Recently, I saw a meme which read: “A lion is killed in Africa and there is international outrage. A Black person is killed on the streets of America and everybody calls us crazy for tweeting #BlackLivesMatter.”
The lion in question is Cecil. And if you haven’t heard Cecil the Lion was savagely murdered, skinned and beheaded just outside Hwange in Zimbabwe last week. His killer was an American dentist from Minnesota named Walter J. Palmer. Apparently, Palmer paid $50,000 to hunt the 13-year old lion, which was also a beloved tourist attraction (he was believed to be the largest lion within the park).
According to CNN, the lion was lured out of its sanctuary inside of the Hwange National Park by two local guides who had accompanied Palmer on his hunt. Palmer then shot Cecil with a bow and arrow. Although he was badly injured, Cecil managed to escape. However, he was tracked down 40 hours later and shot in the head with a gun.
Naturally, there has been plenty of international outrage over the death of Cecil. Not surprisingly a lot of the outrage has come from America, which loves a good cat video, but probably can’t point to Zimbabwe on a map. All the major news stations and papers have been following the story including CNN, which has been giving regular updates complete with graphs and boards that light up as well as FOX News, which has found a way to blame the killing on the lion itself. Even celebrities have weighed in on the tragic murder of Cecil. Most notably Jimmy Kimmel who cried real man tears on television as he compared the hunter to Bill Cosby.
On the surface it all seems kind of trivial. First there are actual human beings, particularly Black ones, who are dying right here in America. And regardless of how passionate some folks feel, there is something truly wrong with a society that does not get this emotionally invested over the loss of human life in the same way we do beautiful animals we love to look at. After all, Cecil is just an animal and we kill all kinds of animals every single day. Heck the dead and butchered carcasses in the meat freezer of our local grocery stores are proof of our bloodlust.
But what’s interesting about Cecil’s death is not so much that it happened, but where and how it was able to happen. Cecil the Lion is the son of Zimbabwe, which is formerly known by its conquered name Rhodesia (and recently made famous by White supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof who was photographed wearing the colonial flag on his jacket). Its president is Robert Mugabe who doesn’t take too kindly to White foreign nationalists. And he has gone to great lengths to force them to leave the now independent African country. He has also gone to great lengths to not only restore the land to the Africans through a national land reform program, but raise wages and provide free education for them too.
Still, critics of Mugabe see his pro-African policies as destructive to Zimbabwe’s economy (he has been both condemned and sanctioned by both the UN and the West). Critics have argued that the land reform program is nothing more than a treasure trove for the country’s Black elite and well-connected. A recent editorial in the Zimbabwe Independent argues that Cecil’s illegal killing is a result of cronyism and is “the tip of the iceberg” of how the politically connected has used the land reform program to take over some of the country’s most important conservatories and make themselves wealthy because of it.
Game hunting in Africa is big business, particularly in the East and South. And so is conservationism. Both are rooted in romanticized European notion of domination and control. Rich White people have and continue to pay good money to go on safaris and live out their fantasy of being the Great White Hunter. And these same rich White people, including these Great White Hunters, will fund conservation efforts with the idea that their donations help save endangered species. Of course, it is hard to save something you are killing.
As pointed out in the article entitled Trophy Hunting In Africa: You Kill It, You Carry It, published earlier this year in the Economist:
“An estimated 1,000 captive lions are shot dead by mostly American and European tourists on South African ranches annually. That’s nearly double the number of wild lions felled across the entire continent. Killing beasts in fenced-off, private property is easier than gunning them down on their own turf. It’s also much cheaper: tourists can pay $20,000 for a captive male, compared with $75,000 for a wild one. The expansion of the “canned hunting” industry—which breeds lions by isolating mothers from their cubs to jumpstart ovulation—has lifted African trophy hunting revenues to $200m a year.”
The article also notes that this commodification of wild animals has contributed to a severe drop in the Africa’s wild lion population, from 200,000 to 30,000. And in spite of its boost to tourism, only three percent of the revenue generated from trophy hunting ends up in the pockets of locals.
So even though we are just talking about a single lion, Cecil’s killing helps to highlight how an agricultural economy has been created, which caters to the wants of those with means, at expense of the environment and the interest of human life too. And regardless if it is an African lion or a person of African descent, the disrespect is still the same