I was in Zimbabwe earlier this year, and was told not only of Cecil the "friendly lion," but reminded of the terrible loss of lions, elephants, giraffes and of course rhinos, especially outside of preserves.
My friend who works in animal conservation reports that in the Tsavo region of Kenya alone, over 100 elephants are killed every year by people who are being paid by criminal syndicates and terrorists to get the ivory. Over 100,000 African elephants have died since 2012.
Big cats are shot all over Africa -- cheetahs, lions, leopards. And tigers are critically endangered in the Far East. The fear among those who care about these wild animals is that it is too late to save them from extinction.
Wealthy, entitled hunters eager to bag an "exotic" animal for their wall mounting are one problem. Poachers, looking for a way to make money on rhino horns, ivory and other animal products are the major killers.
We are probably already aware of this wide-spread travesty. But why has Cecil's death resonated so deeply?
Probably because this iconic thirteen-year-old lion trusted people, was well-known, and was lured away cravenly from his safe place and his family. Social media flashed photos of the animal is all his beauty, gloriously alive -- and then dead, with grinning hunters above him.
We know that this lion represents so many others, a symbol in this unfair world of the millions of animals -- and yes, people -- who have been hunted down, tortured and killed for no good reason -- those who are dependent, those who are different, those who are weak, those who are lured away for wrong reasons in an unfair world. And there is no way to justify this. The incident jolts us without the cover of politics or nationhood. We are forced to see our worst selves: greedy, vain and cruel.
The question has been asked by some why we seem to mourn this lion more than we mourn when a human is murdered. I'm not sure that is true. Perhaps it is because animals represent a different species, sharing the earth with us and dependent upon us not to destroy them.
Killing this magnificent animal of the highest order presents a larger picture of the hubris and destruction of humanity. It is writ large. It makes us see ourselves beyond politics or national lines, or religion, or racism but in the largest sense possible, by species. And when we see how flawed we are in this large way it makes us sad for humanity in a way that is different from any other. We mourn for the animal, and for ourselves.
Jane Goodall said of this murder: "I was shocked and outraged to hear the story of Cecil, Zimbabwe's much loved lion. Not only is it incomprehensible to me that anyone would want to kill an endangered animal (fewer than 20,000 wild lions in Africa today) but to lure Cecil from the safety of a national park and then to shoot him with a crossbow...? I have no words to express my repugnance. He was not even killed outright, but suffered for hours before finally being shot with a bullet. And his magnificent head severed from his wounded body. And this behaviour is described as a "sport." Only one good thing comes out of this - thousands of people have read the story and have also been shocked. Their eyes opened to the dark side of human nature. Surely they will now be more prepared to fight for the protection of wild animals and the wild places where they live. Therein lies the hope."
For those who want to do something now, in honor of Cecil and the other animals who have been destroyed, find an organization trying to put an end to poaching with credible field programming. Two are Panthera and The Tsavo Trust.
"Therein lies the hope."