As the story of Cecil the lion continues to defy the desires of those wishing his story would just disappear, and continues to provide the motivations for those that desire his story to ride the wave of change, this story also seems to have evolved into the modern day biblical version of David vs. Goliath.
Goliath, of course, represents the hunting industry, their army of lobbyists and endless supply of financial might; including those that spend $50,000 for the right to kill a lion, much like you might spend $5.00 to purchase a box of cereal. David, on the other hand, represents the concerned animal rights supporters that are incensed, enraged and angered that such a senseless activity even exists in the first place.
Despite this anger and demand for “Justice for Cecil,” most people probably assumed that David had no chance to beat Goliath and ultimately, the world would continue to experience the inevitable decline and eventual mass extinction of the world’s animal population.
The Reverberations of Change
Yet, something odd seems to have occurred with Cecil – and there is a reverberation that has been created in social media that appears to have self-propelled the activism and demand for change. And people are actually starting to believe that Cecil’s death could truly be the tragic event that unites and unifies the world in a singular cause. And is it possible that Cecil’s story could finally and mercifully put an exclamation point on the tiresome argument that somehow hunting is a form of conservation which undoubtedly was based upon the premise of “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
I recently read a quote from Edmund Burke, an 18th century philosopher who stated that “No one made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” And this connected deeply with me. Cecil could have become the story that incensed and angered many individuals, but those individuals becoming that “greater mistake” in Burke’s quote. Yet, this is not what has happened. Many appear to be taking the attitude that if they do “a little” and others do “a little,” all that “little” becomes magnified and multiplied to the point that it builds into something that actually changes the world.
So, why has “Cecil” gained a foothold and gathered momentum, where other non-Cecil’s have failed?
It is a good question, and some have suggested it is as simple as the fact the he had a human name. And perhaps they are correct to some extent, and certainly, this has probably helped the story’s staying power. But perhaps it is better explained as a perfect storm of several factors: a human name, combined with the ongoing battle of one-percenters versus the rest of the world that has been reverberating the past several years. It is the haves versus the have-nots, the ethical versus the ethically bankrupt, the good versus evil, all encapsulated in a social media movement that did not exist five years ago.
If social media existed 40 years ago, we would not even be talking about Cecil today, as this movement would have begun long before the population had plummeted to an estimated 20,000 lions. However, because social media does exist today and has a greater influence over the world than it ever did, we are talking about Cecil and we are talking about population losses of the lion, and the tiger, and the cheetah, and the leopard, and the elephant, and the rhino and the wolf, and the polar bear, and just about every other non-human animal species.
This said, if there remains any doubt as to the truth of Edmund Burke, and if there are still any Davids out there that don’t believe Goliath can be beaten, the world is listening. Companies are listening, governmental officials are listening and they are responding and reacting.
I believe that occasionally, we need to focus on positive results stemming from these efforts – as this provides a reminder to those pursuing change that they are making a difference. And perhaps more importantly, it reminds those on the sideline of inaction that just a little effort drives the winds of change.
So How Are We Making a Difference?
Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr
Zimbabwe Hunting Ban
Almost immediately, the outrage that began on July 26th, the day the story appeared on social media, national and international news, the government of Zimbabwe moved to ban trophy hunting of the “Big 5” (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo). The parks and wildlife authority Zimparks also suspended hunting with bows and arrows, with permission from the authority’s head, and also banned the hunting of “collared iconic animals.”
And while the Zimbabwean government did ultimately lift the hunting moratorium ten days later, this was ten days that an innocent animal did not die as a result of this outdated sport. Additionally, the ban remains in place on farmland where Cecil died, as well as several other farms were officials allege animals were killed illegally, and the restrictions on bow hunting and the hunting of collared animals are still in effect.
Of course, the Zimbabwe government does receive significant annual revenues from the hunting industry, which should not be confused with revenues that trickle down to the local communities and local conservation, which has been estimated to be at less than three percent. That said, no one truly expected that Zimbabwe would turn off that revenue spigot without the development and expansion of alternative revenue such as the further expansion of ecotourism. This will take some time, but this should be perceived as a positive development and it is likely that Zimbabwe will be carefully studying neighboring countries like Botswana and Zambia that have successfully navigated and migrated away from hunting as a revenue source.
