Honoring a King, Whose Death Sparked Outrage Around the World

All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. – Chief Seattle

Cecil the Lion

I was deeply saddened and angered today when I learned of another senseless and preventable death.  His name is Cecil. He was a 13 year young African male lion (Panthera leo).  Cecil was a regal male who was breeding and helping to increase Africa’s lion populations.  Cecil was -and remains- a symbol of strength, beauty, and courage. Cecil was in the prime of his life just weeks ago.

His body was found decapitated and skinned outside of his preserve earlier this month.

This Was Not an Honorable Death

According the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a charity which focuses on the conservation and preservation of wildlife in the southern African country, Cecil was lured from the safety of the private safari across an old railway line, which acts as an invisible boundary, onto hunting lands.  It was here where the hunters were waiting to take advantage. They used a goat carcass to bait Cecil onto their land -an all too common and dirty practice seen throughout Africa.

Cecil was then shot with a crossbow in the Gwaai concession about 1,100 yards from the protection of the national park. Cecil did not die immediately; it took two days to track the lion and kill him with a rifle.  Cecil was then skinned and his head was removed as a trophy.  They left his body there to rot.

Hwange conservation consortium says this hunt was illegal.

Although it is legal to kill Big Game such as lions, giraffe, elephants in some of these areas, the hunters claim they had not realized who this lion was: “It was a magnificent, mature lion,” they said.  “We did not know it was well-known lion.  I had a licence for my client to shoot a lion with a bow and arrow in the area where it was shot.”

Apparently, there were other irregularities in the hunt which are being investigated, including the fact that in the Gwaai Conservancy no lion hunting quota was issued for 2015, and the GPS collar on Cecil was destroyed by the hunters.

Cecil was wounded by a crossbow and arrow, and then killed, skinned and decapitated 40 hours later

Cecil Was a Part of a Conservation Research Program.

When he was killed, Cecil was wearing a GPS-collar.  A team of researchers in Hwange National Park have been conducting an ongoing study on behalf of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University since 1999.  It’s been an ongoing ecological study of African lions in Hwange.  They are measuring the impact of sport-hunting beyond the park on the lion population within the park, using radio-telemetry and direct observation.  The research they have gathered to date is startling.

34 of 62 tagged lions died during the study period; 24 were shot by sport hunters.  These sport hunters killed 72 percent of tagged adult males from the study area. This caused a decline in numbers of adult males in the population.


Cecil’s Prides

Conservationists are concerned that by killing Cecil, his death leaves as many as 12 cubs vulnerable to infanticide by male lions who will assume leadership of Cecil’s prides. (Males commonly kill the cubs of ousted pride leaders so that they may sire their offspring with the females they inherit.)  Cecil was in coalition with another male lion, Jericho.  Between them they had two prides that consisted of six lionesses, and about a dozen cubs.

Cecil lion cubs pride

Cecil’s death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe, but because now his cubs will die too; a new male won’t allow them to live, to encourage Cecil’s three females to mate.  Hunting predators on the boundaries of national parks such as Hwange causes significant disturbance and knock-on effects such as infanticide when new males entered the prides.  As a single male, Jericho will be unable to defend the two prides and cubs from new males that invade the territory. This is what we most often see happening in these cases. Infanticide is the most likely outcome.

 -Dr. Andrew Loveridge


 Cecil the African Lion in Hwange, Zimbabwe

The video below shows Cecil, like many of the species in the area, enjoying life on the preserve with his family.

Footage of Cecil with one of his prides

Tourists from only one lodge collectively pay $9,000 per day. Zimbabwe could have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, rather than being shot by someone paying a one-off fee of $45,000.
Tourists from only one lodge collectively pay $9,000 per day. Zimbabwe could have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, rather than being shot by someone paying a one-off fee of $45,000.


Lions Are Complex.

A recent study conducted on the socio-spatial behavior of lion population following the perturbation by sport hunting shows that there’s growing evidence that lion populations which are socially disrupted may be more prone to coming into conflict with human communities on the boundaries of protected areas.  They believe this is largely because movement patterns become erratic and lions are more likely to leave the park.

“These cats are complex, which is why disturbance of their social system has such far reaching knock-on effects.” – Dr. Loverage


Lions By the Numbers

  • 600 lions are killed by tourists each year.
  • Lions have vanished from over 80% of their historic range.
  • Lions are listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
  • In West and Central Africa, the species is now classified as Endangered.
  • Lions exist today in 29 countries, including 28 countries in Africa and 1 country in Asia.
  • Illegal killing, relentless habitat loss, and over hunting of wild prey by humans have left lions precariously close to extinction.
  • Kenya loses 100 of its 2,000 wild lions every year due to killing by humans.
  • At this rate, lion experts believe there will be no wild lions left in Kenya by 2030.
  • 100 years ago there were 200,000 lions living in the wild in Africa. Today there are fewer than 30,000.
  • Lions are extinct in 26 countries.

