Cecil the Lion: a Distraction From Substantial Issues

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By Chase Parongao

Think back to a time when you went to the zoo. Wasn’t it amazing to see such beautiful creatures right before your eyes?  I remember being so intrigued by the wide array of animals that roamed the grass, swung from trees, swam in ponds, and relaxed under the shade.  The best part was reading about the animals’ lives – where they were born, what they eat, where their natural habitat is, and finding out their name.  It was like no other experience.  Even in my adult years I still find myself getting lost in each animal’s life as if I were their friend.  As memorable as the zoo is, the recent issues surrounding Cecil the Lion made me wonder if this interspecies relationship has caused us to go blind to “real” problems.

Because of the love humans have for animals, there are movements in which mankind comes together to protect and save endangered species. When watching TV, you have probably come across a commercial featuring a montage of sad, abandoned cats and dogs asking for donations. All of these acts of kindness aimed to save animals illustrate how much humans empathize for animals.  It comes with no surprise that when the news of the killing of Cecil the Lion hit mainstream news outlets, there was a massive uproar by animal rights activists and ordinary people alike.

Cecil was a 13-year-old male lion in North Zimbabwe, who was one of the main attractions of the Hwange National Park. He was often used in studies and was well-known for his black mane, which contained a GPS for tracking purposes. In June 2015, a Minnesota dentist named Walter Palmer paid an accomplice to hunt and kill Cecil for approximately $50,000.  Cecil was lured in with food and a scent and was shot with a bow and arrow.  His death came 40 hours after the initial shot when the hunter took his life with a rifle. Zimbabwean police have arrested the two hunters involved with the killing of Cecil, while Palmer remains in hiding.

The killing of the lion has received heavy coverage by the media, which has led to some policy changes.  Delta Airlines now bans the transportation of slain trophies to the US.  Also, authorities in Zimbabwe are cracking down on illegal hunting and poaching and have ordered a suspension on the hunting of leopards, elephants, and lions outside of Hwange National Park. The issue in question now is shifting from the morality of the killing to questioning the amount of attention the death of a lion is receiving.

As a pet lover myself, I would be thoroughly mortified if someone killed my pet. I grew up around animals my whole life – rabbits, cats, dogs, mice, hamsters, goats, and so forth.  I am a proud friend and owner to a pit-bull, who is often assumed to be vicious and violent.  Contrary to these presupposed thoughts, my family and I have nurtured our pit-bull to be a sweet, loving, and friendly creature.  As a family, we share the ideology that animals are friends and should be cared for and treated as such.  Needless to say, the cruel act of killing an innocent animal makes me cringe in agony.  As much as I deeply love animals, I firmly believe that the superfluous coverage of Cecil’s death is outraging, especially when the life of a lion takes precedent over the issues surrounding Zimbabwe.

An article by CNN brings up the point that it is ironic that while the movement of “Black Lives Matter” grows, the attention is directed to a lion instead of black people in Zimbabwe who face famine, poverty, and disease.  It is estimated that Zimbabwe has one of the highest unemployment rates in Africa with 92 percent of the population being unemployed.  Having a job in Zimbabwe is not much different than actually obtaining a job, since majority of Zimbabweans live under the poverty line making a mere $1.25 per day. In 2009, about 1.2 million people were living with HIV/AIDS and 83,000 deaths were recorded in that same year.  Among HIV/AIDS are Malaria, bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, rabies, and schistosomiasis.  With all of these problems that seem to be perennial, the issue at hand shouldn’t be regarding the life of an animal but the people who live and suffer there.  Disregarding the deathly diseases and problems of a country for a death of an animal is not only degrading to the people but also to our country.  The United States is in the position to help other countries, but chooses to focus on glamorized issues.

“The surge of sorrow for a dead lion, when compared to the relative quiet about other wrongs, reveals a moral flaw in our humanity, a defect in our moral compass,” Frida Ghitis of CNN says. The innocence of animals lead people to believe that animals need our help and don’t deserve to be hunted and killed by humans because of that. But why remain quiet in the face of real danger? It’s because it is easier to claim you love lions since they aren’t directly affected by your daily interactions and life choices; however, people are. “People, on the other hand, are real. They are here. They impose themselves on our lives. They burden us. They surround us. To care about people is hard. It requires us to live, act, think, and speak differently. We have to accommodate people. We have to tolerate people. We have to do things for people, especially the most vulnerable and helpless people”, says Matt Walsh of The Blaze. It’s easy to sit behind a screen and rant about an animal that lives thousands of miles away because we don’t necessarily interact with lions on a daily basis, nor do most Americans participate in trophy hunting. Social media allows us to be “against” the killing of Cecil without us actually participating in direct change. The social media coverage on Cecil has led many Americans to become lazy advocates.

