If he hadn’t had a name, hadn’t been a celebrity with a public and a following, his violent death would have passed unnoticed.
But Cecil (for Cecil Rhodes) was a lion well known to visitors at the Hwange National Park in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe, and he’d been collared, tracked, and studied for some years by scientists at Oxford University.
So, when he was illegally lured away from safety and killed — shot with a crossbow by a Bloomington, Minnesota, big-game hunting dentist, suffered nearly two days until dispatched by a rifle, beheaded, skinned, his radio collar destroyed, and his remains dumped outside the preserve — the media went wild.
Facebook overflowed with invective and suggestions for retribution, but mob mentality and revenge aren’t a solution. Cecil is still dead, and a few days later, five elephants were poached for their tusks in the Tsavo West National Park in Kenya.
One supporter called taking a trophy animal “harvesting,” for the purpose of “honoring” the creature; difficult to tell from the dentist’s earlier photograph, grinning toothily while clutching a dead leopard like a gunny sack of potatoes. The dentist paid some $50,000 to kill Cecil.
Some cried out that Cecil’s death had elicited more outrage than those of many humans, among them Sandra Bland and Choctaw medicine man Rexdale W. Henry, who, like Bland, was found dead in his jail cell, after being arrested in Philadelphia, Mississippi, for not paying a minor traffic citation.
Remember that police department? Activists James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman fell into their hands back in 1964 and their remains were finally discovered buried in an earthenware dam. Only seven of eighteen individuals charged were convicted — of minor violations — but outrage over their murders led to the Civil Rights Act of that year and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Cecil was an animal, not a human, but all lives matter. Cecil’s death resonates because it stunningly illustrates the degree of entitlement held by those who feel they can target anything they covet: an endangered animal, a human being, whatever gets in their way. Caring for Cecil’s killing, I assert, in no way diminishes my distress at the jail deaths of five women of color in July alone.
Like Bland, Henry, Sam DuBose, and too many others, Cecil was treated as a thing. An object to be used by the monied or powered who assume that money entitles them to do what they will with others’ lesser lives. But entitlement is not just a white man’s (and woman’s) sickness; consider the massacre of those elephants and looming extinction of rhinos, murdered to provide ivory and horn to the Far East, supposedly to enhance male sexual potency.
I hope that Cecil’s killer pays in full measure for his action, and, more particularly, that readers will relate this one instance of overweening power not only to animals, but to the rapidly accumulating cases of human abuse and killings here at home.