Cecil, we hardly knew you.
But here’s what we do know: We know the name of Walter Palmer, an American dentist, who was identified as the individual who killed beloved Cecil the lion earlier this month.
We know 13-year-old Cecil, a drawcard at Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe, was lured out of the grounds with the scent of food (reportedly a dead animal tied to a vehicle) into unprotected territory.
We know Palmer first shot Cecil with a crossbow, tracked him for approximately 40 hours then finished him off with a gun.
We know Cecil was beheaded, skinned and left to rot.
We also know that Palmer paid more than $50,000 to act out his fantasy and was aided and abetted by two Zimbabweans (Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter, and Trymore Ndlovu, a farm owner) and that they attempted to destroy the GPS collar Cecil wore as part of the University of Oxford’s research program studying the decline in Africa’s lion population.
Animal rights activists were always going to be the first to condemn Palmer. They only have one temperature anyway: centre-of-the-sun hot (they wouldn’t be as fanatical about animal welfare if their passion was stone cold). But something about the murder of Cecil the lion has struck a chord with the public. The firestorm it ignited has been unprecedented with celebrities leading the chorus baying for Palmer’s blood.
We all acknowledge that Walter Palmer is Douchebag of the Week. But the intensity of the social media backlash hints there is something about this case of animal cruelty that transcends another Japanese trawler hunting whales or another season of baby seal clubbing.
Palmer is being met with exponentially more vitriol than Kendall Jones and the Trumps (Eric and Donald, Jr.) who have in recent months been persecuted in the court of public opinion for boasting about their respective trophy hunts. Calls for Palmer to suffer the same fate as Cecil are commonplace and one detractor even left a card at his dental practice reading “ROT IN HELL”.
The act of killing an animal for sport is reprehensible, particularly when you are only afforded the opportunity if you have deep pockets – it’s another one of those things the middle class (and decent human beings) cannot fathom. The reaction has been so extraordinary, in some measure, because many consider game hunting not only inhumane but a coward’s sport. Where is the challenge, many would argue, in hunting an animal that never stood a chance to begin with? And is the thrill of that one shot worth ending the life of an innocent animal?
But killing an iconic animal is, in the eyes of many, unforgivable. The fact that the lion had a name (“Cecil”) endeared him to the masses. That, in itself, was reason enough for people to make their impassioned cries of “MURDER” heard.
And heard they were.
Bronchorst and Ndlovu were arrested on poaching charges but released on bail on Wednesday. They face up to 10 years imprisonment if found guilty. The hunter, however, has gone underground but cannot escape the lynch mob. Palmer has been savaged online, inundated with comments from people unleashing torrents of abuse and threats. His practice, River Bluff Dental in Minnesota, has gone into lockdown. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest even acknowledged that a petition demanding Palmer’s extradition had “reached the threshold” and would require a response from the White House. This is far from over.