The legacy of Zimbabwe’s Cecil the lion


When Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, killed 13-year-old Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park last month, the world was outraged. Palmer’s guides illegally lured Cecil away from the protection of the national park where Palmer killed it.

I don’t blame Palmer. He was working within the law and trusted his guides to do the same. They failed him. The guides should be prosecuted and punished as the law allows.

The issue

Now that the dust has settled, however, bigger issues loom. Trophy hunting is legal. Sometimes hunts take place in enclosed areas (canned hunts). Lions, elephants, giraffes and rhinoceroses are fair game in some places. The question is, should they be? I say “no.” It’s 2015, and there is simply no reason to kill magnificent animals simply to turn them into trophies on a wall or for financial gain.

I know the rationale. The exorbitant fees trophy hunters pay (Palmer paid $54,000) are used to fund conservation programs that benefit trophy species. But how much really goes to conservation? Corrupt officials no doubt get more than their fair share.

Who trophy hunts?

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Trophy hunting is for the few and the wealthy. Consider U.S. hunters. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported that 13.7 million hunters took to the field in 2011. Of those, 11.6 million hunted big game such as deer, elk, and bears. How many of those big game hunters could afford a trophy hunt in Africa? Not many.

Safari Club International ( is an organization devoted to “protecting hunters’ rights and promoting wildlife conservation.” Its website claims 55,000 members, and at least some of them are from outside the U.S. So at best, less than one-half of one percent of licensed American big game hunters could claim membership in the Safari Club. So why continue to permit trophy hunting for the elite few?

Let’s ban it. Worldwide.

Sadly though, nothing will happen just because you read this column. Nothing will happen because you have been sickened by recent photos you’ve seen on TV and in newspapers of trophy hunters posing with dead giraffes, elephants and lions. This is the kind of issue requires outrage and protest that will not subside. I nominate the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society to carry the torch. WWF, with its iconic panda logo, and WCS can tap into people’s outrage to ban trophy hunting.

Equally important are means to enforce conservation laws and eliminate poaching. Help me test the legitimacy of my position. When schools resume, I ask fifth and sixth grade teachers to do a quick poll of their students. Explain what trophy hunting is and ask if they approve. Adults, do the same thing at church, Sunday school, or civic group meetings. Then send me your results.

So thank you, Dr. Palmer. What you did was outrageous, and I suspect your dental career is over, but maybe you have lit a fuse that will destroy trophy hunting as we know it. You’ve exposed its underbelly.

So what’s a trophy hunter to do? I suggest spending about $15,000 to buy top-of-the-line camera gear, including a few expensive telephoto lenses. Anyone can take a photo safari in a Land Rover and come home with decent pics of African wildlife. But getting National Geographic quality photos of trophy species’ behavior would require the same skill, patience, expertise, and wealth that killing trophy species with a weapon requires. And you still get a trophy to hang on the wall.

Hunting is important

Finally, please do not misunderstand; this is not a screed against hunting. I’ve often written about the biological and conservation bases of hunting. And my perspective has not changed. But here in the U.S., states monitor their wildlife populations. Seasons and bag limits are adjusted as populations ebb and flow. Can you imagine the highway carnage we’d see every year if hunters didn’t kill lots of deer? And eastern black bear populations keep growing and causing property damage where people infringe on bear habitat.

Hunting regulated by professional biologists in the U.S. is here to stay, but international trophy hunting should end today.

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.


  1. i am so fed-up with the attack on this person-he has received countless death threats but to see more negativism from a supposed biologist makes my blood boil. The hunting of these animals not only brings in a greatly valued income to some of the poorest people in this world, but helps eliminate KILLERS that kill PEOPLE. The residents of these places view lions as enemies that are deadly to people-and not only that, these hunting farms actually have INCREASED the number of animals that are hunted. To see Shalaway lead this attack makes me sick, and then to read his “rant” about the WWF and conservancy-two groups that actually promote eugenics ie: killing of people for the benefit of nature-on this LIE that Palmer illegally poached and lured that stupid lion-makes me loose ALL respect for him whatsoever. These lions brutally kill animals daily, yet nothing is said about that. “Gary” the gazelles’ life is every bit as important as that “Cecil” the lions. What really is happening is we are seeing the destruction of this country. It use to be “i may not like this personally but it is NOT any of my business” but now it is “everyone should be made to think like I do so pass laws to make people think like I do”…It use to be only fruitcakes…now we are having published columnists saying this…please consider dropping him-this country is falling fast without publishing this bullcrap.


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