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Cecil The Lion – Details Behind The Kill

Updated on September 1, 2015
Photo adapted from Wildlife Conservation Research Unit photo of Cecil the lion
Photo adapted from Wildlife Conservation Research Unit photo of Cecil the lion

Recap Of Story That Outraged The World

According to a joint press statement by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Safari Operators Association, a professional hunter associated with a well-known local safari outfit made plans with the landowner of Antoinette Farm in Gwayi Conservancy, Hwange district on 1 July 2015 to kill a lion named Cecil. Neither the land owner nor the hunter had a permit or quota to hunt or kill the lion. Hunting regulations in this region require such permits or quotas for a legal hunt. The press statement lists names of the hunter and landowner, but the names have been omitted here, since these have been plastered across the internet with great zeal already.

According to a subsequent report, on 6 July, 2015, the professional hunter took a now infamous American dentist to Hwange National Park. The two went hunting at night with a spotlight, and they spotted Cecil. By tying a dead animal to their vehicle and scenting an area about half a kilometer from the park, they lured Cecil out of the park, where the American dentist shot the lion with a bow and arrow. This shot did not kill Cecil, thus leading to 40 hours of tracking him, after which the hunters shot the lion with a gun. Upon examining the lion, the hunters found that he was fitted with a GPS collar (as part of Hwange Lion Research, funded by Oxford University), which they tried to destroy but failed, because researchers later found the collar.

The American dentist's name likewise has been omitted here, because it also has been plastered across the internet with great zeal, to the point of focusing unfairly on one man and distracting people from a much greater problem.

The Physical Setting

Hwange National Park, where Cecil roamed, is the largest park in Zimbabwe. The park features numerous pans and pumped waterholes to provide drinking and wallowing water for a rich variety of wildlife. For tourists, the park features self-catering lodges, cottages and chalets, a camping and caravan site, picnic sites, bar and restaurant, grocery store, curio shop, petrol station, and conference facilities, according to ... the Hwange National Park website .

The Legislative Setting

According to CITES (Convention On International Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora - the organization that issues licenses to import and export animal trophies), … the government of Zimbabwe clearly outlines a strictly regulated quota system for hunting lions. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is the agency that issues quotas each year, which limit the number of animals that hunters can safely remove during a hunting season without inflicting biological damage to the population. The aim of quotas is to ensure that human use of wildlife is sustainable. In general, Zimbabwe’s national legislation is very comprehensive to ensure long term survival of the African lion.

Talking The Talk Vs. Walking The Walk

The rules in Zimbabwe's legislation, however, do NOT appear to be working consistently in PRACTICE. To get a feel for reality, a person needs only to read ... a harrowing account of the founding of the Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force ... , by organizational Chariman, Johnny Rodrigues, in which he states:

As time went on, evidence began to emerge that the main poaching rings were controlled by government officials, police, army and National Parks themselves. We reported this to Francis Nhema [then Zimbabwean Minister of the Environment and Tourism] and he refused to have anything more to do with us. We tried to continue with the anti-poaching patrols but National Parks had become hostile towards us and were not keen on working with us any longer.

Corruption In Zimbabwe

Corruption is a term whose meaning encompasses abuse of power, bribery and secret deals. There is an international non-partisan, non-governmental organization that monitors and publicizes information about corruption around the globe. Known as Transparency International, this organization has chapters in over a hundred countries, and it publishes a yearly report that includes perceived levels of corruption in countries all around the world. On a scale of 0 to 100, the organization assigns a number indicating the particular level of corruption in a given country (where 0 is most corrupt and 100 is least corrupt).

On this corruption scale, Zimbabwe rates a 21, one of the lowest ratings in Africa, which generally is perceived as a very corrupt continent (illustrated by the following map):

Worldwide Corruption Map

Map of worldwide corruption by Transparency International, with added indication of country where Cecil the lion was killed
Map of worldwide corruption by Transparency International, with added indication of country where Cecil the lion was killed | Source


Click the link to see a larger map, and observe that areas tending towards red or burgundy are the most corrupt, where the version of the map in this article indicates the location of Zimbabwe.


This information puts the account by Johnny Rodrigues (quoted earlier) into better perspective.

In a July 2015 interview with Rodrigues (by Germany's international news broadcasting organization, Deutsche Welle), when asked the question,

And the people of Zimbabwe, do they derive any benefit from the [trophy hunting] activities?, Rodrigues responded:

No. A lot of people give the meat from the carcasses to the people and then they say that they are helping the Zimbabweans. That's not the true reflection. The people who eat the meat, within two days they are back to starving. There are more constructive ways of doing it where it is sustainable. But the trophy hunting of the endangered animals should be banned and let's work on getting the tourists back. If we have the tourists who come and see the beautiful animals that will benefit more than just a couple of people.

