Animals Die Every Day… What Makes Cecil So Special?Matthew M. Sullivan
The following was written as an opinion. While it does contain facts, much of the content is based on inference, and should be read as such.
So you’ve probably heard about Cecil the lion and his tragic demise.
If not, here’s a quick rundown: Cecil, a protected resident of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, was lured from his home by a dentist and a crew of hired guides, where he was blinded with a spotlight so the dentist could shoot him with a bow-and-arrow.
Cecil survived, only to be tracked down by the guides and killed by the dentist. He was then skinned and beheaded, and his carcass and semi-sabotaged GPS tracker were left behind.
Cecil’s death has sparked outcry on the Internet, and has made headlines at nearly every major media outlet (and we’ve most certainly covered it too), which has led some people to ask: “What’s the deal — you care about this lion, but not [thing I care about]?”
If that’s what you were thinking while you were reading about Cecil, or if that’s what you’re thinking now, or if you’re wondering just what to think about it, then here is “the deal,” as this writer (who [full disclosure] really cares about animals) sees it:
Animals matter. You should care about them. You are one.
It used to be lions were the masters of the grasslands. You saw The Lion King; you know. However, nowadays, it’s humans — and we rule more than just the grasslands. We have the technology and the power to dominate the entire planet. We decide which animals live, and which ones die. We’re at the top of the food chain.
In fact, we’ve essentially transcended the chain itself. Aside from the billion-or-so people who go hungry each day, most of us don’t even think about how we’re getting our next meal. We’ve moved so far beyond the classical order of nature that we now kill for entertainment, not for food.
But the thing is, violence isn’t entertaining — or it shouldn’t be. It should be terrifying to anyone who witnesses it.
On the most fundamental levels, we are the same as lions. We come from the same Universe, the same galaxy, the same solar system, the same planet, the same continent. We’re made of the same material. We have a common ancestor with lions (probably this thing). To an observer outside our planet, lions and humans are the same thing: Earthlings.
And guess what? Lions have feelings (if you’ve ever lived with or met a cat, then you know). Lions are living, breathing things, with an awareness of themselves and their surroundings. Like us, each lion was born, and eventually had to learn how to get along. Lions, under threat pretty much from birth, have to learn to survive, and over time they have; nature has helped them develop a killer instinct, which they use to make their living.
We have that killer instinct too, but long ago as a species we abandoned it for the ability to think more clearly. But we also still feel.
Unfortunately, one emotion some of us feel, perhaps because of our ability to think, is boredom. Another is insignificance. Still another is incontinence. Then there’s inadequacy, and inferiority.
Are these the sorts of emotions Walter Palmer, D.D.S. felt when he handed over $50,000 for a permit that (would have) allowed him to legally kill an unprotected lion? Perhaps. We cannot know.
We can read his statement, but all it tells us about his motivations are that “bow hunting… for big game” is “an activity [he] love[s],” and he regrets that the lion he killed “was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study…”
We cannot know what he felt, but we can try to. What could he love about killing a defenseless-against-humans wild animal?
Perhaps it’s the adrenaline he gets from killing something that’s bigger than him — the adrenaline that tells him he’s not bored. Or maybe it’s the feeling of self-significance, control, adequacy, and superiority he reaps when he cuts the head off an apex predator, skins it, and takes it home to show his dentist buddies how big its teeth are.
Whatever he felt, we can try to put ourselves in his position, because as humans we also feel empathy. We can understand how another individual feels, by putting ourselves in his or her shoes, or, as the case may be, in his skin.
So then, what’s the deal with all this outrage over Cecil?
Well, it’s actually pretty simple: Those of us that feel outrage have empathy. Those that don’t, like Dr. Walter Palmer, care only about themselves. They cannot feel empathy, cannot place themselves in another’s skin — so that’s why, instead of empathizing and exercising altruism, they take off the skin, and turn it into a rug to walk on.
If you don’t like that, you can sign this petition and potentially change the world.