The final roar: Cecil’s tragedy must mark a turning point

Outrage at lion’s murder must spur us into halting the decline in the ‘crown jewels’ of Africa and the natural world


Cecil, who has come to represent what the world loves about wildlife


AS WALTER PALMER raised his fatal bow and arrow, did he look into the eyes of the lion he was about to murder? Did he consider, even for a second, his minuscule significance in the world compared with that of the innocent, gentle creature whose life he intended to steal?

It’s doubtful he can have done, because if he had, even without knowing his target was one of the most revered animals in Africa, he would have understood in a flash the moral repulsiveness of his actions.

But people who enjoy killing beautiful living beings cannot have have the modest intelligence necessary to see their murdering sprees in the context of humanity’s destruction of vast swathes of the natural world, don’t have the heart or soul necessary to understand other lives are not theirs to take, at any price.

Heaven only knows what goes on in the warped minds of individuals who take pleasure in killing sublime, sensitive creatures.

Cecil’s murder is a tragic symbol of all that’s wrong with humanity’s attitude to other living beings

It’s in part thanks to people such as the wealthy Minnesota dentist, who arrogantly think murder is acceptable if you hand over enough dollars, that numbers of African lions have been plummeting. Estimates of the decline vary, from about 200,000 a century ago to 50,000 in the 1980s, to an estimated 25,000 now; Lion Aid puts it at an even worse 15,000 today.

Cecil’s murder is a tragic symbol of all that’s wrong with humanity’s attitude to other living beings.

But less high-profile killings – hunting without permits, poaching, poisonings and canned hunting (in which animals are bred in captivity for the purpose of being murdered by humans) are all too common across Africa, going largely unreported, and therefore not prevented.

Combined with habitat loss (and guess who’s responsible for that? Clue: not other wildlife), Africa’s lion populations are facing extinction, estimated variously at between five and 20 years.

Imagine a world without some of the species we are rapidly driving to extinction – it would be barren, soulless, worn-out wreck of an Earth. Is that what we really want?

Allowing these wondrous beings to die out would be a shameful, scandalous indictment of our apathy, our failure as an intelligent race

Zimbabwe, in whose Hwange National Park Cecil was killed, is already the subject of international anger and condemnation for selling baby elephants to China, causing distress and suffering to animals en route as well as the families from whom they are torn.

There’s a deep irony in the fact that some of the poorest and most poverty-stricken countries in the world are hosts to some of the most precious, incredible forms of life.

Celebrities have been quick to join condemnation of Cecil’s murder, from Ian Poulter, Newt Gingrich and Sir Roger Moore, to Cara Delevingne and Sharon Osbourne.

So what’s to be done? The arguments surrounding the problem are not straightforward, and nor are solutions, but there can be no excuse for allowing the decline to continue. It won’t be easy, but it should be an international priority.

Hunting supporters claim the income is necessary to help support conservation in Africa, bringing more revenue than wildlife-watching tourism. Without the income, the land would be turned over to farming – and the habitats would be lost.

What an objectionable choice: murdering animals directly or killing them by destroying their habitats.

This is a breathtaking example of man’s arrogance – as though every living species must be either destroyed or farmed for food – and of the dangers of allowing unchecked population growth.

But the financial argument is fallacious and utterly unsustainable: what will the likes of Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana do for income when all the lions are gone? These governments need to look beyond the ends of their own noses. If it were true that the income was a vital support for conservation work, populations would be thriving, not dropping.

US and EU must act urgently

It’s clear that current levels of protection are woefully inadequate. African governments and organisers of paid hunts cannot be relied on, and outside help is needed. So for a start, the celebrities speaking out could help by putting their money where their mouths are and donating to charities doing excellent work on the ground, such as the Born Free Foundation and Lion Aid.

But relying on charities by definition is not enough. Some have argued for handing over responsibility to private companies.

But for a longer term solution, the EU and the US must take a lead in the world and ban the importation of trophies from any type of hunting. The US Fish and Wildlife Service could start immediately by listing African lions as endangered by law, which would stop imports of trophies. If moneybags hunters can’t bring their kills home, they will have less incentive to shoot in the first place. British MPs and MEPs should raise the issue urgently with Brussels.

