There is so much ado about the killing of Cecil in Zimbabwe that it makes you wonder. No, it’s not about Cecil Rhodes, the imperialist marauder who came, saw and raped half a continent in the 19th century.
It’s about a lion – Cecil the Lion – that was killed by an American dentist whose hobby is trophy hunting.
According to reports, Dr Walter Harper, aided by a couple of Zimbabweans, lured Cecil out of his usual sanctuary by dragging a dead animal behind their vehicle whose scent attracted the lion to outside his safe zone, then shot him with a crossbow before beheading and skinning him for trophies.
It is also stated that Cecil was specifically protected because he was playing an important part in a zoological study, which had made him a celebrity that people came regularly to ogle.
Naturally, when news of the death of the big cat got out, there were immediate repercussions, and the Zimbabweans who had aided Dr Palmer were apprehended and taken to court.
For his part, Dr Palmer, who had skipped town and gone back to his hometown of Minnesota, was targeted for angry protests by fellow Americans who wanted his surgery closed and himself extradited back to Zimbabwe to face charges.
There is little chance of the dentist being extradited, though, unless concerns over conservation can override the bad blood that exists between Washington and Harare. Apart from not having an extradition treaty between them, there is precious little the two countries agree over.
Apart from the anger among conservationists over the killing of Cecil, and reports that he took over 40 hours to die after being shot, there are other concerns.
Cecil reportedly had a dozen cubs, and the fear is that some other male will kill them all _— this may have happened already — so that he can introduce his own cubs in their place. Lions will do lion things.
There are worries about the dwindling numbers of lions. Some accounts suggest their population has gone down from over 70,000 some 30 years ago to just 35,000 today.
Cecil’s death does not seem to have attracted the ire of too many Zimbabweans outside the conservationist community.
One of them even suggested that the government took action only after the international outcry. No surprise there, seeing as Zimbabweans have too many mundane matters of survival as human beings preoccupying them to be bothered about some unfortunate cat bearing the name of an old colonialist.
Nor will Africans, generally, spend sleepless nights over Cecil. For them, lions are these fearsome beasts that have the nasty habits of eating them andor their livestock, and the fewer there are in the proximity of human settlements the safer.
Many people around here are genuinely puzzled why this incident has kicked up such a brouhaha abroad.
Some people in Harare questioned the sense of fairness of people who are making such noise in the United States for a killed celeb lion but keep mum when dozens of human beings are mowed down by the police or the military. Is it because they prize wildlife over human life?
It got me thinking. I wonder how much protest there was in the US over the killing of over 30 miners at Marikana, South Africa three years ago. This was the single most murderous incident since the end of apartheid, carried out by the police force of “democratic” South Africa.
I incline toward the thought that had the external world raised its voice to condemn that massacre, the South African government would have rushed to arrest those policemen who killed peaceful protesters.
In the absence of such censure, the police chief saw it fit to add insult to injury by congratulating her cops for “honouring your oath.”
To this day, there has been no arrest of anyone responsible for that terrible crime while Cecil’s death alone has already prompted the arrest of two suspects, with probably more to come.
Maybe we need conservationists to take care of our interests when our own governments kill us.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an aocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org