‘Cecil’ was not my beloved… but his death made me think

Hi, my name is Ottilia and I really don’t care about Cecil the lion. 

I had been thinking it for days. I’d hinted at it in conversation. I’d made some glib remarks on twitter. I wasn’t sure I’d say it “out loud,” but then I clicked post and there it was, a simple facebook status in which I unapologetically stated my feelings about the #CecilTheLion saga playing out in international media.

I naïvely imagined posting it would be like a strange sort of Non-Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where you introduce yourself, you state your problem and everyone says “Hi” back. Nothing more. No judgment passed. After all, we’re all fighting some demon or other at this gathering. It was many things, but it wasn’t a therapeutic release. It wasn’t an admission of wrongdoing. I stated my truth and that was that…

But it wasn’t. It isn’t.

The killing of Cecil the Lion, tragic as it might be to some (perhaps many?) has laid bare some key issues warranting further discussion. For Zimbabweans moreso perhaps, since, after all, it’s “our” beloved lion that was killed. We should care. We should be livid. We should be something. Anything.

The first is Cecil’s killing

Hunting is not new in Zimbabwe. Neither is poaching. The former is legal. The latter isn’t. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For a layperson, at least where wild animals are concerned, the two are the same bar that hunting is … well… somehow… legal and well mostly rich people can do it. Hunting is the remit of trophy seekers and “conservationists” who can hunt within the scope of the law.

The recalcitrant lion (and leopard, and and and) killer, Walter Palmer, has already come out to “clear his name.” Hunting is his hobby, you see. He takes it very seriously. He made sure – so he says – that the hunt was “above board.” He even PAID. In his corner are some who have argued that the good Mr Palmer must have been acting “within the law” of Zimbabwe (or at least believed he was). At the same time, some are quick to point out that money exchanged hands and some Zimbabweans obviously benefited. That must make it all OK.

If only it were that simple.

The biggest source of income, according to Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) president, Emmanuel Fundira, is money accrued from trophy-hunting. Americans – like the scaly Mr Palmer – make up the majority of trophy hunters in Zimbabwe.

In response to my facebook status, Sasha Pizhamkin aptly pointed out,

“…having exterminated most of their own wildlife, rich Americans think it’s ok to go around the world killing endangered animals for sport, because they pay big money for it. This happens everywhere, not just Zim. It’s this idea that money can buy you a sense of entitlement and impunity. This transcends the human vs animal rights debate. It’s the same sense of entitlement that allows rich tourists to desecrate cultural heritage, companies to deforest entire regions, governments to dictate political and economic policy of other states. I’ve never heard of Cecil before but I’ve met many Walter Palmers!”

Zimbabweans know this all too well. As do most Africans.

The unbridled abuse of systems through capital is not new. And, let’s be honest, so too the bridled abuse.  Exploitative enterprise is as much our present as it is our past, and as it will be our future (if we are not careful).

In defending a paid hunt as “legitimate” many completely miss the power dynamics and ignore push (and pull) factors that possibly drove those involved to accept Walter’s loot and thus let him loot. It is no secret that Zimbabwe’s economy is ailing. That people within most enterprises barely earn what is needed to make ends meet and as the world mourns Cecil, 6000 Zimbabweans just lost their jobs. What many might not know is that Zimbabwe faces a large conservation challenge that the country is struggling to curb. In times of crisis, protecting the environment and its dwellers rarely tops lists. “Hunting” has been used as a source of revenue to keep conservation going. Counter-intuitive? Perhaps. Necessary? Sadly.

ivory-tusksWith dwindling revenue from hunting it is estimated that the livelihoods of 800 000 families that directly depend on wildlife exploitation are under threat.

Walter Palmer, for his cardinal sin of killing a “beloved” beast, must now face the music. But the music that he may face will reveal more about systems that have allowed for men like him to recklessly do as they please. It won’t be the music some hope for. He won’t, as Piers Morgan hopes, be crucified or burned at a stake. It is also unlikely that he will face any real retribution. For starters, he is already home in Minnesota and if prosecuted, it would likely be in the US. Pragmatically, the consequences for Palmer won’t be as dire as the outrage suggests. At best, he’ll have to pay a fine – in Zimbabwe, the fine for poaching a lion is $5000 (and we already know he’s flush with cash). At worst, less people may want him to polish their pearly whites for the next two months. Maybe weeks.

