If I call myself a writer on science and nature, I need to say something about Cecil. It's a tragedy this lion was killed, and a crime the way it was lured. Everyone involved should face appropriate legal punishment. This is a moment we should seize, though, to talk about all the issues involved. Should we allow any trophy hunting?
Hunters argue the huge license fees support often-impoverished local communities: opponents argue that money ends up with corrupt officials instead. The lion is, at the least, a threatened species: it's not in imminent danger of vanishing, but its numbers go down every year, with the most vigorous animals, the huge males, being hunted the most. I'd say the US should go beyond requirements of the CITES treaty and ban import of lion trophies as we do of elephant tusks. A TIME magazine piece notes some blame should go to Zimbabwean officials who created the poverty in their once-thriving nation in a political land-grab that broke up productive farms and game ranches because most were white-owned, plunging the whole nation into extreme poverty where people will do anything for money or food. The leads to another issue: should we give so much ink and airtime to Cecil in a land where thousands of children are starving? I have no pity for the professional poachers who make millions supplying traditional-medicine markets: shooting on sight is a tempting remedy. But there are local people whose children are hungry and will do anything, including poach a lion.
I don't have the answers to all these issues, but we should talk about them. Mourn Cecil, but not only Cecil: think about how to prevent poaching, balance human and animal needs, and build a sustainable future for all.
Since part of the problem is the poor and corrupt system prevailing in the nation housing the park from which Cecil was lured, I have an idea I trot out every now and then for international parks: start with a half-dozen wild areas the conservation world can agree are vital and create an agency (UN, maybe, or something seen as less corrupt, like the OECD, which isn't thought of as a conservation agency but could be become one in the ecotourism era), to fund and administer on a continuing basis on an equal footing with the nation (if there is one) owning the site. The Galapagos and Okavango might be good places to start because of the universal recognition of their importance: you could also start with the most endangered spots instead: Conservation International maintains a list. There would be all kinds of problems in practice, but exporting "America's best idea" on a cooperative international seems wiser than having so much preservation depend on year-to-year grants and political changes.