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The Ethical Dilemma Of Cecil The Lion. What Does This Story Tell Us?

[For updates on the responses to Cecil’s murder, see below]

Chances are you’ve heard about the murder of Zimbabwe’s famous lion, Cecil. The story of Cecil’s death at the hands of sadistic dentist Walter Palmer from Minnesota has become international news, and has brought a great deal of necessary attention to the evils of big game hunting. Cecil is the face of trophy hunting now, but between 1996 and 2006, nearly 96 lions were hunted. PER YEAR. Rhinos are also extremely vulnerable, with 15-20 killed a year by poachers and hunters. It is time to make a greater push to make sure heartbreaking stories like this never happen again.

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Cecil with part of his pride.

Hunting for “sport” has been controversial since its inception, bringing up questions of the morality of killing animals simply for a laugh, as well as the penchant of humans to wipe out entire species for no good reason. The Dodo bird is obviously the go-to creature when talking about extinction, but on July 27th of 2015, not even a week ago, we saw one of the last 5 white rhino’s left pass away. It is only a matter of time before we lose the last 4. Their drive to extinction is due to human desire for their horns, and we are very, very good at killing what we want. As we have advanced as a species, more people are realizing that animals are just as important to the world as people are (although how this was ever a question is depressing in its own right). Trophy hunting has become unpopular to a more educated public.

Sadly, improving technology has made hunting easier for people that still have an overwhelming desire to kill for a head or skin to hang on the wall. With increased ability to trap, drug, trick, or force animals out of their homes and into vulnerable spaces, not to mention advancements in weaponry, people who otherwise wouldn’t brave being on the same continent with some of these creatures are comfortable going on trophy hunts.  And big-game hunting is almost more damaging than it ever has been.

Cecil was a famous lion living in a protected area of Zimbabwe, part of a conservation and educational effort working to save and renew lion populations in Africa. He was tagged with a GPS collar in order to study the movement of the pride, and to protect the lions from poachers. The men tied a dead animal to their car, encouraging Cecil to follow them out of the protected area. Then Palmer, who paid $50,000 for the chance to kill a lion, shot Cecil with a crossbow. However, Palmer is apparently a terrible shot, and only managed to wound the big cat. It wasn’t until 40 hours later that they managed to find him, and finish him off with a gun. They then removed the head and skin before trying to destroy the GPS device that was on Cecil – an action that puts a hole in Palmer’s argument that he thought everything was aboveboard. As he’s done in the past, Palmer took a photo with his trophy so he could show off just how brave and tough he really is.

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Palmer after another “brave” hunting trip.

Considering the number of hoops Palmer had to go through to lead Cecil out of the national park, it is highly unlikely that he wasn’t aware of the illegality of his actions. In fact, Palmer has a long history of “trophy” hunting. He has murdered leopards (pictured above), elk, wild boar, a bear (a kill that saw him convicted of felony poaching), and even a rhino! He likely knew what he was getting into, as poaching and trophy hunting are very closely related. This monumentally vulgar practice has led to 24 of the 62 tagged lions in the national park being killed for “sport” since 1999. For perspective, only 10 died naturally over that same period. Lion slaughter in Zimbabwe is a microcosm of a larger issue: ability to essentially buy a trophy like Palmer did.

Since the story hit the news in the last few days, Palmer has refused to answer his phone, and actually closed his practice for a few days in an attempt to dodge facing the blowback (including 40+ PAGES of negative Yelp reviews). Prominent figures like Ricky Gervais and Jimmy Kimmel  have had passionate reactions to the story as well, helping to keep the story alive and spreading it to people that might otherwise miss the details of this tragedy.

Palmer raises the question of how America can handle its citizens committing serious crimes overseas. While the men who helped Palmer kill Cecil were arrested, they were released on $1,000 bail, and any conviction is nebulous at best. Palmer himself has yet to be contacted by officials from Zimbabwe or the United States, and whether he can be charged in either country is doubtful. This kind of legal grey area is a major blow to deterring hunters. Even a felony conviction for poaching in Wisconsin didn’t stop Palmer from continuing to hunt, he just went farther out to do it.

While passing anti-poaching laws is essential to helping protect these animals that so desperately need it, we need to evolve as a culture and stop celebrating the outdated, bloodthirsty, and sadistic “sport” of trophy hunting. We should be terrified that there are still people out there that are so excited and aroused by murdering large animals, simply to prove their superiority over nature. Fighting the arrogant trophy hunting culture and enacting laws that strongly punish poachers will be difficult, but despite the Herculean effort required, it will create a better world for everyone, animal and human alike.

You can continue to help the fight to protect animals like Cecil. We are still fighting to protect animals from trophy hunting, as well as raising money to protect African species from poachers. It may take time, but we can stop this vile practice!


Cecil’s tragic murder and the uproar following it has lead to international outcry, from citizens, to governments, and even corporations. In a matter of days the Zimbabwe government has suspended trophy hunting of lions, leopards and elephants around national game preserves. They have also suspended hunting with bows around the preserves. The key word here is “suspend” though. This is not a BAN on hunting, just a suspension. Whether there will be new rules or protections around hunting when it is reinstated has yet to be discussed, but the pressure to ban hunting outright will continue until their final decision.

Another positive change in response to Cecil is the ban of transporting trophies when traveling on Delta, American Airlines, and United flights. The ban covers any animal “trophy” from being flown from the country it was hunted in. In a statement, Delta airlines stated that, “effective immediately, Delta will officially ban shipment of all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies worldwide as freight.”

This is a huge step in putting a stop to trophy hunting worldwide. Hopefully other companies will be following the lead of Delta, United, and American Airlines.

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Adam Greene may reside in West Michigan, but the majority of his time is spent providing a comfortable lap for his many animals. When not covered in cats, he is probably writing and drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee.