The Tragic Death of Cecil the Lion

A treasured lion in Zimbabwe was lured out of his sanctuary with meat, killed cruelly and beheaded as part of a trophy hunt.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard the terrible news of the unnecessary and cruel killing of Cecil the Lion, a beloved treasure in Zimbabwe. He was a gorgeous 13-year-old creature with a black mane. Tourists flocked to see him at the Hwange National Park. He lived there in a reserve. He had cubs. He was being studied via GPC by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit in Oxford. He was protected. He was loved.

Cecil’s Death

Cecil was lured out of his protected reserve one night earlier this month. Known as baiting, the trophy hunters allegedly tied a dead animal to their vehicle, The New York Times reports. They drove slowly out of the protected area, enticing Cecil to follow them. Once in an unprotected area, one of the hunters, identified as Dr. Walter J. Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, shot the beloved lion with a crossbow.

The shot did not take Cecil’s life. Instead, he was left wounded and suffering for 40 hours – nearly two days – while the hunters tracked him. Once they did, Palmer allegedly fatally shot Cecil with a gun.

Cecil’s body was left to rot after he was beheaded. In other words, the hunters took a trophy with them.

The Trophy Hunters

Palmer, a big game hunter, was assisted in his hunting of Cecil by Theo Bronchorst and Honest Trymore Ndlovu. Both men live in Zimbabwe. Bronchorst is a professional hunter while Ndlovu is a landowner. It is alleged that Palmer paid around $50,000 – there have been conflicting reports as to the exact amount – to hunt the lion, CNN reports.

While it is unclear the hunting histories of Bronchorst and Ndlovu, Palmer seemed to take pride in his actions, posing with his kills, which include a black bear (he received probation for lying about where he killed it, according to The New York Times) and a rhinoceros. An Internet search of Palmer’s name reveals many of those photos.

Legal Repercussions

Bronchorst and Ndlovu were arrested for their involvement in Cecil’s death. CNN reports that the two men were released on Wednesday on $1,000 bail each. Though both claim to be innocent of poaching charges, if found guilty they could face a prison term of 10 years.

Palmer said in a statement that he has not been contacted by authorities regarding the incident, CNN reports. To date, Palmer has not yet faced any legal repercussions. However, as the authorities in Zimbabwe gather information, there is the possibility that Palmer could be extradited and face whatever charges are placed against him. While extradition is not automatic or easy, it could be a possibility, according to MPR News. The site also reported that “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was gathering facts and was ready to aid Zimbabwe conservation officials in their investigation.”

Walter Palmer’s Statement

Palmer wrote the following letter to his patients, according to

“To my valued patients: As you may have already heard, I have been in the news over the last few days for reasons that have nothing to do with my profession or the care I provide for you. I want you to know of this situation and my involvement In addition to spending time with my family, one of my passions outside dentistry is hunting. I’ve been a life-long hunter since I was a child growing up in North Dakota. I don’t often talk about hunting with my patients because it can be a divisive and emotionally charged topic. I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting.

In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game. I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted. I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.

Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion. That was never my intention. The media interest in this matter – along with a substantial number of comments and calls from people who are angered by this situation and by the practice of hunting in general – has disrupted our business and our ability to see our patients. For that disruption, I apologize profoundly for this inconvenience and promise you that we will do our best to resume normal operations as soon as possible. We are working to have patients with immediate needs referred to other dentists and will keep you informed of any additional developments. On behalf of all of us at River Bluff Dental, thank you for your support.

Sincerely, Walter J. Palmer, DDS River Bluff Dental”

The State of Walter James Palmer’s Career

Despite his letter, his career could be over. After being overrun with angry comments, the Facebook page of River Bluff Dental, Palmer’s practice, was taken down. So is the practice’s website. Various reports reveal that his office is closed, some even showing photos of memorials to Cecil at the River Bluff Dental front door and others showing scores of protestors in front of the building.

A Google search of River Bluff Dental reveals a 1-star rating (though of course we don’t know what it was before). What may be most revealing about the state of Palmer’s career are the reviews on Yelp, which shows a rating of 1.5 stars.

Sara R. from the U.K. posted: “Walter Palmer took the hard earned money from decent hard working families and spent it on killing a tame, popular, beautiful, sentient being in a barbaric manner that took over 40 hours while he stalked it and then not content with taking it’s life he took this poor animals head. Then when the world backlashed this disgusting coward doesn’t even have the balls to stand by his actions so he’s blaming local guides, well I’m sorry Palmer but the decision to go on a hunt and shoot a living being was yours and yours alone.”

Michael L. of Oakland, CA posted: “I just came back from a vacation in Africa last November and one of the many highlights from my trip was being able to see a lion at the Wildlife Reserve. A lion of course is one of the Big 5 or one of the five most famous along with the leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. The lion being probably the most majestic animal on that continent. Why would a person feel the need to kill one of these animals and then behead it? When did taking a life of an animal become a “sport”? There’s always unfortunately going to be horrible acts being committed like the terrible thing this dentist did. But for all good hearted people, no need to worry because in due time people like Palmer will no longer be. Not to throw scripture at my yelp friends but this one applies. Proverbs 12:10 The righteous one takes care of his animals.”

There are over 2,200 reviews, including from those in the same city as the practice. From doing a quick scan, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of them are negative. It seems quite possible that Palmer may be forced into early retirement. But only time will tell.

Social Media Backlash

This story is everywhere. The hashtags #CecilTheLion and #WalterPalmer are trending and feature outrage and disturbing photographs of Cecil after he was skinned and beheaded (I don’t recommend looking). Numerous individuals are expressing their outrage and disgust over this needless killing, including actor and animal activist Ricky Gervais:

Others, such as late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, utilized his monologue to express his feelings:

The Fate of Cecil’s Cubs & Pride

The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit that was tracking Cecil said in a statement, “A very important aspect of lion conservation is what we call the perturbation effect: namely the cascading effects on the surviving lions of the death of one of them – in brief, we have found that when a male lion is killed, because of the way their society works, a likely consequence is the overthrow and death of other adult male members of his weakened coalition (normally of brothers), and the subsequent infanticide of his cubs by the incoming new coalition of males.”

In other words, Cecil’s cubs will likely not survive his death. NBC News reports that he may have had as many as 10 cubs.

What We Can Do

While every animal lover is angry and saddened by this tragedy, there are things we can do to help. As Kimmel said in his monologue, instead of making threats and promoting unlawful actions, let’s do something positive. Even posting a little note in memoriam to Cecil using the hashtag #CecilTheLion is a good thing.

You can also sign a petition seeking justice for Cecil. To sign, visit the Animal Petitions website.

Donations can be made to the Wildlife Concersation Research Unit to help the world’s lions. If you wish to donate, visit the WildCRU website.

A Moment for Cecil

As we all are saddened by this horrible tragedy of this beautiful lion, let’s take a moment to remember him.

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