By now, we have all heard about the fiasco of Cecil the Lion and the many differing opinions surrounding it. Many people who read about the events were immediately outraged at the fact that a man with a long history of big-game hunting would claim ignorance after luring a lion out of a fenced-in cave located on a national reserve. Others who learned of the events became annoyed by certain animal rights activists who published articles that exaggerated the animal’s popularity.
I have been surrounded by people who adore animals unconditionally since June, when I began working at the Dallas Zoo as a Zookeeper Intern. The zoo staff had differing opinions about the incident, but offered fascinating, well-informed insights. Most of the employees at the Dallas Zoo were not big-game hunting supporters. They took issue with the man who had lured the lion out of a national reserve. However, they were most concerned, about how Cecil’s sudden death might affect the future of the species, the future of the environment in Zimbabwe and even that of the all African wildlife.
A keystone species, in simple terms, is a species that plays a considerable role in the balance of a particular environment. While lions are not exactly a keystone species, Cecil and his pride performed a valuable function in that particular environment. Cecil was the alpha of his pride, and as the alpha, Cecil did a good deal of mating and producing offspring. When an alpha dies, it is not uncommon for a new alpha to take over and kill all of the old alpha’s offspring in the process. This concerned conservationists, including many animal and ecology experts, because the African lion is already a “vulnerable” species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ classification guide which is only one step above “endangered” classification. The loss of that many cubs might seriously endanger the future population of African lions in that area. The loss of these lions would also affect the populations of other species and cause unforeseen environmental dangers in the area.
Luckily, this was not the case. Cecil was already 13 years old, and lions typically only live to about 14 years in captivity. His death was approaching which is potentially the reason his brother Jericho took over as the alpha of their pride so quickly and cleanly.
While the Dallas Zoo staff was initially worried about Cecil’s death, the craze concerning the lion was not as enduring or extreme at the Dallas Zoo as one may have expected.
The American hunter’s were both wrong and illegal, however, while Cecil’s death was certainly upsetting as any well-liked animal’s death is, it did not need to be such a polarizing, hot issue. Cecil’s death had the potential to be harmful to the ecology of the area, but since it was not, his passing was the only tragedy. Let us remember that lions are animals, and while Cecil’s death was both illegal and unfortunate, a lion’s death is not a rare occasion. The lesson to be learned is that we desperately need to be patient and well informed before we start spreading lies and confusion.