The premature death of this lion highlights a sobering reality: lion populations are in catastrophic decline across Africa. A century ago, more than 200,000 lions roamed the continent; yet recent surveys estimate that in the last two decades alone, lion numbers have decreased from approximately 30,000 to around 20,000. –Panthera

Africa’s Lions Face a Tri-Fold Threat:

  1. Retaliatory persecution by herders and farmers
  2. Dramatic loss and fragmentation of habitat
  3. Scarcity of wild prey due to overhunting by hu­mans.
lion
Graphic from Panthera

Lions have slipped under the conservation radar for too long. If we do not act now, lions will find themselves in the same dire predicament as their Asian counterpart, the tiger. – Dr. Guy Balme, Panthera’s Leopard Program Director


Weighing In

Below are recent statements from sport hunters and conservationists in the area where Cecil resided.

Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides AssociationJuly 23 at 10:33am ·

“Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife Management Authority, are currently still conducting an investigation on the legalities of the hunt that took place and for which they are the appropriate authority to do so. We therefore can not and will not comment on the legal aspect, whilst this investigation is ongoing. ZPHGA are working together with ZPWMA and Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ).  ZPHGA confirms the Professional Hunter in charge of the Safari is a member of ZPHGA. Therefore ZPHGA can make a ruling on the aspect of ethics and his membership at this time.  ZPHGA in the follow up of the investigation concludes that in regarding the responsibility of his membership, the PH was is in violation of the ethics of ZPHGA.  ZPHGA therefore with immediate effect, suspend his membership indefinitely.  The professional hunter and company he works for have been co-operative in the investigation.  ZPHGA re-iterates it will not tolerate any illegal hunting or any unethical practices by any of its members and their staff. ZPHGA will await the completion of the current investigation by ZPWMA before commenting any further.  We ask all members of ZPHGA, as well as the general public, to please respect the ongoing investigation underway by the appropriate authorities ZPWMA.”

——

Bhejane Trust  July 23 at 1:58am · An update on the killing of Cecil, the famed Hwange lion.

“The PH, Theo Bronkhurst, and the concession “owner”, one Honest Mpofu, were arrested and appeared in Hwange Magistrate court on the charge of illegally killing a lion. According to sources, there was no permit for lion on their hunt, and the concession area (Antionette) does not have any lion on quota. They have been remanded out of custody until August 6th. so Parks can continue their investigations.  Cecil was shot at night, no doubt after being blinded with a spotlight, undoubtedly over a bait which would have been dragged along the Parks boundary (supposedly for a leopard!) – indicative of the poor ethics and the poor quality hunter that we see too often these days. Undoubtedly, the PH intended to do a “quota transfer” where Cecil would have been recorded as shot in another area which had a quota and permit – the satellite collar blew the plan ( although Bronkhurst apparently tried to destroy the collar and all evidence of the dead Cecil). Had this lion not been collared, Bronkhurst probably would have got away with this crime, and I very much doubt this is the first dodgy episode in his hunting career.   Lets hope that corruption does not prevail and the full force of the law falls on both these characters – we do not need these types operating in Zimbabwe.”

Latest update on Cecil’s killing, July 28:

JOINT PRESS STATEMENT BY ZIMBABWE PARKS AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY AND SAFARI OPERATORS ASSOCIATION OF ZIMBABWE ON THE ILLEGAL HUNT OF A COLLARED LION AT ANTOINETTE FARM, HWANGE DISTRICT ON 1 JULY 2015 IN GWAYI CONSERVANCY BY BUSHMAN SAFARIS

“Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris is facing criminal charges (VIC FALLS Police CR 27/07/2015) for allegedly killing a collared lion on Antoinette farm in Gwayi Conservancy, Hwange district on 1 July 2015. The lion named ‘Cecil’ was well known and regularly sighted by tourists in the Main camp area of Hwange National Park. It is alleged that the hunter connived with the Antoinette land owner, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu to kill the lion. Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015. Therefore, all persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges.  Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as the Regulatory Authority and custodian of all wild animals in Zimbabwe issues hunting permits and hunting quota for all hunting areas in Zimbabwe so that only animals on quota are to be hunted. In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.   Both professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst’s licence number 553 who was involved in the hunt and the owner of Antoinette farm, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu are being jointly charged for illegally hunting the lion. The two are due to appear in court on Wednesday, 29 July 2015. Efforts are being made to interview the other professional hunter, Zane Bronkhorst, licence number 558, who was also involved in the illegal hunt. The Professional Hunter Theo Bronkhosrt’s Licence has been suspended with immediate effect. The lion trophy has also been confiscated. The relevant stakeholders have been informed and are being updated about this matter.”

Cecil the Lion
Cecil in his prime

Cecil Is Not the Exception. 

The premeditated killing of Cecil is tragic and heartbreaking.  People all around the world are in shock.  But be aware, friends: This situation is not the exception, but rather the rule all around the world.  American hunters kill hundreds of African lions each year. – 600 in fact. That’s almost 2 per day.  Poaching, sport hunting, illegal animal trade, and everything between happens every day.  Most people don’t know about it until a story like Cecil’s strikes a deep nerve.

