The senseless, brutal, and illegal killing of Cecil, a beloved lion who inhabited Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe has had the Internet abuzz for several days. The black-maned lion was a favorite of visitors to the park, and was radio-collared by a British university for study and monitoring. Then, one day, a rich American big game hunter, who had paid $55K for the privilege, a safari tour operator, and a local guide committed what has to be described as a heinous act. It is reliably reported that the latter two lured Cecil from the park and that the hunter shot Cecil with a bow and arrow. He only wounded him, though, and they had to track the poor animal for 40 hours where he was shot with a rifle. That, by the way, is a common practice of hunters. They don’t like to leave a wounded animal to suffer. But, it didn’t stop there. Despite the fact that they had to have noticed the tracking collar, they beheaded and skinned Cecil and left his corpse to rot.
When word of this deed got out—including a photo of the hunter and the tour operator kneeling next to Cecil’s corpse—there was outrage. From Zimbabweans, and from people around the world, but especially here in the United States. As of now, the two Zimbabweans are in the justice system, and Zimbabwean authorities have requested that the American be extradited back to Zimbabwe to face trial.
Putting the justified outrage and the legal issues aside for a moment, I’d like to address the issues that underlay this senseless act. While I understand those who feel that this outpouring of sympathy for a lion, when so many humans in Zimbabwe continue to suffer privation and abuse, is misplaced, I think they miss the point. The causes of this act relate directly to the troubles all Zimbabweans face.
These causes are greed, corruption, and a culture of violence. The tour operator and the guide were, I believe, motivated by simple greed. After all, $55K, or whatever portion of it they received, is a powerful motivator. That, along with the culture of corruption that I witnessed during the three years that I served as the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe lead to people doing terrible things sometimes. I still remember with disgust the local official who threatened to take over the remaining game parks in the country and who encouraged the locals to barbecue all the animals. Until such unbridled greed and uncontrolled corruption is brought under control, incidents such as this will continue to take place.
When greed and corruption are combined with a culture of violence, and here I hold many of my fellow Americans as being as guilty as many Zimbabweans, you have a potent witch’s brew that inevitably leads to disaster. In the U.S., our obsession with guns leads to frequent acts of violence that kills not animals but people. This is something we have to deal with—but, as yet, we seem to lack the political will. Zimbabweans need to do the same.
Cecil was not the first victim of this insidious concoction. Who can forget the Facebook photo of the woman kneeling next to the corpse of a giraffe she’d shot during a safari? She, like the killer of Cecil, had no doubt paid a large sum for the privilege of killing this otherwise harmless creature. And, while we're at it, don't forget the other animals that fall prey to trophy hunters and poachers.
Until we all—governments and people on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world—commit to serious efforts to curb corruption, reduce the lure of greed, and address the issues of weapons and violence, we will continue to see such outrageous acts. We need to do this, not just for lions and giraffes and other innocent animals, but for all the people who suffer and die because of greed, corruption and violence.