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3 facts we didn’t know about Cecil the lion

BBC World Service journalist and Concordia alum Owen Clegg filled us in on a few surprising points
July 29, 2015

Cecil the lion, killed by Walter Palmer This is the last known photo of Cecil (seated) before he was allegedly lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe. Photo by Brent Stapelkamp at WildCRU

EDITOR'S NOTE (July 30): This article takes no position on the Cecil the lion story itself. It is intended to address the phenomenon of public shaming and foster discussion on this topic, with additional information and perspective from a Concordia graduate. Since the time of publication, it has emerged that Walter Palmer may be prosecuted in the United States.

You must have heard about the plight of Cecil the lion — killed by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer in Zimbabwe. Even Jimmy Kimmel aired his feelings on the subject.

Amid the digital and social media furore, we asked BBC World Service journalist and Concordia alum Owen Clegg (BA Comms Studies 96) to fill us in on a few salient points.

Here are the 3 facts we were surprised to hear about Cecil the lion.

1. The “great white hunter” isn’t a thing of the past

Walter Palmer’s hunt was led by Theo Bronkhorst, a member of the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association. (He has since been suspended.)

“I had no idea there were legal means to kill a rhino or lion, for example, but it's still a big industry in Africa. The great white hunter isn't a thing of the past,” Clegg says, referring to a Daily Mail report on the "Namibian taxidermy factory which stuffs more than 6,000 animals a year for trophy hunters."

On a related note: the sponsors of WildCRU (Wildlife Conservation Research Unit) — the Oxford University unit behind the Hwange Lion Research Project that had been studying Cecil since 2008 — are an intriguingly diverse group, ranging from British Airways to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

2. Cecil died almost a month ago

According to a release from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), Cecil was first injured on or about July 1. It took the poachers some 40 hours afterwards to find him and kill him.

But the date of the ZCTF release is July 28. Furthermore, it refers to Walter Palmer by name.

“It was a deliberate campaign to bring him down,” Clegg says. “Their press release identifying [Walter Palmer] included his passport number and home address.

“I think [they] were genuinely upset about Cecil, but they also wanted revenge. It was more than just naming and shaming. They knew the weight of public opinion would pretty much destroy him.”

3. There may not be legal repercussions

“The problem [the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force] has, I think, is that they don't have much of a legal case against him,” says Clegg. “Any prosecution will be difficult because [Palmer] was using a local guide, had paperwork and was outside the reserve, so instead of taking it to the courts they left it to mob justice.”

And it worked. “All day I’ve been watching the attacks on his online presence.”

There are more than 3,800 reviews, and counting, for Walter Palmer’s dental office on Yelp. Only five of them date from before the announcement of Cecil’s death.

“It is concerning what will happen to the man's family and employees,” says Clegg. “But his big online footprint helped bring this on him as well… An all-round bad situation that in an ideal world should have been dealt with by a court of law.”

Owen Clegg currently lives in London and works as a senior broadcast journalist with the BBC World Service, on the Newsday programme. He is a graduate of Concordia's Liberal Arts College (class of 1996) and Communication and Journalism (class of 2000).

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