Then there’s the question of forgetting people… 

Americans (and others from elsewhere… *stares at Piers and my social media feeds*) have been tripping over themselves to show just how appalled they are that a lion – a lion with a name – was killed savagely somewhere in deep dark Africa. In his death, Cecil has become a martyr and everyone is mourning the death of what started as “One of Hwange national park’s iconic lions” and quickly became “Africa’s most loved Lion” (I can’t make this up!).

Few (if any) of these people rallying for ol’ Cecil have shown their public concern and care for Zimbabweans (beyond stifled jokes about the country being mismanaged and some such “woe is Zimbabwe and her faceless people” type jibes). I’m not asking that they do, but that they don’t is quite telling.

Amidst all the white noise, it’s become apparent to me that a lion, as you must already know, is more valuable than any Zimbabwean. Me included. timthumb

But before I show myself out, let me say this again for the rabble-rousers at the back, as a Zimbabwean:

  1. I had no idea there was a Cecil before his killing became news (and I’m not alone there)

  2. I care for my country’s wildlife, but, if I’m being 100% honest, I actually don’t care about Cecil. At least not singularly.

  3. I care that our systems continue to be exploited by people like that Minnesota man and his enablers without and within countries like my own

  4. I care that if an African had shot that lion he would be a “poacher,” but that Minnesota man is a “hunter” and will soon shoot again…

On a socio-cultural and personal level, as a MaSibanda (Title given to women from my kin because our family totem is the Lion. The loud roaring one to be exact) Cecil was in many ways my beloved. Lions bear a special significance to me. BUT the furore isn’t rooted in my people’s totem and the related beliefs. That has been ignored.   (•_•)

Ottilia Anna Maunganidze 

Ottilia Anna Maunganidze
Ottilia Anna Maunganidze

This article was republished with permission on:

30 thoughts on “‘Cecil’ was not my beloved… but his death made me think

  1. Great perspective here. It am glad that Cecil was a “known” lion and created this huge world-wide understanding. It shed light on hunting overall. Everyone learns differently in the world and many become concerned through a more personal story. Sad we all can’t take raw data and make intellectual decisions. Although your perspective is very provoking to the root of many issues, I would have never read it had it not been for the story on the “beloved”.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you Ms. Maunganidze, I truly appreciate hearing your voice. My friends and I actually did wonder about the relationship between local people, wildlife, and trophy hunters; how much money trickles to local people; deploring how the hunter blamed others — etc. I am sorry the human story of Zimbabweans has not appeared more in the news but I would assume that distorted human relations must surround the distorted animal ecosystem… Again thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Animals can’t do anything for themselves, you can!!!, stop victimizing yourself, if you want to have some change, just do it but quit using abuse and cruelty to animals to get attention to your problems!!


    1. Well you need to tell Americans to stop coming to OUR country and hunting OUR animals!!! You say we “victimize” ourselves-well that’s not surprising after all in America, human lives don’t matter in comparison to animals. As Zimbabweans we will talk about what matters to us and we will not mourn about a lion we never knew existed.


  4. Yes, the barbaric death of Cecil the lion left me heartbroken in the way the death of a human cannot do so. I’m from America and the idea that Americans do this saddens me to no end. I care about the wildlife in the world. But that does not mean I don’t care about the people. And it’s wrong for you or anybody else to think otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Its true that the internet amplifies things and tends to paint them in black and white -good lion, bad hunter and the nuances rarely get discussed. Soundbites are all most have time to listen too. I heard an in depth discussion with one of the conservation biologist who studied Cecil, and he said his group IS concerned about Zimbabweans, knows that any hope for lion populations must include the health and welfare of the local populations. So I don’t think no one cares, just that the internet outrage is a pinpoint on one aspect of a much larger challenge.

    A couple of points -one is that the U.S. wildlife populations are recovering and expanding, in Minnesota, Palmer’s home, wolf pack once again roam the land, bears are plentiful, cougar populations increasing. Palmer may well have shot many of these at home, I know he was fined for an improper bear kill. The lure of African game is in their size and majesty, not that there are no animals here.

