Ana Veciana-Suarez

Cecil the lion’s death proves there’s enough compassion to go around

Cecil the lion roams on the plains in Hwange National Park on Nov. 18, 2012 in Zimbabwe.
Cecil the lion roams on the plains in Hwange National Park on Nov. 18, 2012 in Zimbabwe. ZUMAPRESS.COM/TNS

By now, you know all about Cecil, no last name needed. Though in life he was nothing more than a minor local celebrity, Cecil has risen to prominence by the circumstances of his death. The Zimbabwe lion has achieved the kind of fame only movie stars earn.

Now he is, paws down, the most famous lion in history, second only to Simba and Mufasa from Disney’s beloved The Lion King. There’s good reason for this. What a majestic beast he was! So admirable, in fact, that he was said to be a tourist attraction and the subject of research by academics from Oxford University.

But of course it wasn’t these qualities that sparked this ongoing over-the-top outrage. It was the manner in which he was slaughtered, the uselessness of it all. Cecil was killed, just for the heck of it, by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, a big trophy hunter who wanted to add the 13-year-old’s head to his collection. The killing is said to have been done illegally, when Cecil was lured from his home in a protected habitat and shot with a crossbow and arrow. He survived for a few hours before eventually being killed with a gun.

The professional hunter accused of failing to prevent Cecil’s killing will go on trial in Zimbabwe in September and the African country is seeking the extradition of the American dentist. Palmer, however, has been hiding. For good reason. Just last week vandals spray-painted the words “lion killer’’ on the garage door of his Marco Island vacation home. (Have you noticed there’s always a Florida connection to bizarre stories?)

In a very short period of time, Palmer has become the most hated man in America, not an easy title to secure considering the competition. But the fury — or, I should say, the intensity and durability of this worldwide wrath — has surprised me.

I get the anger. Really, I do. For many, Cecil has come to represent all that is wrong with a sport that can be both cruel and pointless. Still, I wonder why we haven’t devoted an equal amount of indignation to children dying of hunger, to Syrian refugees who have lost their homes, to girls abducted and raped by Boko Haram, to the countless other atrocities visited upon humans by other humans.

Some see this inequality of attention as yet another sign of a collective failing. Our moral compass gone awry. There has been a backlash to the backlash, a veritable counteroffensive that points the finger not at the dentist but at the sanctimonious tone of those bashing him.

Both groups miss the point, however. Horror over the death of a lion — and the hundreds of other animals needlessly killed for sport — shouldn’t spawn recriminations. We can care for wild animals and humans both. This is not an either-or situation, much in the same way that a mother who adores her firstborn is perfectly capable of loving her second child with equal ferocity.

The very public outrage over Cecil’s death is easy to express, trophy hunting simple to abhor. As crusaders we like clear-cut boundaries, straightforward solutions. But figuring out how to best deal with the crisis in Syria is complicated and so is finding viable answers to world hunger and other problems.

We shouldn’t be wasting time and energy in a futile finger-pointing exercise. If anything, the sorrow over Cecil shows we still have a heart — and more than enough compassion to spread around.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

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