On August 3rd, Delta Airlines and United Airlines announced they would no longer transport buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion or rhino trophies on any flights. American Airlines followed suit later that day and Delta also announced that it was going to “review acceptance policies of other hunting trophies” in consultation with government agencies and organizations “supporting legal shipments”. In addition, other airlines joining this ban after Cecil’s death include Air Canada, Air France, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Air Emirates, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Iberia Airlines, IAG Cargo, Singapore Airlines, Qantas Airlines, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
According to Humane Society International (HSI), 42 airlines now prohibit the shipment of trophies from the African Big Five and other wildlife, including all the major airlines listed above. The one airline absent from this list is South African Airways, an airline that oddly enough, announced a worldwide embargo on trophy shipments prior to Cecil’s death; but less than three months later, relented and reversed its position, after pressure from Safari Club International (SFI) and the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA).
United Nations General Assembly Historic Anti-Poaching Resolution
The United Nations adopted a historic resolution committing all countries to ramp up their collective efforts to end the global poaching crisis and tackle the vast illegal wildlife trade. All 193 UN member states agreed to “enhance regional and international cooperation along the entire illegal wildlife trade chain, including measures to stop the poaching, trafficking and buying. Along with strengthening judicial processes and law enforcement, the resolution encourages countries to actively involve local communities in the fight against the illicit trade by enhancing their rights and capacity to manage and benefit from wildlife resources.”
According to Elisabeth McLellan, Head of the Wildlife Crime Initiative, WWF International “Nepal has already proved that this comprehensive approach works, having achieved three years of zero poaching of rhinos since 2011 thanks to a combination of high-level political will, dedicated rangers, and genuine community participation – now it is up to other countries to follow Nepal’s lead and the measures outlined in this historic resolution.”
Mexico Airlifts Exotic Animals to Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado
The Mexican government has banned the use of exotic animals in any circus performances, as many of these animals have lived in deplorable, inhumane and abusive conditions. The result of this legal action is of course, positive. But, it is also negative in the sense that many of these circuses have now abandoned these animals. Fortunately, they are finding a new home to live out the remainder of their lives. A total of eight lions, two lynxes, a puma, and coyote have been relocated to this accredited Wild Animal Sanctuary, a 720 acre preserve that is home to over 350 animals rescued from illegal or abusive situation, with an additional 9 more exotic animals scheduled to be airlifted in the near future.
Exotic Animals Seized From a Toledo, Ohio Roadside Sanctuary
Six tigers, a bear, leopard, cougar and liger were seized from a Toledo, Ohio owner after the owner ignored warnings that he needed a permit. These animals have now been safely relocated to animal sanctuaries in three other states.
“Everything You Do Matters”
These are just some examples of how the combined efforts of many individuals are making a difference in the protection of animals and animal rights. And there are of course, many other efforts and initiatives ongoing around the world that address and focus on policy that balances human needs with that of the environment, and this can only lead to positive improvement in our world.
In his latest book, The Butterfly Effect, How Your Life Matters, Andy Andrews discusses how in 1963, Edward Lorenz made a presentation to the New York Academy of Sciences and proposed a theory he purported as The Butterfly Effect. He stated that a butterfly could flap its wings and set air molecules in motion that, in turn, would move other air molecules, which would move other air molecules, and eventually influencing weather patterns on the other side of the planet. He was laughed out of the room. But in the mid-1990s, physics professors from several universities tested this theory and proved that the butterfly theory actually worked.
The Butterfly Effect works and more importantly, as Andy Andrews has so eloquently and pointedly said “Every single thing you do matters. You have been created as one of a kind. You have been created in order to make a difference. You have within you the power to change the world.”
The point is that everyone on this planet makes a difference, and everything you do (and don’t do) makes a difference, and this statement has both positive and negative implications. Someone taking steps toward a certain goal, no matter how small those steps are, is making a positive impact toward that goal. Failure to take steps can have the same impact in the opposite direction. Inertia begets inertia, and the momentum created soon builds to the point that mountains can be moved and worlds can be changed.
I truly believe that Cecil is the vehicle that is becoming that Wave of Change of the 21st Century. Not just driving the change for the rights of endangered and threatened species, and not only for the rights of other animals around the world. But, I believe he can be a wake-up call warning us that we cannot continue down our current path. Loss of the apex predator in our delicate ecosystem will cause a cascading effect causing irreversible damage and harm to the world. But because of one lion, perhaps there is still time to make a difference.
How You Can Get Involved
The opportunities are boundless and limitless, but below are several great organizations, with direct links to their “get involved” page:
- Big Cat Rescue
- The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
- International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
- Animal Defenders International (ADI)
Let’s ride this Wave of Change and make a difference!