I don’t recall the last time I saw/read/heard such global outrage at the killing of one animal. I’ll take it. We need all the help we can get calling attention to the plight of wildlife across the globe.

The killing of Cecil, a proud lion of Zimbabwe, is a tragedy. A pathetic, selfish killer stalked him (with paid help), allegedly lured him from a protected area (as though geography would have stopped the slaughter), and shot him with the arrow of a crossbow (shot, not killed, because this hunter, while called a crack shot, couldn’t even kill a lion who neither feared nor threatened humans) — and Cecil suffered for 40 hours before a rifle bullet took him from this world. Massive anger at this atrocity is well-founded.

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But, let’s please all be very clear; there is a scenario in which no one is talking about the killing of Cecil. In March 2011, Born Free USA and others petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the African lion as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If approved, lion “trophies” could only be imported into America with a special permit that would be granted if the applicant could prove that killing that lion would enhance the survival of the species. (It happens, but it is not standard.)

For four years, we’ve waited. Well, what is the government waiting for?

The African lion is estimated to live on a fragmented eight percent of its historic habitat across Africa. The African lion is estimated to have suffered population decline of more than 50 percent since 1980, falling from some 75,000 animals to somewhere around 30,000. Is this not an animal in danger? The African lion could go extinct in my lifetime.

The African lion is endangered. What is the government waiting for?

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The African lion has not only lost its habitat, but as it loses habitat, it loses access to prey and is forced to feed on livestock. This results in retaliatory killing by livestock owners by the spear and by horrific poisoning. The African lion succumbs to disease. The African lion is killed in countries like Nigeria for its organs, fat, tissue, blood, and its body parts to be used in traditional medicines. And, hundreds of African lions are killed every single year by trophy hunters — more than half of whom, I’m ashamed to say, come from America.

The African lion is under perpetual assault throughout its range. What is the government waiting for?

What makes me angriest is that we know this happens. We said it. We shouted it from the rooftops. Lions are endangered; they need help!

So, what’s the problem? Do loss of habitat, serious population declines, and massive threats not support providing this incredibly beleaguered species protection?

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Ah, there are other stakeholders’ opinions to consider… The Safari Club, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the “wise users,” all of whom think wild animals should pay their way; who think they are the true conservationists; who have all the answers; who once called me a Banana Republic conservationist because I go on humane, non-consumptive wildlife safaris, devoid of their wasteful thrill-killing.

I have written this line so many times… We, in the animal protection movement, are so often called “chicken little”: running around, crying that the sky is falling, every time we want to protect animals from cruelty, suffering, abuse, threats, and extinction.

Well, the time for change is now: in the name of Cecil and every other animal subject to cruel, unjustifiable exploitation.

Give animals and their advocates the benefit of the doubt. Stop waiting. Stop this insane allegiance and deference to the hunters of the world. Stop calling us emotional and unscientific.

Had the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the African lion as “endangered” three, even two, years ago, perhaps Cecil wouldn’t have suffered and died. Perhaps the lion would have been protected from the American wealthy hunting elite and they would have had to spend their money and satisfy their blood lust in some other way.

The Time to Act is Now

It’s time for change. It’s time to stop making us wait. When we scream from the rooftops that lions are endangered, that the ivory trade is out of control, that rhinos are being poached to extinction, that pangolins are being traded to death, that furbearers are suffering miserably in steel-jaw traps, that elephants don’t belong in zoos and orcas don’t belong in cement tanks, that primates don’t make good pets, and that people shouldn’t have the opportunity to pet a tiger for a photo… Maybe, just maybe, U.S. government decision-makers should listen to our voices over the self-interested, self-justifying wildlife traders, or the hunting and captivity and pet and trapping industry apologists.

More than 500 Cecils are inexplicably slaughtered every year… for fun.

This isn’t an “I told you so” message. I don’t want to be right; I want to get it right. And, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acts to protect the lion… Well, they’ve got it wrong.

Cecil didn’t have to die. Will we act before it happens again?

Lead image source: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr