By Billy Huntsman
With the Minneapolis dentist who killed the so-called famous Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe returning to work this week, there seems to be no better time than now to tell you how preposterous I find the ‘issue.’
What I find hysterical is the fact that, despite Zimbabweans largely not caring about Cecil getting killed, the Western world got themselves into a tizzy.
What do you mean you didn’t hear about Zimbabwe not caring as much about the death of the lion as the rest of the world?
Of course you didn’t, because a country not caring about a lion—a country located on the continent in which lions are most famously indigenous—is not news. But a social media campaign dedicated to finding the parties “responsible” for that lion’s death, extraditing the “murderer” to Zimbabwe, terrorizing the killer’s dental practice, and protesting big-game hunting get people’s attention, they’ll open that newspaper, that magazine, that search result.
So for the most part, no attention was paid by popular culture to The Chronicle, the most widely read newspaper in Zimbabwe’s second most populous city, Bulawayo.
“Why such an outpouring of grief in the West over one lion?” asks Kennedy Mavhumashava, assistant editor at The Chronicle, in an editorial titled “Cecil: what’s going on?” “ This is certainly not the first successful lion hunt in Zimbabwe, Africa, or the world over, and will not be the last…I find the western outrage over the demise of Cecil, which is only a lion to many of us, suspicious. This was a simple hunt and Zimbabwe wants more of them to generate revenue for our tourism sector. It is not an overstatement that almost 99.99 percent of Zimbabweans didn’t know about this animal until Monday (July 27, when reports of the killing started in full ire). Now we have just learnt, thanks to the British media, that we had Africa’s most famous lion all along, an icon!”
People weren’t interested in reading about a Zimbabwean’s take on the matter in Al Jazeera America’s “‘Cecil who?’” Zimbabweans ask.”
“(The existence, much less the death of) Cecil was new to me,” says Alex Magaisa, a self-proclaimed animal lover. “So I did a quick poll in my friends and family in Zimbabwe and around the world. None of them knew Cecil, who was supposedly ‘a symbol of Zimbabwe,’ as one British paper put it…Cecil may have been famous only among a small segment of our society, a privileged group that had a stake—either as vendors or consumers—in the lucrative tourism sector and the hunting industry.”
The New York Times was even ignored, for God’s sake!
“Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people?” asks Goodwell Nzou in an editorial titled “In Zimbabwe, We Don’t Cry for Lions.” “That all the talk about Cecil being ‘beloved’ or a ‘local favorite’ was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from The Lion King? In my village in Zimbabwe, surrounded by wildlife conservation areas, no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror… Americans who can’t find Zimbabwe on a map are applauding the nation’s demand for the extradition of the dentist, unaware that a baby elephant was reportedly slaughtered for our president’s most recent birthday banquet. We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.”
I’m no hunter. I like hunting only so far as it inspired the writings of Ernest Hemingway, and I have no fondness for guns, except in Quentin Tarantino movies. I have no desire to persuade you to one side or the other of the hunting or gun debate, never mind how you feel about Walter Palmer, Cecil’s killer.
I simply want to inform you of the West’s tendency to put on false airs of indignation. Perhaps we do this to make up for the fact that, try as we might, there’s not much we can do about real problems around the world: HIV/AIDS, Ebola, religious tyranny, natural disasters, famine, just to name a few.
But extraditing a dentist everyone’s pissed at?
“I’d make that deal,” we say, in the words of Inglourious Basterds’ Lt. Aldo Raine, in our minds as we digitally sign our names to the petition “Extradite Minnesotan Walter James Palmer to face justice in Zimbabwe” on the White House’s website.
Instead of paying $6 on a can of spraypaint to write SCUM on Palmer’s office door, donate that money to Doctors Without Borders.
In the time it takes you to have an argument regarding the ethics of hunting and killing animals with someone you don’t know over a Facebook comment thread, you could write a letter to a child in a poor remote village struggling to learn English because no native speakers live nearby.
Hell, if you love lions so much, do both, send the money to the El Paso Zoo along with a letter, “Get more lions.”
The fact is, Western media flew into such a craze over Cecil’s death because they felt it was the right thing to do, and Zimbabwean politicians are taking advantage of the coverage, which diverts attention away from the corruption in their government. On a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 ( very ethical), Zimbabwe in 2014 ranked at a 21 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
“Somebody killed a lion and they’re all mad?” asks a Zimbabwean politician as he wraps up $1 million in diamonds and hands it off to an assistant to smuggle it to his private, Zimbabwean military-guarded compound in Mozambique. “Let’s pretend to be really upset.”
Meanwhile, the citizens of Zimbabwe are left desperately trying to tell the rest of the world, “We don’t care about Cecil, look at everyone in our government, they all have forked tongues!”
As a final note, regarding Palmer’s character, whether he knew Cecil was a “beloved symbol of Zimbabwe” and chose to kill him anyway, I don’t know. This issue is too ridiculous to read too much into.
I will say the concept of a malicious dentist goes against everything I’ve ever thought about the practitioners of the profession.
Incapable of measuring out the proper dosage of Novocain?
Something’s rotten in Denmark with that.