The suffering of a lion

Cecil the lion, the pride of the Zimbabwean plains, is no more. He was shot by someone who planned to make a rug out of his skin, and hang his head over a fireplace.

The tragic hero of this story is both charismatic and photogenic. But the villain too, is worthy of a Hollywood movie: Walter Palmer, a rich American dentist, was armed with a crossbow and attacked Cecil in the dark of night.dentist-lion

Cecil and Palmer are the stars of the ‘Oscar winning’ drama that is holding people entranced all over the world. The battle has already been fought, but now the dentist is on the run, and the hunter has become the hunted. The internet is ablaze with death threats against Palmer. But that’s nothing compared to what the future might hold in store for him. A whitehouse.gov petition for his extradition has been signed by more than 160,000 people. As Zimbabwean prisons don’t have a great reputation, I guess I don’t even blame Palmer for running…

Lions are big, charismatic, wonderful, creatures, but Cecil was not just a lion. In Zimbabwe, he was a celebrity among lions, a kind of a mascot. Cecil was part of a research project by Oxford University, and he carried a GPS, which the hunters unsuccessfully tried to destroy. And Cecil was killed illegally: he was baited away from an area where hunting was prohibited. And he’s a member of an endangered species.

These are all factors that increase our anger and indignation about this evil act. But these factors, even though aggravating, are hardly morally relevant. What really counts, in Cecil’s case, is not that he was famous, big and strong and beautiful, or that he was a lion. What counts is that he was a sentient being, a being capable of experiencing pleasure and pain.

After a shot from Palmer’s crossbow, which only wounded Cecil, the lion suffered for forty hours in hiding, before he was found and killed by the hunters. That’s where our attention should go to. If we think Cecil’s suffering and killing were not OK and believe that he didn’t deserve this, that no-one deserves this, then maybe, slowly but surely, we can start opening ourselves up to the suffering of so many other beings.

The only relevant trait, his sentience, is what Cecil has in common with billions of other beings, who don’t have names, but who can suffer like Cecil did. I am very happy that so many people are outraged about what happened to this lion. And I hope that their outrage and their compassion will spill over to other domains. Cecil was one animal. The other 600 lions that are killed every year can feel too, just like Cecil. The other poached animals are sentient like lions. And the 180 million chickens, pigs and cows that are killed for food every day, they too can feel.

It is this capacity for pleasure and pain, that connects people and animals. It is the quality that does not just connect people of different skin color, gender, sexual orientation or religion, but which also unites human and nonhuman animals. You can experience pleasure and pain whether you are white or black, man or woman, or have an opposable thumb, or manes, or a trunk, a tail or wings.

It will take some time, but one day, we will all realize that in this capacity for happiness and suffering, we are all very similar.

16 thoughts on “The suffering of a lion

    1. Yes, wonderful, Tobias. 🙂 Which newspaper, and do you know if it’s going to be printed for sure in the newspaper? I hope so!
      The only additional thought I would have would be, while not down-playing the horrific end Cecil faced, billions of farmed animals must endure an entire life of consisting of horrific cruelty from the second they are born until they day they are killed. At least Cecil was hopefully able to have a free and happy life until he was killed.

      1. yes, we could mention a lot of aggravating factors for farm animals, but i chose to keep that part very short, on purpose 🙂

        it’s in a belgian newspaper 🙂 i’m a regular contributor to the op ed pages, so normally it should be published yes

        1. That’s excellent that should be published for sure! 🙂
          I think it’s wonderfully written just the way it is. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that it should have included my thought above. It just a thought. Your blog bring out a lot of thoughts in me (in case nobody’s noticed, lol).
          You did an excellent job and thank you very much for writing it. You have a real talent for writing!
          🙂

  1. It’s very well written. I liked that you mentioned the 600 other lions killed every year. I also liked the way you described Palmer as now being the one who is hunted.
    Putting myself in the shoes of a meat-eater reading this article, I might still feel defensive about my ‘right’ to eat meat and that I am different from Palmer because he killed to feel powerful, whereas I eat meat to survive. Maybe you can add a sentence that eating meat isn’t necessary for our survival anymore, just as hunting isn’t.
    Also, I would change ‘in trance’ to ‘entranced’.
    Thank you for sharing this, as well as your other writings, with us.

      1. I would think that the audience who’d be interested in reading a piece entitled “The Suffering of a Lion” are those who have some compassion for animals already…. so the way the piece is written and worded, it can build on that compassion. It points out the sentience and suffering of all animals without directly pointing a finger at anybody.

        I think that’s good because if while reading it a non-vegans feel guilty, it will be because they’ll have made the connection on their own between their own behavior and animal suffering. The guilt will be generated internally, rather than externally from somebody pointing a finger at them and shaming. When the connection is made internally, it is much, much more likely for the person to have really “got it”.

        1. Also, any defensiveness that comes up will have come from their own thoughts, not because a finger was pointed at them and shaming. It’s a normal human reaction to pull or push away when that is aimed at them. When defensiveness is generated internally from their own thoughts, they only have themselves to turn away from. Hopefully, this will lead to deeper thinking and then actual change on their part. 🙂

          1. yes, i think the defensiveness comes from inside, from their guilt (see my piece on the vegan handicap), but that doesn’t mean we can’t at least try to not reinforce it 🙂

        2. All this has really got me thinking about how so much depends on connections. How opportunities for them are created, what makes people receptive to them, what changes they can lead to when they are made.

          I just read this piece by about Cecil by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I imagine the piece will appeal more to vegans than others, but these thoughts from it really resonated with me:

          “…Cecil was seen as an individual; he had an identity. He was given a name…In connecting people with the value of one individual animal, there’s hope you can connect people with the value of an entire species.”

          http://www.joyfulvegan.com/blog/cecils-name-didnt-save-him-but-it-can-save-us-and-others

  2. Another nice article as always. Like some of the other comments I would differentiate between animals being killed “for food” as opposed to animals being killed to be eaten. Many who object to trophy hunting think it is ok to hunt and/or kill animals when the purpose is for food. I do like to include animals in the same thought process as food procurement or consumption. Plants are food, animals are not.

  3. Tobias, I’m always amazed by the way you think and write! You are so compassionate and understanding towards non-vegans, and I believe this could really be the clue to succesfully opening peoples minds towards veganism. This might sound strange, but I am not (yet) vegan. I do eat plantbased most of the time because of environmental reasons. Reading your blog and articles makes me more and more aware of the moral considerations, and yes, more motivated to become a ‘full’ vegan! And the way you approach non-vegans might help me to convert some other people to 🙂

  4. Fuck Cecil he wasn’t vegan and ate innocent animals and ate them alive as they suffered.

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