    And I don’t get trophy hunting at all. I know many hunters who enjoy spending days outdoors looking for game (mainly deer and elk) and rejoice if they kill one -they have the meat processed and share among the families and parties involved. Hunting for meat I understand, for a head on the wall -especially since taxodermy now makes replicas and does not use the actual head -is baffling to me.

    Thanks for adding an important dimension to the story of Cecil.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment Elena – very insightful.

      In my piece, I do not suggest that everyone doesn’t care nor that everyone *should care for Zimbabweans. I do take on board your point that those who do care should be acknowledged.

      Discussions around various issues are happening and that’s a positive development from all this. From reviewing the hunting industry to seeking to better understand and engage constructively to address the plight of Zimbabweans and the many other issues in between.

      Aside: I do wonder whether this would have gained so much attention had the lion killed not been Cecil i.e. A lion in an Oxford study and loved by some.


  6. at this phase in our history, we have a Lot of humans, each of whom requires tremendous resources to support. We have very few lions, each of whom may reveal part of our world that we have never even thought of. I would like to help all humans, but I want humans to stop their increasing domination over the world, and for lions to get a ghost of a chance. Each naked, helpless human baby represents more and more environmental destruction, of which the lions know nothing of.


  7. This entire missive is an article for the simple-minded. Disappointed that the author had boiled this down to American Egoism, Western Imperialism and Wealthy Decadence. Had she been more intellectually honest, Zimbabwe Government as well as her people’s thirst for money because of a culture of corruption would have also been culpable. But speaking the whole truth requires seeing the facts without blinders. Something she’s incapable of doing.


    1. If you actually knew how illegal hunting works in Zimbabwe, you would not have made such an ignorant comment. Why are you ignoring the fact the owner of the safari lodge who “sold” this illegal hunting for $50 000 is a white person? What does the government have to do with that? I am Zimbabwean and fully agree with the author. You can call us whatever you want, fact is Americans and the rest of the world are mad that as Zimbabweans are refusing to mourn an animal we never knew existed, we are refusing to be dictated to, instead we are writing our own narrative in our own words. If cecil was not our beloved why is that so hard for you to accept and respect?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are too blinded by your hatred of western culture and white people to see how your own Government is culpable in this travesty. It’s like a bunch of children running around talking about issues either more complex than they can understand. Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, and other third world countries are complicit in trophy kills as a masquerade for conservation. It needs to end.



  8. Yes, Ottilia, when you say “Apparently a Lion Is More Valuable Than Any Zimbabwean — Myself Included” that’s accurate as far as describing my feelings.

    Humans are intelligent and highly capable of caring for ourselves.

    Lions don’t have those advantages. As a species they need protection. As a species, humans do not. As a species, we’re thriving ——– to the detriment of many other species.

    There are over 7 billion homo sapiens on the planet. We are the most numerous large mammal on the planet. (Cattle, a domesticated animal, come next with 1.4 billion. Then it’s sheep — also domesticated — at 1.1 billion.) Your continent of Africa has the second highest human population and the highest population growth rate in the world.

    Currently there are 1.1 billion humans in Africa and only 30,000 wild lions. A century ago there were 200,000 wild lions. Unlike humans in Africa, lions are experiencing a negative population growth, significantly negative.

    I care more about the lions. The lions are rarer.


  9. Never too late to care. Wouldn’t it be better to keep these creatures alive for tourists to travel to Africa for the beauty then a quick fix of 50000 dollars. I don’t think people are looking at the big picture. We as a whole need all creatures on this planet not just for money but to survive. If we continue to allow this barbaric behaviour extinction will overpower money, survival and eventually the planet. Man will destroy this planet and all living creatures if we don’t get a grip. These animals kill other animals for food to survive not to hang a head on their walls. Yes I refuse to call them trophies. They are living breathing creatures who have a right to live a full life as man does. Human superior complex is what is destroying this planet for the all mighty dollar. In the end no life, no planet, no life.


  10. I’m Zimbabwean and I loved Cecil. The author of this article in my view is trying to steal the spotlight from lions and put it onto people who have totally messed up their lives as a country. Please don’t be jealous of lions.


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