Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Cecil, a well-known male lion, living in Hwange Game Reserve, in Zimbabwe was lured away from the sanctuary of the park and killed by an illegal party of big game hunters July 1, 2015, according to the Zimbabwean government. The hunter who killed the lion was identified by conservation groups as American Dr. Walter James Palmer, a dentist in Minneapolis. (Credit: Brent Stapelkamp via CBS News)

Tragedy of Cecil: Leader of Pride, Victim of Trophy Hunt

Jeffrey Flocken

Earlier this month, Cecil the Lion – a local celebrity who had reached iconic status amongst visiting tourists and researchers - was lured with food out of the safe confines of a national park in Zimbabwe.

He was then shot with a cross-bow, allegedly by a dentist from Minnesota who paid nearly $50,000 for the hunt. Cecil must have been in intense pain and yet was hunted for another 40 hours.

The hunters ultimately tracked him down and shot him in the head with a gun.

Worse still, killing a pride’s dominant male like Cecil can have a ripple effect. Because he no longer can protect his pride from rogue lions, other males, young cubs and females in that now unstable pride are placed in danger – meaning, in all reality, these hunters’ actions may lead to the deaths of many African lions, which are a species threatened with extinction.

There are only about 32,000 lions still remaining in the wild – a 60 percent decline over the last three decades. In addition to habitat loss and retaliatory killings, unsustainable trophy hunting is a direct threat to the species, and continues to be an underestimated – or purposefully overlooked - factor in their rapid decline. 

The alleged actions of this American dentist, while extremely repulsive, are not new, and no different than sport hunts that take place all the time in Africa and other regions.  Species currently in decline -- like lions, rhinos, leopards, elephants, and polar bears —continue to be killed for sport by Americans. 

And what is most disconcerting is that the rarer they become, the more people will pay to kill them for sport.

For example the right to kill a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia was recently bought by a Dallas Safari Club member for $350,000.

While Cecil’s death was an illegal kill, many endangered species are being killed legally in what are passed off as “conservation” efforts – or paying for the right to kill a rare animal, and then hoping the funds are put towards conservation or will go to local communities.  In truth, typically only 3-to-5% of the money from these extravagant hunts is thought to actually end up with the local communities, and the rest of the money can go any number of places – from national governments to high-end foreign outfitters.

This philosophy – that you have to kill an animal to save it – does not make sense morally, economically, biologically, or from a conservation-incentive point of view.  In fact, countries, like Kenya, that have made trophy hunting illegal, have benefitted from billions more in ecotourism – a much more sustainable model, where the wildlife can be enjoyed time and time again.

Living free in the wild, being admired—not killed – for their beauty is where these species true and only value should lie.  Cecil brought in significant tourist dollars as a living, breathing icon.  Now he is nothing more than a sad reminder of what greed and exploitation of wildlife can lead to.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Jeffrey Flocken

Jeffrey Flocken is the North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

NDP Expected to Wield Power in Canadian Parliament as Trudeau Maintains Minority Govt

"We are going to continue fighting for you, just the same way we fought for you in the pandemic, you can count on us to continue those fights," said NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

Julia Conley ·

#UprootTheSystem: Climate Movement Readies Another Global Strike

Youth activists are demanding not only climate action but also equitable Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

Andrea Germanos ·

Big Pharma Greed 'Literally Killing Americans,' Sanders Says Outside Drug Lobby HQ

"How many people need to die, how many people need to get unnecessarily sicker, before Congress is prepared to take on the greed of the prescription drug industry?" asked Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·

Vaccine Equity Coalition Warns 'Pathetic Trickles of Charity' Won't End Pandemic

"Rich countries are selfishly looking out for themselves but short-changing all of us. We need bold solutions now, not more empty gestures."

Jake Johnson ·

'Do Better,' Say Advocates as Biden Seeks to Double Refugee Admissions

"When thousands of Afghans have been forced to flee their home to find safety, and Haitians are seeking safety on the southern border, the very least the United States can do is set a resettlement goal that meets the moment."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo