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A celebrity paid thousands to kill a lion like Cecil. But he had no idea what effect it would have.

It’s funny what prompts a memory….

It’s a moment where we all agree – we’re all deeply saddened by that Cecil-killing dentist. I still struggle to understand what jollies anyone would get from taking down an animal like that. There’s not much sport in launching an arrow into a magnificent beast whilst it’s feasting on an elephant carcass that’s been dragged out of the national park as bait. But then, I’m not much of a hunter.

You could argue lots of things about Walter Palmer and Theo “I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong” Bronkhurst, and I can’t think of any that’d land them in the high moral ground category. I understand hunting, and I certainly understand culling where warranted to keep an ecology balanced, but this was different.

Something must have happened to the dentist to make him want to kill majestic animals like this. If it’s true that he asked to bag a huge bull elephant afterward, then whatever it was in his past, it can’t have been good. Either that or he’s feeling ripped off about the size of his penis and he’s trying to make up for it.

But it is strange what triggers a memory.

I haven’t had much cause to think back to a trip to Africa last century. The reminders have all been given away: the six-foot wooden giraffe no longer watches us from the corner of the living room, and the girls over the back fence are the new owners of our African animal tea set. Weirdly, I bought a bike home from that trip, too. Gone now, rusted.

Cecil the Lion.

But I’ll never forget a story we heard around a campfire in Botswana. There’s no reason not to believe it’s true.

Our guide said to us in a magnificently hard South African accent, ‘Have you heard of Ted Turner? The guy from CNN?’

Of course we had. At the time he was the richest man on the planet.

‘Well I took him hunting. For lion.’ We were sitting around a fire under a blanket of stars. From time to time lions would huff or roar in the distance. They were from a pride we’d been tracking for much of the day without success, but our guide had filled us with hope, showing us footprints and reasons to believe we’d find them soon enough.

Andrew Daddo in Africa, on the trip where he heard a hunting story with a happy ending.

‘So Turner’s got this gun, see? It’s massive. Telescopic sights, laser maybe. It had everything on board, and all I’ve got is my Lee Enfield .303 with the old fashioned sights. Primitive, but deadly. We had no truck, just walked, for three days. It was hot as hell, and I told him to wait and I’d find a lion and come get him, but he wouldn’t have it. He wanted to be in the hunt, too.’

And at the time he was telling us, we’re sitting around this campfire as a lion made himself known in the distance, ‘Phooff! Phooff!”

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“How far off is that lion?” someone asked. A combination of anxiety and interest.

“He could be five miles from here. You’re safe,” said the guide. I expected him to drag a dead match across his stubble and light it, just for something to do. “We saw lots of lions, but none of them were big enough. Turner. He’s tough. He said bigger. I want bigger.”

‘Then I saw new tracks. This was it. This thing was massive, feet this wide! We found him the next day, but from a distance, so we walked, we followed, we moved with the wind. I could smell it. He was amazing, his mane thick in front of his ears. This was a big cat. The biggest.”

We’re all thinking, don’t kill it. Don’t kill it!

Ted Turner was one of the world’s richest men when he was married to Jane Fonda in 1997.

“I’ve said to Ted, ‘There’s your cat.’ And Ted said, ‘Yes. I believe that’s the one.'”

Around the fire, we were all like, Noooooooooooooooo!

“He was under a tree, it was hot, he was resting. So Ted takes a knee and brings the gun up to his eye, to firing position. He knows what he’s doing, he winds the strap around his hand, he slows his breathing, he has stalked and hunted. Ted Turner is ready to take his prize. And I stood behind him with that .303 sighted between the cat’s eyes, because if he misses, we’re both dead. The cat looked at us. He fucking looked at us and it’s like he’s dared us to kill him. ‘Shoot it.’ I hissed at Turner. ‘Shoot it.’ But he won’t pull his trigger. The guy’s a pussy. He’s frozen, and I’m thinking this thing’s going to come at us and I’m going to have to shoot it. After a minute or so, easily long enough to kill it, the lion gets up and stares at us. He’s absolutely massive. ‘Shoot it!’ Then the lion walked off into the scrub, and I’m thinking, “Goddamn it, now we’ll have to spend another day trying to get another chance like that.

“So I said to Ted, ‘Why didn’t you shoot it?'”

“And he said to me, ‘I did. About 10 times.’ Then he pulled a cheque out of his pocket to easily cover the price of our time together and shooting a lion and said, ‘Now take me home!'”

And we cheered. That night, in the African bush, in the dust and the scrub with the smoke climbing into the star filled night, we actually cheered.

He didn’t need to kill the lion to know he could have shot it.

What a shame the dentist didn’t have the sense or the heart to do the same.

What do you think about the death of Cecil the lion?

Want more? Try these…

This is not sport. It’s murder.

The American dentist who killed and skinned one of Africa’s most famous lions.

Yes, Cecil’s killer is a monster. But the lynch mob should turn their anger into action. 

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