Over two decades of campaigning for lions' protection, I've seen the battle get worse and worse. Not only for lions, but for us.
Cecil's brutal slaying is blowing the lid off a much bigger lion crisis known as Canned Lion Hunting -- a shadowy sub-industry in which baby cubs are offered to tourists to pet for a price, then put into cages to be shot by international trophy hunters when they are adults. This means that South Africa's thriving tourism industry is directly linked to the killing industry. The cub you cuddle today will probably end up as a tame lion for the likes of Walter Palmer, or worse, to shoot for fun.
If that is not bad enough, here are three facts you should know:
- There are many more lions in cages than in the wild.
- Wild lion populations have declined 80% over the past 50 years, the decline drastically escalating in the past 20 years.
- If this trend continues, lions will be extinct in our lifetimes.
Now that the horrendous truth is finally being exposed, it's time to shift gears and reach out across the battle lines.
Walter Palmer has been holed up in an undisclosed destination while the death-threats pile up against the doors of his closed dental practice. Understandably, the people of the world are outraged by his brazen brutality in causing the death of Cecil, Zimbabwe's beloved black-maned lion.
Why then, on August 10, 2015 -- World Lion Day -- did I reach out to Walter Palmer and invite the world's most wanted man to come out to join our team's efforts in protecting Africa's lions?
"The killing has to stop. This is a real offer," I told him. And I meant it.
As a long-standing conservation organization, we are taking a great risk, but it's a leadership position that could change the stakes for lions and ecosystems.
After committing my life to this battle for decades, it's deeply encouraging to see that the tragic death of one noble lion is resulting in global unification on an unprecedented scale behind one single united cause.
So why be caught up in the hysteria of the Cecil tsunami, when there are so many other worthy causes?
Because what happens to lions directly affects us all.
Lions speak to our hearts. They inspire us to restore values of courage, love and truth in our lives, and they demand that we restore this kind of leadership in our world.
This is precisely the kind of leadership we are witnessing amongst people and even corporate entities. The world's airlines united behind the same cause of protecting endangered species by refusing to carry trophies and animal parts as cargo. A lion-hearted thank you, and congratulations on taking an ethical stand. Don't we just love their joint statement: "It's a long way to swim from Africa with your trophies." Now it's up to us lion-hearted people of the world to support their position through booking only on principled airlines. This leaves South African Airways out in the cold, still brazenly carrying trophies and animal parts as cargo.
But lions don't only inspire true leadership, they play an absolutely fundamental role in protecting ecosystems, while ecosystems support all life on this planet, including our own survival.
In nature, the apex animal keeps the entire balance all the way down through the prey species, plants, water and soil. It's called 'trophic cascading.' If ecosystems collapse, our systems will also collapse.
So, we need to ensure our human systems and legislation support these all-important ecosystems.
If we rise to the challenge, the tragedy around this one lion will help reform our policies for Lions, Land and People.
As the king, lions are the most trophy hunted animal on earth. So, we urgently have to put laws in place to protect them, which will set a positive precedent that will protect all endangered species. Especially, given that the United States is responsible for as much as 60% of the trophies leaving Africa. But then the EU is responsible for as much as 30%. So, no one is really off the hook.
Amidst the backlash of commercial interests in the massive trophy industry, which keeps throwing weak money arguments at us at the expense of our earth's survival, it is critical we stay strong and demand that politicians follow through on their public statements.
To ensure that the plight of endangered species is also high on the United Kingdom's government agenda, my organization, the Global White Lion Protection Trust, has helped initiate a new All-Party Parliamentary Group of MPs in Britain, which highlights the need for more to be done to ensure wildlife is protected.
Similarly, it's greatly encouraging news that four Democratic U.S. senators announced they intend to introduce a bill named after the beloved Zimbabwean lion: The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act. Note: The "Large" refers to the notorious "Big 5," the most targeted species on the trophy hunter's hit-list of which we've said Lions, and unfortunately the White Lions, are number 1.
Walter Palmer: Put down your weapons and come join the winning side, so that we all can see a positive way forward.
Lions and nature are on our side.