Earlier this week, Cecil the Zimbabwe lion was tragically shot by an American dentist, Walter Palmer (who of course claims being unaware of the illegality of his actions).
Now unless he's being thrown off a cliff by his brother leaving his only cub to be banished by hyenas, its highly unlikely that Cecil would have received so much attention from the media or evoked so much emotion from people across the world. But Cecil the Lion King was something of a national pride for Zimbabwe - and perhaps more importantly, quite the tourist magnet! 13 year old Cecil was known for his majestic black mane and famed for being friendly with visitors to the game reserve. The lion was also being tracked by Oxford University as part of a conservation study.
But regardless of his 'celebrity status', it is a tragic day that this magnificent beast joins the other 664 trophy lions are killed for export from Africa every year. The brutality of Mr. Palmer's actions has left two prides, 6 lionesses and 12 cubs without a leader. Cecil was shot with a bow and arrow after being lured out of its protected zone, only to die 40 hours later from a bullet, and all the while wearing a GPS collar which ought to have made it immune to a hunter's fancy.
This article highlights that the lion is caught between the rock of his ever-shrinking jungle and the hard place that is legalised hunting. Hunting, and to a large extend, conservation, remains a "white man's game" throughout southern Africa. The professional hunters are often white Zimbabweans, white South Africans or white Zambians who, in turn are visited by other white folk with huge disposable income - like the cricketer Glen McGrath or the former Spanish King Juan Carlos - or the American dentist from Minnesota who paid $50,000 to kill Cecil.
Walter Palmer is now hunted not just by the police, but also by the wrath of social media.
For a country that has been largely left to its own fate, the sudden spike in international interest in Zimbabwe did not come from the high unemployment figures, the food shortages, the state persecution of vendors, the lack of medicines, the lack of cash - but from a lion named "Cecil" by conservationists. Cecil was killed by a US dentist fond of hunting, who was once fined for killing a bear in his own country outside the permitted hunting area. Indeed for the Zimbabwe press this explains "the saturation coverage on the demise of his namesake", and they have been reminding us that tourism and hunting are "mired in elitism".