Cecil- the Poster Lion of Our Misplaced Priorities

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It was a kill shot heard around the world. In July, the Twittersphere was rocked by posts from what seemed like every celebrity from MC Hammer to Cara Delevingne, all expressing their outrage over the killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s most famous lion.

Cecil had resided in Hwange National Park and was part of a study being conducted by Oxford University.  When it was known that Cecil had been slaughtered by the Minneapolis dentist and recreational hunter, Walter Palmer, even more fuel was added to the social media fire.  

People like Debra Messing and Sharon Osbourne were calling for everything from the closing of his dental practice to the revoking of his citizenship. “…When he dies, I hope someone mounts his his ugly…head to the wall. #WalterPalmer is a COWARD.” Osbourne tweeted.

Now that the frenzy is dying down and the lynching mobs are beginning to head back home, it might be easier to put things in perspective. Yes, Walter Palmer was out of line.  Yes, the slaughter of this lion was tragic.  However, was Cecil’s death any more appalling than the murders of the hundreds of non-famous animals killed for sport on a daily basis?  More importantly, was it a bigger deal than the countless threats to human lives present at the time?

In late July, when Cecil starting popping up all over social media, a heat wave that had already killed over 1000 people in Southeast Asia was beginning to suffocate the Middle East, as documented by The World Post.  Yet one would have been hard pressed to find a tweet or Instagram lamenting the fact that over 14 million Iraqis were displaced without homes or reliable water sources in the 154 degree F weather (when combined with humidity).  

Sure, Cecil the Lion was the thing to post about and maybe the Charleston, SC shooting seemed like old news at this point, but the fight for racial equality was and is still raging.  The #blacklivesmatter hashtag lived on but there was no question that the virtual world’s attention was firmly elsewhere.

We may not realize the power we have in terms of setting the news agenda, but the fact is that public interest dictates what gets publicized.  If people seem to care about growing strength of ISIS in the Middle East, then that is likely what will be addressed. The more people are outraged by the unequal treatment of racial minorities, the sooner something will be done about it.  If Cecil the Lion is trending on Twitter- great.  Hopefully the message reaches those inconsiderate game hunters.

It is one thing to express disapproval of behavior like Walter Palmer’s.  It is another thing to focus so exclusively on that trendy new topic when pressing news concerning human lives is effectively brushed over.  Let us mourn the senseless death of Cecil the Lion, but let us not forget the change we can affect with our attention.

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