In countries where corruption is endemic, the task of guarding some of our most treasured and declining fellow creatures should be supervised by inter-governmental co-operation working groups – possibly even using the funding of private businesses in return for harmless publicity – to provide the highest standards of protection.

Nothing short of a UN agreement is needed to arrest and turn around the fatal course that big cat populations are on. Lion Aid needs all the support it can get in pushing further measures in Africa itself and beyond.

We are privileged to be able to share our world with these sublime animals, and need to put as much effort into preserving them and their habitats as we put into creating our own society

When an overwhelming majority of right-minded people are disgusted by hunting, it is absurd that a minority can still be allowed to indulge their short-sighted, selfish, bloodthirsty whims this way.

So let us hope Cecil’s death marks a turning point in our priorities. `

We are privileged to be able to share our world with these sublime animals, and need to put as much effort into preserving them and their habitats as we put into creating the infrastructures of our own society.

Allowing these wondrous beings to die out would be a shameful, scandalous indictment of our apathy, our failure as an intelligent race – a perfect illustration of the adage about evil flourishing when good people do nothing. While we sit by and wring our hands, we are demonstrating how we humans are too spineless to properly tackle the crisis, and how, in lacking sufficient compassion to drive us to act, for all our technological advancements, we are still primitive in our attitudes towards conserving some of the crown jewels of the natural world.

Image: Vince O’Sullivan

Mass ritual slaughter ‘may be repeated’

Animal advocates celebrating end of five-yearly festival are warned the tradition of sacrifice of living beings runs deep

open-air slaughter pen

Animals are herded into large open-air pens to be slaughtered without stunning

EXPERTS are advising caution as campaigners celebrate the announcement that the world’s biggest animal-beheading frenzy will end.

The bloody festival of Gadhimai in Nepal may not be entirely over, they warned, as religious beliefs and rituals run deep in Hindu culture – and just this week evidence emerged of human ritual sacrifice in the country.

The festival, held every five years, involves decapitating hundreds of thousands of buffalo and other animals in giant pens without stunning, using knives and swords.

But on Tuesday, the Gadhimai temple trust announced that after 265 years, the killing would end, to be replaced with “peaceful worship and celebration”.

The decision followed worldwide campaigns by animal advocates and lengthy discussions with the temple involving the Humane Society International (HSI) and Animal Welfare Network Nepal.

Fam Chandra Shah, head of the temple trust, said: “For generations, pilgrims have sacrificed animals to the goddess Gadhimai, in the hope of a better life. For every life taken, our heart is heavy. The time has come to transform an old tradition.”

Progressive, younger thinkers, will rejoice in the cancellation of the festival as a sign of commitment to a more secular society –Nepalese expert Professor Michael Hutt

An estimated half a million creatures were killed in the two-day event in 2009. Fully conscious animals, including water buffalo, sheep, goats and pigs were decapitated or had their throats cut by untrained knifemen, and their bodies and separated heads lay thick on the ground afterwards.

A consultant for HSI India, Gauri Maulekhi, who campaigned on the ground against the sacrificial practices, said: “We commend the temple committee but acknowledge that a huge task lies ahead of us in educating the public so that they are fully aware.”

He said HSI India and others would now spend the next three-and-a-half years until the next Gadhimai educating devotees in key states on the temple’s decision. “Animal sacrifice is a highly regressive practice and no nation in the modern world should entertain it,” he said.

Boy, 10, sacrificed

However, the practice of sacrifice of living creatures is deeply embedded in Hindu tradition, and is widespread even away from the Gadhimai festival.

Just this week, it was reported that a 10-year-old boy had been murdered on the advice of a shaman, in the belief that a human sacrifice would help cure another boy. One man was arrested.

An expert in Nepalese culture told The News Hub animals are slaughtered daily without stunning, which would make them insensitive to pain. “You have a culture there particularly of animal sacrifice to the gods in Hinduism. One big blow of the khukri [a traditional knife] and off comes the head,” said Professor Michael Hutt.

Mr Hutt, head of the School of Oriental and African Studies’ South Asia Institute at the University of London, predicted a mixed reaction to the ban on Gadhimai killings, as Nepal is going through a slow transition from a kingdom to a secular state.

