COMMENTARY by Kendal Hemphill

The Cecil Effect

O nly those with extremely short memories, such as politicians and goldfish, could have already forgotten the most publicized and criticized African death in recent years, that of Cecil the Lion.

According to a Washington Post piece written by Lindsey Bever, Cecil was “one of Africa’s most beloved lions,” before he was killed by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Although later exonerated by Zimbabwe officials, Palmer has been vigorously ridiculed for engaging in a perfectly legal hunt.

Lion hunting is a huge source of income for countries in Africa, and hunting revenue is essential to wildlife conservation. Without the money from legal hunts, many indigenous species might have already become extinct. The funds pay for wildlife habitat conservation, research and development of conservation practices, and, perhaps most important, game law enforcement. Without the people vilified by international press as “rich trophy hunters,” African wildlife is probably doomed.

The question is not whether hunting should be allowed. Hunting in Africa is impossible to stop. Black markets abound for various animal parts, some of which come from endangered species, and those animals cannot be protected from poachers without adequate funding, which in turn has to come from legal hunting fees and taxes. The relationship between saving wildlife and legal hunting is symbiotic—neither can exist without the other.

This fact is lost on those whose only aim is to stop all hunting at all costs, because they have no idea what the costs are. They seem also to work hard at misunderstanding the situation, blinded by their preconceived impression that killing animals is wrong, no matter the circumstances.

So much noise was made over the death of Cecil the lion that airlines began refusing to fly “trophy” animals out of Africa, which had an immediate effect on hunting revenue. Hunters began choosing to avoid Africa lest they suffer the same fate as Palmer, and the stream of money into Zimbabwe, and other African hunting destinations, began to dry up overnight.

The lifeblood of African wildlife was being cut off by those who would do anything to save the animals—anything except learn the facts.

As a result of the dearth of paying lion hunters since Cecil’s death, the predator population in Zimbabwe, particularly the Bubye Valley Conservancy, has gotten out of hand. Wildlife officials are looking for a way to get rid of at least 200 lions, in order to bring balance. The goal is to find a new home in which to relocate the lions, but if a suitable place isn’t found—and soon—managers plan to kill them.

The Huffington Post recently quoted a spokesman from World Animal Protection (the name should be changed to “Irony Personified”) as saying, “Bubye Valley Conservancy should never have relied on commercial big game hunting to manage its wild lion populations. This is not only cruel, but entirely unnecessary. For example, education programmers can help to increase community tolerance for lions, preventing unnecessary deaths of people and their livestock.”

Certainly, there are alternatives, none of which bring in ten percent of the revenue raised by hunting, which is itself often inadequate. Pointing fingers is de rigueur among the anti-hunters, but alternate plans generally begin with, “raise lots of money, from, uh, someplace.”

As in most areas of life, altruism goes only so far, and generally stops short of the bank.

The last part of the WAP quote, however, is the most perplexing. One wonders if the “education programmers” would include teaching the lions not to eat Zimbabweans, or teaching the Zimbabweans to better tolerate their children being eaten by lions. It’s always easier to preach tolerance for alligators if you’re not standing belly deep in the swamp.

Our old friends at PETA have also chimed in, condemning the idea that the lions should be thinned out. Their position is that nature will provide a balance, if left alone. And I agree completely.

Man, however, happens to be as much a part of nature as lions. Man also happens to be the only natural enemy the African lion has. I would submit that PETA is trying to upset the natural balance of nature by taking hunting out of the mix. It is the animal rights activist, not the hunter that upends the apple cart.

But the feline has already exited the burlap, and now 200 lions must be dealt with, possibly killed, because of the hue and cry of the credulous cretins. And instead of charging wealthy trophy hunters to thin the pride, thereby filling the coffers that pay to keep all the wildlife healthy, officials will have to spend money they don’t have to get the job done. With little cash left for law enforcement, the poachers will see a clear path to help themselves to the rest of Africa’s bounty.

The irony is that those who shouted loudest to save the lions have killed them, and made their mascot a martyr in reverse.

Cecil the Lion died, so that others may die.

Email Kendal Hemphill at





Email Kendal Hemphill at contactus@fishgame.com


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