How A Lion Named Cecil Changed The World

How A Lion Named Cecil Changed The World
Cecil the lion in July 2015. Image by paulafrenchp via Flickr Creative Commons.

By Gary Carter

What happened with Cecil the Lion was horrible, but something else happened too. With his poaching, suddenly everyone was painfully aware of the horrors of trophy hunting. In response, France and Australia banned the import of lion trophies, and the UK may soon follow. The United Nations passed an anti-poaching resolution. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed African lions under the Endangered Species Act, and U.S. lawmakers have proposed two bills The Cecil Act, and the Anti-Poaching Act. More than 40 airlines, including several major U.S. ones also stopped transporting trophies to the U.S.

In the same vein, the documentary Blood Lions which investigated canned lion hunts in South Africa, further galvanized the public against lion hunting and prodded South Africa’s professional hunting association to withdraw support for the industry. There were presidential pledges, major arrests, and citizen-led movements for change. Even the Pope got in on the action. Cecil was well known in Zimbabwe, but when Cecil was killed by an American dentist on a big game hunt, the lion became famous around the world.

For weeks after, the public heard over and over how Cecil had been illegally lured out of a national park, wounded with an arrow, stalked for 40 hours, then shot dead. And this is called a ‘’sport”. The world was outraged. Justice for Cecil became a rallying cry. Heated debates to end trophy hunting ensued, and record donations to conservation groups soared. Cecil’s death changed the public’s perception of wildlife exploitation. Centuries of humans destroying the planet has brought on the sixth mass extinction, with animal lives being extinguished at rates that are 10,000 times the norm.

The mounting evidence of the destruction being caused, hasn’t been enough to make the masses stop and take notice, but Cecil did. For days his plight dominated every media outlet even though animal abuse is rarely discussed in mainstream media, for fear of offending industries who profit from animal suffering by being massive advertisers. Social media first broke the news of Cecil’s torture and slaying, and the public outcry was so enormous that mainstream media was overwhelmed by it. Jane Velez-Mitchell from CNN passionately spoke about how we have finally reached a tipping point in our attitudes toward animal protection at the Animal Rights Conference 2015 in Washington, DC on August 1.

Cecil’s death was tragic, but it will not be in vain. Now, because of his horribly disgusting murder, people worldwide are very much more aware of how wrong it is to kill such a magnificent animal, and how even though he was on a reserve and technically protected, [in the end,] he still wasn’t safe. After the narcissist dentist Walter Palmer murdered Cecil the lion, people around the world collectively expressed their outrage, and as a result, trophy hunting will never be the same. Never has activism produced such quick results. In fact, the major airlines promptly banned the transport of animal trophies on their aircraft.

Five months after Cecil’s murder in Zimbabwe by the Minnesota dentist, the Obama administration has decided to place lions in Africa under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, an action that will set a much higher bar for hunters who want to bring lion trophies into the United States. Cecil has become a public figure that will never go away. Because of Cecil, more people who participate in trophy hunting are being called out and humiliated. Cecil even made it into a tribute to endangered species that was broadcast on the Empire State building where millions of people could see his majestic face.

As of December 23, 2015, lions are now declared endangered and threatened throughout Africa and this will greatly reduce these trophy hunts. We humans are really are a conceited species. With many humanoids, the only time something is important is when it’s about them. Not only is it incomprehensible to me that anyone would want to kill an endangered animal, but to lure Cecil from the safety of a national park and then to shoot him with a crossbow to suffer for 40 hours before killing him? I have no words to express my repugnance. And his magnificent head was severed from his wounded body. This behavior is described as a ‘’sport”.

Many millions of people worldwide are now united forcing change because of Cecil. Their eyes have been opened to the dark side of human nature. Cecil’s story is special because he was an icon in Zimbabwe, but the story of suffering and impact on his family is similar for many animals each year as a result of trophy hunters who consider their behavior ‘’sport.’’ Barbaric murders by trophy hunters to gratify the ego rapidly is falling out of acceptance in our society. Cecil greatly suffered before his death, but he is now paving the way for less suffering for his animal comrades down the line.

Cecil the lion and Tilikum the Orca are two very different animals who wanted something very similar — to live free and without fear. Tilikum exposed SeaWorld, and even though he is gone, Cecil has exposed the horrifying world of trophy hunting. The NRA may be powerful enough to keep the guns flowing, but they aren’t powerful enough to stop social change. Cecil’s untimely death also gave people an opportunity to educate themselves about the issues and become involved with wildlife protection and policies that impact threatened species around the world.

Americans are responsible for 60 percent of the lions killed for sport in Africa and then shipped to the United States as trophies. Hunting animals purely for sport is wrong. A “trophy” is something earned usually by achieving a goal. Killing something is not an achievement and animals should not be considered trophies. Thanks to Cecil we are all shining the light on the issue. Cecil the Great Lion King has shown us the way, and we must now follow. Cecil was not only the king of beasts, but he is also the lion who changed the world.

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 $3.00 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. 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 activism and a demand for change. People are actually starting to believe that Cecil’s death could truly be the tragic event that unites the world in a singular cause.

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? This is undoubtedly based upon the premise “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Cecil has indeed become a powerful symbol of change as it pertains to lion conservation and the growing hatred and outrage against trophy hunting.

We recently received great news Cecil’s grand-cubs are now on the way! Cecil certainly rocked the world in 2015 and what a fitting tribute that he may be the stone that drops Goliath. Frankly, I’m a little peeved that I can’t take credit for that prosaic golden nugget. Cecil lives on forever in our hearts and now belongs to the ages. RIP, Oh Great Lion King.


Gary Carter has led numerous film crews making wildlife documentaries including with the BBC, worked with environmental groups in federal courts protecting endangered species and their habitats. Contact him for additional information at 864-638-2405 or email


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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