Cecil the lion. (Photo: AP Photo/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit)
Cecil the lion has grabbed headlines since his recent death at the hands of American dentist and big-game hunter Walter Palmer.
The 13-year-old Southwest African lion, a major attraction at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, was reportedly lured outside of the protected sanctuary where he lived, wounded with an arrow, and later shot and killed by Palmer. (Palmer recently contacted authorities and admitted to the killing, NBC News reports.) Animal conservationists, politicians, celebrities, and the general public have repeatedly expressed outrage about the killing.
Then, attention was turned to Jericho, the brother of Cecil, after reports falsely stated that he had also been killed. A tweet issued by the University of Oxford, which tracked Cecil and Jericho, confirming Jericho’s well-being was retweeted more than 1,000 times:
Zimbabwe has suspended the hunting of all of its wildlife after officials announced that a second American illegally killed a lion on land where hunting is forbidden, the Associated Press reports. Gynecological oncologist Jan Casimir Seski is accused of killing the lion in April, according to the AP.
News about the lions has spawned thousands of online comments, posts, and tweets. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel even choked up on his show while talking about Cecil’s death.
But why is there such outrage over the death of an animal we’ve never met — outrage that seems to be shared by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike?
Experts say it’s all about the injustice behind Cecil’s death. “There is something emotionally compelling in the alleged details in which this all happened,” licensed clinical psychologist Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Health. “It touches on our cultural and societal beliefs around themes of injustice and victimization — and these beliefs are certainly not limited to people.”
Psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, author of Becoming Real: The Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back, tells Yahoo Health that we can also mentally link the circumstances surrounding Cecil’s death with other disturbing issues in the world and our own lives.
Cecil was killed by a wealthy doctor who reportedly used his money to entrap an animal that was somewhat domesticated — and that feels like cheating the system to us, Saltz explains. It can hit close to home for people who have struggled with a similar scenario in their lives, such as having a wealthy boss who regularly abuses his power and makes life miserable for others.
But what makes us so upset about the death of a lion on another continent versus, say, a cow living in the next state over that ends up as a hamburger?
“Killing an animal to eat feels much more ‘just’ in our minds than killing an animal for a trophy,” explains Saltz. While many people consciously or unconsciously disassociate the bacon on their plates from the pig they see in a field, she says we’re often able to feel OK about it knowing that the animal died for a reason (i.e. to feed us), rather than sport.
As for all of the comments, Facebook posts, and tweets Cecil’s death has inspired, Saltz says there’s comfort in that collective grieving, as well as hope: “It can make us feel empowered that if enough people are disturbed, we may be able to change a behavior, like poaching.”
A CrowdRise fundraiser to end poaching that was started in honor of Cecil has already raised more than $60,000.
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