One Lion ≠ Systemic Change

Jane Goodall released a statement on the death of Cecil the Lion.

“I was shocked and outraged to hear the story of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s much loved lion. Not only is it incomprehensible to me that anyone would want to kill an endangered animal (fewer than 20,000 wild lions in Africa today) but to lure Cecil from the safety of a national park and then to shoot him with a crossbow. I have no words to express my repugnance. He was not even killed outright, but suffered for hours before finally being shot with a bullet. And his magnificent head severed from his wounded body. And this behaviour is described as a “sport”. Only one good thing comes out of this – thousands of people have read the story and have also been shocked. Their eyes opened to the dark side of human nature. Surely they will now be more prepared to fight for the protection of wild animals and the wild places where they live. Therein lies the hope.”

For me, I have very little hope that this will result in anything more than what was happening before Cecil’s death. The amount of outrage and level of coverage is similar to that of any controversial and polarizing issue.

  • For a few days we have overnight activists who share their opinions, whether they are informed or not.
  • Then you have news coverage that usually only focuses on the specific incident and ignores the greater systemic issue it resulted from.
  • You might have organizations trying to leverage the amount of attention, but for the most part it goes un-utilized with no opportunities for engagement clearly presented.
  • And then 2-3 days later, we shift our attention back to the critically important on fleek eyebrows, selfies, and viral videos that populate our newsfeeds.

I think if there is any good that comes from the level of attention Cecil’s death has received, it will come from its ability to further cement the determination of the animal activists who do as they preach and see this incident as part of a larger systemic issue.

I do not see Cecil’s death resulting in systemic change and cultural shifts because the framing of the story already tells me that it will not. The world is upset over the death of one lion. That is not to say I do not care.  Trust when I say my ferocious little grumpy cat and I are upset. The problem is that Cecil’s death goes far beyond the death of one lion. It is about the deep complexity of corrupt government systems, impoverished countries, and the significant motivating forces that drive the market for trophy hunting. Most of the articles do not address this.  I can bet that most of the people upset, are upset from a place of anthropomorphism and not from a deep understanding of, or care for, the systemic issues that got us to this point.

This trend happens more then it should. For a few days, otherwise apathetic and passive individuals, share their opinions, hit a few “likes”, feel good about themselves, and move on. Some of these individuals would never move into meaningful action, but others might have had organizations leveraged the attention in an effective way that provided opportunities for deeper engagement.

We cannot place the responsibility of protecting our planet on the backs of a select few. Organizations need to effectively leverage the attention an issue is getting and individuals need to step up and practice what they preach.  We are not industry and we will never have money on our side.  What we do have is people and money cannot speak louder than a group of strong, informed and united individuals, demanding systemic change.