Takeaways from the Killing of Cecil the Lion

Jean-Baptiste Greuze – Young Girl Weeping for her Dead Bird – 1759


Unless you live in a cave without Internet, you’ve probably heard about the killing of a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe last month. The hunter who dispatched Cecil has been identified as Bloomington, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. The Zimbabwean government claims that the lion was lured off of the nature preserve in which he lived by two of Palmer’s guides. Palmer shot Cecil with an arrow, and then after tracking the wounded animal for 40 hours, finished him off with a rifle shot.

The killing of a protected animal is certainly a crime and regrettable, but it is not clear whether Palmer was aware of where Cecil came from. The subsequent media storm, social media uproar, protests, and threats have forced him to shutter his business and go into hiding.   Here is a quick list of takeaways from this week’s biggest mainstream and social media tempest: 

Don’t kill a celebrity animal

Many believe that these hunts, when done legally, can actually help to preserve threatened species by providing money for conservation. If Palmer had killed an ordinary lion, he would now be just an ordinary dentist with a distasteful hobby that no one ever heard of, rather than the world’s worst person de la semaine. If an animal has a name, it’s probably at least a minor celebrity.

Of course, almost none of the outraged masses had ever heard of Cecil before this week.  Ordinary Zimbabweans, who are likely more worried about being eaten by a lion, seem unconcerned.  Even Zimbabwe’s minister of information had to be clued in on who Cecil was.  So ironically, Cecil owes much of his celebrity to Palmer.

Social media mobs are largely made up of impulsive, overly emotional people who are not disposed to deep thinking.

But you probably knew that already.

Don’t turn your back on an animal rights activist while eating a hamburger.

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for Palmer to be “extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.” (So, apparently they are pro-death penalty, at least for people.) Their statement also said (about a photo of the dentist with another trophy) “The photograph of this dentist, smiling over the corpse of another animal, who, like Cecil, wanted only to be left in peace, will disgust every caring soul in the world. “ Um, Cecil probably wanted to kill and eat some humans and other animals. Just saying.

Activists converged on Palmer’s office last week to make their views known. Here is what some of their signs said:

“Killer” – okay, that one is technically correct.

“Murderer, scumbag, leave town.” – scumbag seems redundant.

“Let the hunter be hunted”.

“Dr. Walter Palmer, D.D.S. illegally murders lions for fun.”

“Palmer, there’s a deep cavity waiting for you.” – That seems like a death threat.

“Rot in hell.” – presumably after he’s been murdered by an activist.

“Walter Palmer, the butcher of Bloomington.” – Every town should have at least one butcher, but preferably someone who is not also the dentist.

“Trophy hunters are cowards”. Perhaps, but so are angry, threatening mobs. In fact, there is probably nothing more cowardly.

“I am Cecil.” – Someone needs to explain these “I am” signs. What does that mean, exactly? The person holding the sign looks decidedly non-leonine.

“Don’t Shoot” – At least it’s not “Paws up, don’t shoot.”

The visual news media outlets have gotten really good at stirring up the masses and then standing back to report on the carnage.

This is a typical procedure. The links are to CBS News reports on the story.

  1. Find a story circulating on social media or the news services.
  2. Give the story more time on-air than it merits. Show some the most outrageous and threatening posts/tweets on the air (because they are a representative sample of Americans, surely). This will encourage others to post something even more outrageous in the hope of getting their little bit of fame.
  3. Go to the office and/or home of the scoundrel with your cameras, which will draw attention-seeking protesters, who will hopefully put on a good show: provocative signs and chanting, righteous outrage, and maybe a little destruction. Put attention-seeking politicians on the air to express their outrage.
  4. Comment on what it all means, as if you had nothing to do with it. In this case CBS went as far as to suggest that it had all “gone too far”. Their angst didn’t last long however – they went on to report on other big game hunting cases, trying to keep the story going.

America’s “Outrage Meter” is broken, probably beyond repair.

See this excellent piece on the subject by Heather Wilhelm.

There it is – everything you need to know about this colossal waste of time of a story.

About Cricket

Cricket is an irreverent troublemaker who spend most of elementary school sitting in the corner.

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