The death of Cecil the lion was a tragedy. It captured the world’s attention unlike any other animal story in recent years, filling front pages while social media overflowed with outrage and universal condemnation. An image of Cecil was even projected onto the side of the Empire State Building in New York, but why was his life valued so much higher than the millions of farmed animals routinely killed every day?
The reason is simple. Cecil had a name, not a number. He was someone rather than a something, perceived by the public as beautiful and powerful. Unlike the huge quantities of nameless, helpless animals most people only ever encounter as food on their plate, his personality was on display. We could relate to him like we can with people.
It was not, as some have suggested, because Cecil was killed for sport rather than food; public disapproval would not have diminished had the dentist eaten his ‘prize’. Given we do not need to eat meat to be healthy, perhaps lions and farmed animals are both killed for pleasure.
Nor was it because African lions are an endangered species. One in ten of Europe’s bee species now face extinction and polar bears were recently killed by trophy hunters in the Canadian Arctic, but neither elicited even remotely the same level of response.
Some were upset at the manner of Cecil’s demise. Yet how does it compare to the farmed animals, whose throats are cut after being hung upside down, frequently still conscious after ineffective stunning. Which is worse?
All animals are sentient beings, and feel pain and suffering. They share the same emotions and individual personalities as us, and are entitled to the same treatment regardless of species whether they are Cecil, cow 793, your friend’s dog, or piglet 26. Trophy hunting is appalling, but no worse than the farming of animals for our consumption.
Pigs, for example, are highly inquisitive, social animals. They are cleverer than dogs, and have been taught to play computer games. Cows are also very intelligent, interact in socially complex ways and develop friendships over time. They mourn deaths and separation from those they love, and have been known to shed tears over their loss.
What the public’s outpouring of emotion over Cecil’s death did show us, however, was collective outrage at the needless killing of an animal. Out of an awful incident came compassion and empathy, raising the public’s consciousness. It was not dissimilar to the response to the Yulin dog meat festival, an event in which 10,000 dogs are eaten in southern China. A petition to end those activities received over 1.5 million signatures.
Comparing the plight of farmed animals to that of Cecil and the dogs in Yulin is not to dilute or downplay their circumstances, but to highlight the stark imbalance in the way different animals are treated. We like to think we value human life equally, but do not extend such equality to the animal kingdom.
Prime Minister David Cameron last week branded Cecil’s death as barbaric, yet believes fox hunting should be a right for everyone. Ricky Gervais uses his Twitter feed almost daily to bring our attention to trophy hunting, but persists in making culinary choices that harm animals. Radio presenter Nick Abbot took one of his callers, a keen angler, to task quite spectacularly on his LBC phone-in show. Abbot saw no difference between the dentist luring a lion with fresh meat and the caller fishing with bait. Neither do I. Both are acts of hunting for fun, both abhorrent.
Most people refer to a lion as being ‘totally different’ from the animals they eat. Yet there is no significant difference. They find comfort in attacking others while congratulating themselves as being an ‘animal lover’, failing to confront their own role in the treatment and killing of animals, which they wilfully ignore as a taboo subject.
Journalist and broadcaster Louis Theroux gets it, posting on social media that he had no grounds upon which to lament what happened to Cecil while he continued consuming animal products. Last week, The Vegan Society launched its “I am Cecil” campaign to illustrate how other animals, especially those which are farmed, want to live their life just as much as Cecil did.
Other animal rights organisations, including Animal Aid and Viva! joined this campaign. You can too by going vegan with the Vegan Society’s 30-Day Vegan Pledge. It is the single best thing any individual can do for animals, your health and the environment.
Copyright © 2015 Jimmy Pierce