In Zimbabwe, a majestic 13-year-old endangered and beloved lion, with an unusual and recognizable black mane, named Cecil, was lured away from his safe lair in Hwange National Park. Three hunters tied the body of a delicious and pungent dead animal to the top of their jeep in order to entice Cecil away from home.
This is a story about hunters and money. This is a story about the hunter and the hunted.
Cecil, a magnificent, regal, graceful, big cat, was tricked, taunted, and treated like a sack of cotton—not a living thing with the power to feel and know, with a right to live.
This is a story about what happens when someone doesn’t know or care about the difference between empathy and sympathy.
This is a story about power, weaponry, and human beings who feel they have to control, then kill something that looks dangerous, some live thing full of grace, beauty, and power, in order to prove just who the "king of the jungle" really is, in order to keep score with who wins and who loses, in order to feel bigger and better and more powerful, more successful in this life, in order to be able to say they have something no one else has.
This is a story about the hunted and the hunter and because I, a poet, am writing this story there will be metaphor, intended.
All of this horror and pain inflicted upon this great animal and his pride was painstakingly planned.
Once off protected land, Cecil was shot with the arrow of the hunter’s crossbow. If the three hunters wanted to shoot, kill, and get their hunt over with, they could have shot Cecil with the high-powered rifle right from the start, end of story. But that is not what these kinds of hunter’s wanted to do. They didn’t want to just kill something. They wanted to feel the killing. They wanted to draw the killing out. They wanted to rub themselves in mud and blood and feel—what they believe— real men are supposed to feel.
This is a story about how these hunters needed to hunt down the hunted animal slowly, methodically, in brutal fashion. This is a story about how these hunters wanted to see the majestic big cat moan, run, beg, writhe in pain, before skinning it, before trying to hide their crime and pull off its GPS collar.
Beautiful Cecil, with his unusual black mane, fled deep into the bush like any lion would. Cecil, the leader of his pride. He was a sacred creature of the universe. Like any creature of the universe, who does not pack a rifle, he knew he had to get away from who was packing a rifle and trying to kill him. Cecil wanted to live. I’m sure the hunters, who had hunted many times before, knew Cecil would take off and run. These kinds of men are in it for the chase. The trophy is the head that they eventually cut off from the rest of the body. The chase is what makes them feel like men.
I have heard those who chase and hunt down other living beings talk openly about the excitement of outrunning that living thing, of chasing it down, fast, and killing it slowly.
Cecil was already wounded, terrified, confused, away from his family, and running for his life. The hunter who shot the bow perhaps had no idea how large Cecil’s heart was or how great his desire to live would be. Or maybe he did know? Maybe that was the plan all along. Maybe he hoped the hunt would go on longer than it did. Maybe 40 hours wasn’t long enough to see a great animal suffer and die the worst death of all, a slow one.
The three hunters who set out to murder the great beloved Zimbabwean cat believe hunting is a great human sport. They believe that it is their human right, their privilege, to kill other forms of life that are “beneath them” on the great scale of life.
Hunting used to happen because people needed food to eat. This is not that story.
In this particular moment this kind of hunting happened because a rich dentist from Minnesota paid $50,000 and flew to Zimbabwe to make his dream come true.
A dentist from Minnesota paid $50,000 to watch an arrow enter the side of a grand great life form and then set out on the chase behind it to prove he was a man. This dentist from Minnesota spent the next 40 hours “being a man” (I suppose) and hunting down the great lion he had dreamed of killing.
This same Minnesota dentist can be seen in photo after photo, moments after other killings, of a great black-tailed deer and a great mountain ram. He can be seen hugging the great animals very close, almost affectionately.
When the Minnesota dentist is not replacing crowns and doing titanium bridges and root canals he can be found lifting dead leopards and black bears into his arms, into the frame of some photo shoot.
He takes a photo of his kill before he beheads or skins it in order to have proof, proof of his power and prowess. The blood on his hands is not enough proof. The cries of the lion are not enough proof. He needs to relive his slaughter over and over again. When he gets back home to Minnesota, he needs to show his friends evidence of his wild outdoor adventures out in the wild world of Africa. He must prove where he has been all week, before the truck arrives at his back door, with one more chased down, tricked, beheaded, head of some great phylum, kingdom, order, family, genus, that will soon be lifted to the walls of his man cave.
After Cecil the lion’s 40 hours of slow death, they beheaded him, maybe with a machete, after they took the prize of his head, they took his great lion skin in their bare human hands and ripped the soft fleece of it off his carcass and left his great Emperor body to rot in the sun.
Will the head be shipped back to the States in order to be hung on his Minnesota dental office wall? Will Cecil’s skin be bundled and washed clean of his 40 slow motion hours of dying— then made ready for a floor in a Park Avenue home?
The dentist from Minnesota says he "regrets" his part in the killing of a lion named Cecil.
The dentist from Minnesota is a liar.
What the dentist regrets is that Cecil was beloved and that Cecil had a name. The hundreds of other great and majestic animals that he has chased and killed and beheaded and skinned had no names.
In photograph after photograph, the dentist from Minnesota is coupled with the newly dead and the-not-yet-stiff, great leopards and longhorns. He sits there with his shirt off like he is Tarzan of the jungle. None of the animals in the photographs have personal names. None of the animals in the photographs had an Internet to photograph and weigh in on their hunt and destruction. None of the animals in the photographs had strangers around the world willing to count how many hours it took for them to slowly die.
The dentist from Minnesota "regrets" it was Cecil because we cared about Cecil long before he shot Cecil. He didn’t care about what we felt before that. He didn’t care about the lion-to-lion killing that is now going to happen because now that Cecil, who was the head of his pride, has been shot, hunted down, beheaded, and skinned—another male lion must now step to the head of the line. When he does, one by one, the new head of the pride will kill off Cecil’s cubs in order to keep the bloodlines of the pride clean. The female mother lions will also die because they will step in and try to protect their young.
The dentist from Minnesota got his lion and then he got on his plane and flew back to his shiny sterilized world in order to do more oral surgeries that will send him out on more safaris.
The dentist from Minnesota cares nothing about the absolute, catastrophic devastation he and his greedy heart have now caused.
It was "all legal" the Minnesota dentist insists.
What men refer to ambush or murder or slaughter or death or killing as "legal"? It is an old trick.
It is a trick that men have used against other men. It is used as an act of aggression, a polite one. It is used as a ploy to disguise hateful irresponsible behavior. It is used when a man woman refuses to responsibility for his greed or his heartless behavior. It is used to shade the hand of a coward. Men hide behind this phrase all the time. It’s legal? It’s my right?
Instead of asking or wondering or pondering or considering what right looks like—in the realm of all living things.
The dentist from Minnesota feigns ignorance and then goes off to hide until his next hunt, when he will be sure to ask before he gets on his plane, if the animal they are going to hunt down has a name and a personality or a reputation, or if he only skin and head like the others.
All day I have tried to leave this story behind me and get on with the work that I was doing before I heard this story, but no matter what I do, I can still see are the photographs, with eyes of the beautiful animals, limp in the arms of the dentist from Minnesota, their eyes are still partly open, all the life not yet drained from them. They are in their last moments of being on the Earth.
When I close my eyes I can feel and see them leaving. I don’t see the dentist from Minnesota as much as I see the great animals themselves. When I look into their eyes, even in these their last moments, I feel them trying to warn, that there are other hunters roaming about, with more alluring things, tied to the tops of their cars, slowly riding through our neighborhoods, hoping we will follow.
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