It is easier to care about the death of a lion because we can all readily jump on the bandwagon and create hashtags and share news articles via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., while not having to change our lives infinitely. This is different when considering lives of other human beings. In conjunction with taking to social media, we are burdened with the responsibility to put our words into actions in our daily lives with others. Not only is it easier for ordinary people to express concern over a lion but also for media outlets. Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald says, “The media have a natural tendency to love celebrity tragedies, whether they focus on Michael Jackson, Lady Di or a well-known Zimbabwean lion. They are easier to relate to, and cheaper to cover, than mass killings in Zimbabwe, the civil war in Syria, or civil rights abuses in Cuba or Venezuela.”  The trend of consuming “soft news” is increasing exponentially.  People are more concerned with stories that excite, shock, or fascinate us, which is why it is easier to find an article of Kim Kardashian’s marriage than an article of the disease Zimbabweans face. This is problematic because, in essence, we shape the media’s agenda.  Because the public shows extreme gravitation towards less relevant stories, the media no longer places importance on substantial issues but on things that grab our attention.

Lastly, the excessive outcry for Cecil and Zimbabwe officials to take action show how ignorant most Americans and Westerners can be.  In an article written by a native Zimbabwean, Goodwell Nzou, a doctoral student in molecular and cellular biosciences at Wake Forest University, voices how his people “actually” feel about Cecil’s death.  Villagers often live in fear of being preyed on by these huge cats.  He shares that a 14-year-old boy was recently mauled to death as he was sleeping by his crops to protect it from other wildlife.  Nzou also expresses, “We danced and sang about the vanquishing of the fearsome beast and our escape from serious harm.” There is an irony in the situation because PETA is calling for the hunter to be extradited and hanged for the killing of Cecil, while in Zimbabwe a baby elephant was reported to be slaughtered for the president’s most recent birthday.  The ignorance that stems from mindless internet reporting has left people to be unknowledgeable about the culture and the danger the people in Zimbabwe encounter. This type of misrepresentation of another culture is detrimental. Because Westerners romanticize animals, they do not understand the cultural impact exotic animals have on some cultures, thus preserving Western ethnocentrism.

By no means is it justifiable to kill an innocent lion, but after analyzing the negative effects of putting Cecil’s death under the public microscope it is safe to question if we may be paying too much attention to an irrelevant issue. As famine, poverty, and disease grows, the refocusing and distracting nature of a lion’s death is harmful for any progress to be made for humanity. Placing heavier importance on an issue that is a direct result of Westernized culture to romanticize the lives of animals by giving them names and stories is ignorant. It is great to see the rallying of people for a cause, but it’s sad that the same effort isn’t applied to much more pressing issues that plague Zimbabwe. Although I may never truly understand what it’s like to be a native Zimbabwean ignored by the world for a lion, Goodwell Nzou has said this about the dramatic reactions of Americans: “Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles. And please, don’t offer me condolences about Cecil unless you’re also willing to offer me condolences for villagers killed or left hungry by his brethren, by political violence, or by hunger.” So whose words weigh heavier – those of an experienced Zimbabwean Native or those of average Americans trying to “fix” the situation from behind a computer screen?

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One Comment to “Cecil the Lion: a Distraction From Substantial Issues”

  1. I find this issue relative to recent events like Harambe, the gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo, and the alligators at the Disney World Resorts in Florida. We often romanticize about the nature of animals, despite the fact that many animals impact certain cultures like Zimbabwe. America condemns poaching and hunting practices while Zimbabwe participates in these activities for cultural reasons. Although this isn’t a surprising observation, it sheds light on how we look at global perspectives. I think we need to directly advocate for not only animals, but for Zimbabwean and other cultures who face famine, poverty, and disease. I find it depressing that we aren’t resolving these issues. I believe more funding and opportunities to travel to these countries to serve Zimbabweans can resolve these major issues. Yes, we can advocate for better treatment for animals with social media and zoo donations. But when it really comes down to it, we need to address the people who constantly face global public health issues.

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