What’s in a name?
Like so many others I was rocked by sadness and anger at the senseless killing of Cecil the lion. And the images of this magnificent creature all over the media made that grief and rage even more poignant. Over the days that followed millions all over the world clamoured to see the killer and his accomplices brought to justice; they signed petitions; lobbied airlines to ban the transport of such hunting ‘trophies’; pressured governments to break the link between conservation and hunting tourism. And it was not just the ‘usual suspects’ – animal rights people, veggies and vegans, animal lovers -who raised their voices. Politicians and celebrities spoke out. The world at large was outraged.
Cecil was of course already well-known amongst those involved in the Oxford University Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, and to the Safari Operators Association in Zimbabwe and its tourism clients. But I can’t be the only one, or the first, to ask myself if the unprecedented scale of the outcry in the world at large was down to one very simple fact – this lion had a name. Before Cecil, countless unnamed lions had been slain by hunters. According to The National Geographic, 23 lions being studied by the Oxford group had already been illegally killed, and between 1999 and 2009 800 lions in Zimbabwe alone met their deaths in ‘legal’ hunts. Hardly anyone had noticed. No-one remarked upon it. It didn’t make the news. Having a name bestowed personhood on this particular lion, recognition by humans of a fellow creature walking on this earth.
A lion is a charismatic creature, symbol of majesty and power. How much easier is it to turn a blind eye to the billion, yes billion less iconic animals whose lives are snatched away from them prematurely each year in the UK alone. In 2013 the butchery comprised 9.8 million pigs, nearly 15 million sheep, 18 million turkeys, 14 million ducks, 945 million chickens and 2.6 million cattle. Monstrous figures. Imagine if each and everyone of these was not just part of a bloodless statistic but possessed a name: Jill and Ruby the hens, Geoff and Wendy the pigs, Beau and Becky the turkeys, Paddy, Ralph and Rose the lambs, were sent off to have their throats cut today. Would that make us sit up and take notice?
My hope is that the shocking theft of Cecil’s life has left behind something of real value, over and above any additional regulations that may now have been put in place: that is, glaring exposure to the spotlight of all those pointless animal deaths at the hands of hunters. And my even greater hope is that it might inspire some to reflect on those unregarded millions of our fellow earth-dwellers not blessed with names, bleeding to death in slaughterhouses daily to gratify the whims of the human race.