The loss of Cecil is absolutely reprehensible, and sadly, this case is not an anomaly. Many people around the world are unaware that what happened to this lion is happening all over Africa, dozens of times a day. Illegal killing of lions is a real threat to the species’ survival. If we are to save the lion, the international community must come together, as it has in support of Cecil, to fund conservation initiatives that are mitigating the species’ greatest threats. -Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter

A 19-Year-Old Cheerleader Who Hunts Endangered Species
A 19-Year-Old Cheerleader Who Hunts Endangered Species

We are all outraged today because an iconic animal and protected species was lured out of his sanctuary and murdered for sport, but this kind of business has been, and continues to happen in every country in the world.  And what’s really happening is a much greater problem than we are willing to recognize and admit.  Killing for sport, trophies, profit, and fun is happening within younger generations.  We are even seeing young girls being encouraged to hunt and kill for the thrill of taking life.

Cecil’s story has gone viral within hours, but there are countless other species whose lives have ended for much less profit; species far less iconic and less “attractive” than Cecil.  Whether it’s critically endangered species such as the Blue Iguana, Pangolin, or Northern white rhino, people are treating all species as if their lives don’t matter.

The team of hunters who killed Cecil are going to be prosecuted, but honestly, I am not focused on blaming this guy and his hunting team in particular, because there are a thousand more rich Americans who are willing to do what he did, and they do it legally every day.  In fact, while we all mourned Cecil’s death, 5 of Kenya’s endangered elephants were killed.  This is insanity to me.

I have to ask,  Where is the disconnect?  

When did honor and dignity of life become so undervalued?  

How did we become so disconnected from the other lives with whom we share this planet?  

How are so many of us behaving unconsciously?  

Where is the compassion and connection? 

Big 5: Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to bag the Big 5 African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion)
Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to “bag the Big 5” African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and lion)

May Cecil’s Death Shed Light On Our Darkness …. and Our Ability to Love.

Conservationists are heavily involved in working to stop this illegal (and legal) activity.  These people and organizations are incredibly passionate and dedicated, but they have their work cut out for them.  I know because I have been involved with various conservation projects for decades.  In the process  I have witnessed incredible people doing amazing things to save species and conserve lands, but I have also witnessed more ugliness, greed, disdain, complacency, and tragedies than I care to recall.

Along the way I learned something: When we are disconnected from ourselves, each other, and the world that surrounds us, people can easily do what we have witnessed with Cecil.

Understanding this fact has helped me to rise above the disgust, anger, and judgement that I initially feel.   When I see blatant disregard and respect for life I am urged to look at the situation from a broader perspective.

Once I get the anger and sadness out, I am free to be able to ask, What can be learned from this?  How can we grow from this?  How can we guide and inspire others to respect all life?  It’s not enough to be angry and judge “the people who did this”, or merely want things to change.  We have to do more.

Change Begins with Each of Us.

If you want to see change, look within.  Once we look within and are honest with ourselves we are better equipped to make a real difference out there in the world.  This current situation with beloved Cecil is an opportunity for that.

If we want to end this kind of heartless and disconnected behavior around the world, we must ask ourselves tough questions:

What are we looking away from that needs to be discussed?

Are we idly sitting by and allowing this to happen?

Where can we take productive and meaningful action?

Have I done something like this to another species?

How can we remove the hate and prejudices that blind us?

Am I  withholding love to anyone or any form of life?  

Have I taken any specie’s life without forethought?

Am I disconnected from others?

Am I disconnected and from nature?

How can we maintain and enhance our connection to all life?

How can I become more connected?

How can we remove judgement and blame and find solutions?

How can we infuse Love into situations like these?

How can we do our part to protect species and the Earth?

How can we encourage children to appreciate all people and all species of life?

What are we teaching our children?

Before we judge anything outside of us, before we throw hate, anger, and blame at others, we must look within.  


Honoring Cecil

Cecil’s death has inspired millions of people to see things from a different perspective, and to take action around the ongoing global issue of animal abuse. His death has shined light on how disconnected so many are from our fellow travelers on planet Earth.   Cecil, thank you for bringing awe, joy, and awareness into countless people’s lives while you were here with us.  Thank you for the lessons that you continue to teach us.  May your soul be at peace.  May the circumstances of your death be the catalyst for change.  May all nations learn from this.  May one day, we all see every living being as our kin.

Cecil the Lion
Be at peace, brother.

I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect.  -David Suzuki 


Recommended Related Reading

As the world mourned Cecil the lion, five of Kenya’s endangered elephants were slain 

Rich American tourists kill hundreds of lions each year, and it’s all legal. 

The State of the Lion.

–> Project Leonardo: Saving Africa’s Lions

–> How you can help Lions right now

–> Panthera and WildCRU Call for Global Efforts to Conserve the African Lion

Petitioning CEO, Delta Air Lines and 4 others to End the Transport of Exotic Animal Hunting Trophies

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