“A lot of people – the progressive, secular, younger thinkers, will rejoice in the cancellation of the festival as a sign of commitment to a secular society,” he said. “But others – an older, more conservative sector, will mourn it as the end of a tradition. I expect some might still try to take animals for slaughter to the next event.”


The slaughter festival was big business for those who sell the meat. Organisers made about £1.5million from each event, so there is likely to be pressure in 2019 to resurrect it.

Some parts of Nepal are populated by Hindus who do not believe in animal sacrifice – and many of whom are vegetarian – but superstition runs deep in the Bara district, where Gadhimai is held.

A spokeswoman for HSI in the UK added: “The hard work is now ahead of us in terms of mass awareness-raising. We now enter the planning phase of what will surely be a multi-faceted large-scale public education programme.

“I’m sure that some people will still bring animals, and there will be an exercise on the ground in 2019 during the festival, but we’ll be working in direct co-operation with the temple trust to ensure that we implement the best approach.”

Joanna Lumley

Lumley, a Gurkha campaigner, pleaded with Nepal for a ban

Joanna Lumley, the former Bond girl, Absolutely Fabulous star and Gurkha rights campaigner (left), last year appealed to Nepal to halt the festival, saying mass unregulated slaughter should play no part in the cultural life of the country where she has many friends and followers.

Lumley, whose father was a wartime Gurkha officer, wrote to the Hindu Council UK, saying: “Festivals involving animal sacrifice are increasingly seen as out of date in the modern world. With Hinduism’s history of vegetarianism, so beautifully illustrated by many of the great teachers and by leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, this particular festival stands out as a cruel anachronism.”

The Nepalese government put more than £32,000 towards the 2009 event, but last year it reportedly did not fund it, in response to a global outcry.

UK Hindus’ views

Supporters of the festival claimed it was an established tradition and that the number of people sacrificing animals in the hope of wealth and good luck was rising. They said Westerners should not make judgments.

But opponents say the killings were far worse than those in Western abattoirs – both because of the numbers involved and because the killers were untrained: they would hack at an animals’ necks many times, causing prolonged excruciating suffering.

They point out that it takes up to 25 sword attacks to kill a buffalo.

Last September, an Indian court banned the transport of animals across the border for sacrifice, which led to a drop of around 70 percent in numbers slaughtered.

The Nepalese Hindu Forum UK and the Hindu Council UK both opposed the festival. The council backed Lumley in handing a 75,000-name petition to the Nepalese embassy last year.

Animal Welfare Network Nepal also said there was much work to be done to ensure devotees adopted new ways of taking part in the festival.

Images: AFP/Getty/ Gurkha Justice Campaign / Flickr


Fury as vivisection dogs breeding centre gets go-ahead

Campaigners consider legal action but breeders dismiss fears as ‘tosh’


Beagles will be bred for experiments

ANIMAL charities are considering taking legal action over a decision to allow a breeding centre to be created for hundreds of dogs destined for vivisection.

Campaigners said the ruling would condemn sensitive animals to drawn-out and agonising experiments, and that profiting from such tests was unnecessary.

They pointed out that in January, three executives of the sister company to the Yorkshire one were convicted of animal cruelty at a similar breeding centre in Italy. Continue reading

Profoundly undemocratic: Government inaction over ‘performing’ animals is a proper circus

Performing animals 1

Tigers are kept in cages constantly at the UK’s remaining circuses

LAST week, a circus-style show came to town in Powys, Wales. It promised live entertainment every night for nine nights. But it wasn’t accompanied by any of the usual circus fanfare – perhaps because organisers knew the higher the profile, the more ire it would attract.

The star “performers” are two lions and three tigers, giants of the African plains and Asian jungle, who spend their lives being transported around Britain and Ireland in cages. When not on show, there is nothing for them to do but pace their tiny spaces restlessly, irritably, or lie imprisoned.

Anyone with a modicum of sensitivity who has seen footage of – or witnessed first hand – a big cat repetitively prowling a cage, with barely enough turning room, can be in no doubt about what confinement does to these dignified animals. Continue reading