Cecil acted like, and was, a celebrity before most of the world ever heard of him. He was regal, and carried himself like royalty. I think there was a bit of a diva in him. None of the dozens of other lions we encountered in Zimbabwe or Botswana seemed to love the camera like Cecil did.
We first heard of Cecil while heading off on our initial game drive in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in August 2014. A really large, black-maned lion, older now, he had been chased out of his territory and had his pride taken over by a younger rival. Not content to sulk about at the edge of his former domain, Cecil teamed with another older male, Jericho, and they charged back in to reclaim his territory, vanquish his rival and win back the pride. Determination, teamwork, and never surrendering, never letting go of what was his. And he even gets the girl(s) back at the end. Totally Hollywood, and it was as if he knew it.
We first saw him from about 60 or 70 meters away, lying in the grass, the cubs and some of the females behind him under heavy branch cover, one female up on the branches, protecting the pride. Our guide pulled the vehicle to a halt as Jericho roared away from behind us in the distance. We sat and just watched, taking a few photos and filming from the distance. Then everything seemed to stop as Cecil arose and walked in the direction of Jericho’s roar and towards our vehicle. Cecil’s size, color and swagger were enough to take your breath away as I took picture after picture while Pamela filmed from behind me, but the “Cecil Show” didn’t stop there. He walked forward until he was about four meters away from the side of the vehicle and stopped. Right in front of us. And posed. Calmly. Then he very kindly turned around and posed some more. We knew he was looking back to check on the pride but you almost thought he looked as good in left profile as he did in right, and he knew it. He turned again, posed for a moment then swaggered off into the distance to see what Jericho was up to. We went very quickly from tourists to conservationists.
How in the world was it possible to go from that Hollywood story to the nightmare of hearing that Cecil was baited out of his sanctuary, lured off the reservation, blinded with a spotlight, shot by someone whose inadequacies with a crossbow rivaled his inadequacies as a human being, made to suffer for 40 hours before finally being shot and killed with a high powered rifle, skinned and beheaded with his carcass left to rot in the sun for “sport”?!? For “fun”?!? For a $55,000 thrill?!? To become a rug in someone’s “man cave”?
Then the rage grew, yet in moments of clarity became motivation. Something MUST BE DONE. And so on a late Sunday evening less two and a half weeks ago, two pictures and the video of Cecil we took was posted on a Cecil the Lion Facebook page we initiated, with no clue as to what we might do with it. A day later we added a little website telling the story of two of the thousands who have met and experienced Cecil, and www.CecilTheLion.org was created. Since then 30,000 people have given the page their thumbs up/like and up to 1.3 Million views were registered from people from all over the world. The page became a place to mourn, to explode with rage, anger, sorrow, to lash out, to vent and more than anything, to express a driving need to DO SOMETHING. And a global community was born in under a week, people fed up that there are those willing to destroy a beautiful animal who was a source of income to an impoverished area, who will never be seen again. Men, women, young, old all wanting to do something to force change. In these two and a half weeks thousands have been raised through generous donations and the sale of t-shirts all designed by artists of this Facebook community and offered on the website.
Cecil was given a place to roar on these pages, where the community gets to see their tributes posted in art, in poems, in tears, in petitions being circulated, in their donations and the wearing of the t-shirts, all shared with each other. A loud, communal roar. A video showing the global nature of the community was quickly produced to celebrate World Lion Day on August 10. “Selfies for Cecil” is a celebration of #CecilLives and how his spirit is creating a movement. With pictures sent in from around the world accompanied by renowned Canadian recording artist Bruce Cockburn’s iconic song “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, all showing where #CecilLives.
Cecil stopped being a lion when his body was ripped apart, and he became a symbol, a spirit. And his spirit has unleashed an outcry for an end to the destruction, threatening and endangering of the world’s shrinking supply of dozens of animal species. But it is more than that, because you can feel and hear that the outcry is also about the rape of the planet, the destruction of its natural resources and wild habitats, a world where profits and greed outweigh any sense of global connectivity or social responsibility. Where Cecil has become the flashpoint for all of the anger behind all of those things. We are at a tipping point. And things will change. That will be Cecil’s gift back to everyone who stood up for him, for his pride, for the lions of Africa.
Never give up, teamwork prevails, be relentless in going after what you want. The changes that will take place as a result of Cecil’s slaughter will be the Hollywood ending he deserves.
“Today more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal Responsibility, not only Nation to Nation and human to human, but also human to all other forms of life.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
This is the mission.
By Mark and Pamela Robinson
August 12, 2015