Letter to the Editor: Searching for relevance in the wake of Cecil’s death

 Mr. Goodwell Nzou garnered much attention from his New York Times opinion piece, In Zimbabwe, We Don’t Cry for Lions (August 4, 2015). He presented a condescending response to those who roared with anger or grief at the reported illegal slaying of an African lion who became much more famous in death than during his life. “Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people?” Nzou challenged.

Most of us found out about Cecil at the same time we learned that Walter Palmer had allegedly lured him out of a protected area and hunted him down. And just to be clear, Cecil didn’t harm anyone. In fact, he was a standout in his tolerant behavior towards tourists who got quite close to him. Surely this is one of the reasons he was decidedly special. Besides highlighting that, the media also turned up the volume on the fact that that the lion population is drastically diminishing in Africa — and that Cecil was hunted not for meat or to protect a village — but for a joyride and a trophy.

After the upset about Cecil’s death circulated the globe at a stunning speed, a counter reaction ensued, and Nzou’s opinion piece embodied some of the sentiments. He chastised Americans for caring so much about African animals, insinuating that we didn’t care enough about African people. An interesting claim in the face of all the humanitarian aid that Americans have poured into Africa over the years. Nzou even sarcastically wondered if Jimmy Kimmel had confused Cecil for the Lion King lion when the entertainer choked up on his show as he talked about the circumstances surrounding Cecil’s death.

Nzou wrapped up his piece admonishing Americans, “Don’t tell us what to do with our animals, when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the Eastern United States.” It’s true that in our country as in Africa, we’ve made many mistakes as we have focused on expansion and looked at much of our wildlife as an inconvenience to that end. I like to think that our mistakes have led to increased consciousness, and that we have made strides to reverse some of the damage we caused.

So what is Mr. Nzou getting at? Is he portraying all lions as potential marauders of villagers that are better off dead? As man continues to push into lands where animals used to roam freely, animals will have a harder time sorting out how to survive without crossing over into newly occupied lands. Is Nzou blaming the lions for this?

Cecil’s death opened a Pandora’s box that I dare say is important to delve into. As much as the story has affected many of us on a personal level, it has also opened up essential conversations at a global level. Americans, Africans and the world at large must solve the growing challenge of expanding populations and shrinking areas for wildlife to live. It’s ok that we cry for lions. They are a precious and important part of our planet, and most people would hate to see them go. — Carol Kennedy

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