and if there were more lions to go round. The majority of people could probably make a less dreadful job of it than this great Palmer did. Well, with a little expert help they probably could.

    What he did was he took a lion. He figured… OK I don’t know what he figured. I don’t know what he was thinking. But I think he must have somehow figured that he deserved a lion. His need for a lion’s head was greater than a lion’s. So he went out to Africa and he took one.

    Despite his wealth, he couldn’t actually buy the lion. The lion wasn’t for sale; the lion belonged to the lion. He took the lion from the lion. He took the lion from the lions. He took the lion from all of us. And he took it because he thought he should have it.

    I struggle to understand the people I share this planet with – especially the ones who don’t want to share. A wealthy middle class man grabbing for himself something that belonged to no one and to everyone. No, I mean, why would something like that trouble me so much?

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