Mark Caldwell (2015). Trophy hunting 'no help' to Zimbabwean people, DW (Deutsche Welle,Germany’s international broadcaster) interview with Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman of the Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force.

In the same interview, Rodrigues pointed out that poaching laws were NOT being enforced, because of insufficient money to pay staff, a situation that he said could be improved by bringing in more tourists, who would produce far more revenue than trophy hunters would produce over the long run.

These words come from the mouth of someone who is intimately involved with the nuts-and-bolts operation of the Zimbabwean government and economy as it relates to hunting lions. These words come at a time when corruption clearly was a key in the killing of Cecil the lion.

Conservation In Africa Suffers From Corruption

Conservation is more than just protecting life forms. It is managing them in such a way that they can sustain themselves. When humans consume any life form excessively, at a rate faster than it can replenish itself, the life form goes into severe decline and becomes endangered. If well-managed conservation efforts do not take place, then the endangered life form becomes extinct.

African lions are in severe decline, as illustrated by the following map:

Historic And Current Range Of African Lions

Map by Panthera showing historic range and current range of African lions
Map by Panthera showing historic range and current range of African lions

Even when countries have laws on their books to manage such declines, these laws do little good, if countries fail to enforce the laws. Such laws amount to mere appearances of effective management. In such cases, effective management does NOT happen, despite the officially stated requirements for it.

Corruption, then, can be a significant factor that undermines conservation efforts, as well as undermining economic benefits derived from the resources conserved. Moreover, this is NOT a new realization.

At least as far back as 1999, in an article titled, Treading Lightly? Ecotourism's Impact On The Environment. ENVIRONMENT, 41(5), 4-9+, M. S. Honey made these observations:

However, despite high income from tourism and low incidence of poaching, these two experimental parks are in trouble. The distribution of tourism profits has long been plagued with corruption and cronyism, enriching a handful of powerful politicians and businessmen. … For decades, Tanzania's commercial hunting has been infected with corruption, mismanagement, and excessive, inappropriate kills.

In a 2005 article, From Nature Tourism To Ecotourism? The Case Of The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania. HUMAN ORGANIZATION, 64(1), 75-88, S. Charnley noted:

The question of how to prevent corruption and distribute ecotourism revenue for community benefit is a difficult one, and later in the article, Charnley specifically mentioned money lost through corruption.

In a 2007 article titled, The Impact Of Sport-Hunting On The Population Dyamics Of An African Lion Population In A Protected Area. BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION, 134: 548-558, A. J. Loveridge, A. W. Searle, F. Murindagomo, and D. W. MacDonald observed:

... poorly defined or mixed objectives, institutional failure, lack of management capacity and corruption may limit the benefits to conservation [of Lions]

Two of the authors of this article were from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Oxford University – the same organization that had collared Cecil and was studying him in 2015.

In another 2007 article titled, Economic And Conservation Significance Of The Trophy Hunting Industry In Sub-Saharan Africa. BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION, 134, 455–469 P.A. Lindsey, P.A. Rouletb, and S. S. Roman pointed out:

Corruption affects the trophy hunting industry in Africa at multiple levels, from government scouts who overlook the overshooting of quotas, to government ministers favoring certain operators when granting concessions.

In 2008, in a doctoral dissertation over 400 pages long, Hassanali Thomas Sachedina described tourist hunting in Tanzania (a country renown for its trophy quality) as follows:

The tourist hunting industry in Tanzania is non-transparent and controlled by powerful cartels. The WD [Tanzania Wildlife Division] developed a centralized system with little external accountability or transparency, that ended up favoring select outfitters; a system that shielded outfitters from competition and excluded local communities from the economic benefits from hunting. This encouraged the establishment of lower-end outfitters who leased blocks which they heavily utilized to generate adequate turn-over. These companies tend to maximize profits by minimal investment and maximum tax evasion. The WD continued to subdivide hunting blocks, which increased opportunities for corruption. The quota for new sub-divided blocks stayed the same as the original, thus, off-take in an area might double or quadruple. In this way, the WD‘s focus on revenue generation through trophy fees could indeed have contributed to wildlife declines.

This is just a small part of the story that he described in great detail, based on his personal presence in the country and his face-to-face experiences or interviews with local people from all walks of life there. His doctoral thesis was for the School Of Geography And The Environment, University Of Oxford.

