Why #CeciltheLion (Still) Matters

Why can’t I let it go? It was one dentist and one lion, very far away and this incident happened almost two months ago. Jimmy Kimmel’s tears have long since dried and the news has mostly gone on to the other horrific events going on around the globe. But still, when I hear about #WalterPalmer going back to work, I feel sad-mad all over again. #WalterPalmer is the now infamous dentist and big game hunter, who allegedly paid $55 000 and with the help of his guides (who have been charged and are awaiting trial) lured Cecil off of his game preserve at night, shot him with a bow and arrow, mortally wounded him and then finished him off 40 hours later. #WalterPalmer recently emerged in a single TV interview and corrected the press that he did not eventually kill Cecil with a gun. He eventually killed Cecil with another bow and arrow. OK, you tracked him down and killed him in a much more barbaric way than a humane bullet. It’s even worse than we thought. Thanks for clarifying that for everyone.

This story is infuriating and the world has responded with internet rage. Rage at the utter heartlessness and senselessness. The entitlement. The image of a rich white American, with perfect white Chiclets, heading over to Africa to “take”, as #WalterPalmer said, a lion. With no thought of where this money will go and how this will impact the people and animals in Zimbabwe. All for the thrill of killing a beautiful animal and having his dead head stuffed and mounted. Twitter rages on. #WalterPalmer went underground. Avoiding the news and protests and cyberbullying, not to mention possible extradition to Zimbabwe to face charges for poaching. There second wave of rage came when Walter Palmer went back to work recently. Making more money to pay for more hunts and holiday properties in Florida.

Claims that he did not know this hunt was illegal are likely a lie, and even if they are true, it doesn’t matter. He should have known. If you go to another country and pay tens of thousands of dollars to kill their animals, you should know the laws of the land, that is your responsibility. Saying you didn’t know is not an excuse and should not protect you from the laws of Zimbabwe or the USA. When you are a professional with a Doctorate degree, you don’t get to play the dumb card. It does not fly. Saying you wouldn’t have “taken” this lion if you knew he had a name is also a deeply flawed argument. Cecil did not know that he had a name. We artificially gave his life meaning because of a radio collar and a human name, but he was the same lion, with or without the hashtag. It is not ok to poach, torture and kill an animal because they don’t have a name. An animal without a name does not suffer less. #WalterPalmer’s recent non-apology stated “I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion. That was never my intention.” Is the regret because of killing a named, beloved lion who was the subject of an active research project, or is it just that he regrets that taking this named lion has placed him and his family and practice in the middle of a media shitstorm that will not end? He also stands firm on the view that killing a lion with a bow and arrow is an “activity” that he “loves”. Defiant, even in his pseudo-apology.

When there is an animal cruelty case in the news or on Twitter, there is always a slight backlash that states that people should not be concerned because it is just a lion (that was tortured and killed) when there are so many people suffering all over the world. The clinic where #WalterPalmer works, River Bluff Dental’s own Twitter account stated on September 11th, and I quote: “What’s worse: #CecilTheLion or the terriorism of #September11? See, that lion isn’t a big deal after all…” Complete with a photo mashup of the victims of 9-11. This tweet is absurd and there are only two explanations for it: 1. This is a fake Twitter account or 2. #WalterPalmer is a complete idiot and/or has a terrible crisis management team.

Cruelty is cruelty, whether it is towards animals or humans. Cruelty does not need to be placed in a hierarchy with an arbitrary threshold for when it is acceptable to be upset about it. Petra Laszlo, the Hungarian camerawoman who tripped an exhausted refugee with a child in his arms and kicked another one in the stomach as they tried to flee to safety, was caught on camera in an act of cruelty. Noone died or was even badly injured, but it was an act that was exquisitely cruel. That is why it is a big deal. Cruelty and a lack of compassion are always worthy of a strong response and of fear that a human being can act this way towards another human being, or, I would argue, an animal. Contrasting one of the biggest tragedies that has ever happened in America with Cecil’s death does not turn Cecil’s death into no biggie. #WalterPalmer is not the same as Bashar al-Assad or the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Noone is saying that he is, but cruelty towards animals that goes unchecked will inevitably lead to cruelty to people. This is not my opinion. It is a fact. It’s a cruelty continuum, not a cruelty competition. If you are speaking out for compassion and kindness, you are always on the same side.

If you hear about something that moves you, you should react. Seemingly small things like gestation crates for sows, a single lion’s death and tripping a refugee carrying a child, and big things like a sarin gas attack in Syria, or millions of refugees or the unimaginable cruelty of ISIS. The smaller things might be easier to react to because they are more manageable. When the cruelty and violence drifts into the unspeakable, we don’t tweet about it or share it or attach a hashtag to it. It’s hard to squeeze all of that horror into 140 characters with a trending hashtag. For those who are more moved by acts of human cruelty towards humans, no one is stopping you from giving a voice to the issues that you are passionate about. If a beautiful lion that was illegally hunted and died a long and painful death to be a wall decoration for a rich dentist in Minnesota is not your thing, find something else to speak out about, but don’t be divisive when it comes to empathy. Trying to compare events to be empathetic about is, by definition, not empathetic.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that #WalterPalmer does not have pets. I could be wrong, but how could anyone who knows what it’s like to love an animal do what he did to Cecil and countless other wild animals that he has killed without seeing his own beloved cat or dog? That is what we all see. We see their deep brown soulful eyes, not the dead glass beady eyes that #WalterPalmer has replaced them with in the faces of his trophies. We see the animals that we love and that love us back. The animals that teach us what empathy, kindness, compassion and unconditional love are, if we let them. Animals teach us lessons you can take with you no matter what man or beast you are encountering next. I will always be heartbroken about #CecilTheLion, not because it is the most important or most tragic event in the world, but because it moves me and because “taking him” means taking so much more than just one lion.

#CecilTheLion #JusticeforCecil