In 2009, M. Honey again, in a different article, Community Conservation And Early Ecotourism. ENVORONMENT, 51(1), 46-56, observed:

  • A fundamental issue shaping tourism in the Mara [one of two game reserves in the region] is corruption, with powerful politicians on the NCC [Narok County Council] or within the central government simply pocketing large sums of the tourism money or using their power to get both permits for hotels and other concessions and land for farming.
  • Thus the past two decades have witnessed building evidence that the reserve, local people, and tourism are all suffering from the corruption, land grabbing, and general mismanagement.
  • ... research has found that regulations controlling the number of vehicles and distance from animals were broken in more than 90 percent of lion and cheetah viewings.
  • … it is tourism revenue that largely fuels the corruption and land grabbing within the NCC and the group ranches.

In a 2014 article titled, Where The Wild Things Are. FOREIGN POLICY, (207), 28-32, S. C. Johnson mentioned:

... rampant corruption in South Africa ... and, in reference to rhinos, he pointed out the ... lack of legal enforcement, coupled with widespread corruption within many of the very institutions that are meant to be protecting rhinos.

The peer reviewed literature is ripe with such revealing articles, if a person is willing to search for them. There are other articles besides the ones cited above, all echoing a seemingly common phenomenon of mismanagement, not only of lions, but also of other wildlife, as well.

Comparing the map of the African lion's current range to the map of corruption on the African continent, one might see that regions with the most lions are located in or very near some of the most corrupt nations on Earth (see maps below):

Maps Comparing Lion Range To Corruption In Africa

Side-by-side Comparison of maps showing lion range and corruption in Africa – range map by Panthera, corruption map by Transparency International
Side-by-side Comparison of maps showing lion range and corruption in Africa – range map by Panthera, corruption map by Transparency International

One might also deduce that trophy hunting dollars flowing into Africa are helping to support business as usual in corrupt nations, where very few trophy hunting dollars actually help local communities in which lions are hunted, and where doubts exist as to how much money formally slated towards maintaining parks or lion ranges actually gets spent for this purpose.

The Overriding Problem

Informed sources are quick to point out that the overriding reason that African lion numbers have declined so drastically is habitat loss. This is an indirect way of saying that human population growth has taken over much of the land area where lions traditionally roamed.

In Africa, between 1960 and 2010, when lion numbers declined a shocking 70%, human population numbers grew over four and a half times during the same period. In other words, four and a half times more humans has reduced lions to well over half their historic numbers in just fifty years. The human population of Africa is currently on target to almost double its current number in just 35 more years. With corruption as a significant factor in efforts to manage remaining areas where lions roam, the future prospects of African lions seem even more bleak.

Many people in Africa are barely surviving off the land. To these people (farmers and ranchers), freely roaming lions are threats to their livestock. These people already kill quite a few lions every year, either as retaliation or as prevention. Trophy hunters only add to these kills, for reasons that have little to do with survival, more to do with the satisfaction of killing itself. Now add corrupt or poor management of the remaining designated conservation ranges, where local people are given no economic benefits from the lions, and a person can readily see that all arguments in favor of lion trophy hunting fail.

Conservation arguments for trophy hunting in Africa turn out to be empty statements about good management THEORY that have few consistent practitioners in FACT, as illustrated by the chart below:

Assessment Of Lion Trophy Hunting In Sixteen African Countries

Combined charts from 2011 Lion Aid Summary Report summarizing lion trophy hunting in Africa
Combined charts from 2011 Lion Aid Summary Report summarizing lion trophy hunting in Africa

Economic arguments claiming that local African communities benefit from trophy hunting turn out to be simply false, as illustrated by the graph below:

Where Trophy Hunting Money Goes

Forbes adaptation of Economists At Large economic data on trophy hunting, with added highlighting of community development percentage
Forbes adaptation of Economists At Large economic data on trophy hunting, with added highlighting of community development percentage

How does a rational civilization then allow further killing for mere self gratification?

— RG Kernodle

Economics And Ethics

Given the various forces that already threaten to kill off this iconic animal, enlightened people would do well to ask, “How does a rational civilization then allow further killing for mere self- gratification? - by wealthy foreigners who tread on community lands carrying big guns and big egos, brandishing their wealth and power in the faces of those poor people who watch over living trophies for so little in return?”

Killing large animals for pleasure under any circumstances is already a subject of ethical questioning, but to condone and to allow more of such killing for pleasure under these extreme conditions seems unconscionable.


Claiming that trophy hunting of African lions has a place in today's world is untenable because of:

  • Exponential human population growth.
  • Resultant extreme lion habitat loss.
  • Resultant increased killing of lions to protect livestock.
  • Corruption and mismanagement of remaining lion ranges.
  • Failure to channel economic benefits of lions to local communities.
  • Unrelenting (even increasing) demand for lion trophies by outsiders.

Survey About Trophy Hunting African Lions

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