Cecil the Lion and the Manufacturing of Outrage

I would almost always avoid these types of stories, but in this case, the outrage manufactured by the mainstream media is particularly egregious. In the following article I will demonstrate that many claims made in the mainstream press about “Cecil the Lion” are both extremely embellished if not downright false. Namely that the Lion was never “internationally famous” before being killed, that his death will not cost Hwange National Park “millions” lost in revenue, that Zimbabweans themselves care extremely little about the death of Cecil (so much for him being a local celebrity), and that the story was manufactured by Conservationist groups and the media.

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On to my first point: I can find absolutely no evidence that Cecil the Lion was ever “internationally beloved” (as the Telegraph puts it) before this story blew up. According to Google Trends, “Cecil the Lion” was searched ZERO times before July this year.

trend

And though I agree with my friend’s criticism of this point, namely that internet use in Zimbabwe is quite low, and that therefore, he might have very well been “locally” loved, it is difficult to find evidence for this as well.

Searching through reviews of Hwange National Park on both Google Reviews and Expert Africa, not a single of these 90+ reviews mentions Cecil the Lion by name, and many don’t even seem impressed with the presence of lions at all. Furthermore, this article from Reuters entitled “What Lion?” gives some actual Zimbabwean accounts of how “famous” Cecil was:

“Are you saying that all this noise is about a dead lion? Lions are killed all the time in this country,” said Tryphina Kaseke, a used-clothes hawker on the streets of Harare. “What is so special about this one?”

“Why are the Americans more concerned than us?” said Joseph Mabuwa, a 33-year-old father-of-two cleaning his car in the center of the capital. “We never hear them speak out when villagers are killed by lions and elephants in Hwange.”

In addition, I can’t even find a reference to Cecil the Lion online AT ALL before 2015.

Hmmm, doesn’t seem so locally famous after all. In fact, I’d say he was positively unknown by anyone but the people tracking him.

Next I will disprove another egregious claim made in the media, that killing Cecil for a mere 50,000 USD will cost the Hwange National Park “millions” of dollars. The Guardian writes “The ZCTF said on Tuesday that it continued to mourn Cecil. Rodrigues pointed out that the hunter was believed to have paid just $50,000 to kill a creature that would have brought millions of dollars worth of tourism to the reserve.”

Hmm, really? This seems like an easy thing to actually prove or disprove, so I looked it up.

Now my data isn’t perfect, but it’s better than whatever this “Rodrigues” fellow is toting. According to the only published statistics I could find online, the Hwange National Park receives 88,000 foreign visitors per year. These are the only visitors that have to pay more than a nominal fee, as Zimbabwean residents have to pay 30 Zimbabwe dollars, which is a fraction of a US cent.

According to the article and other websites, Foreign visitors pay between 15-20 USD to enter the park (I found websites that said 15 and some that said 20, but we’ll just say 20). Thus, the park makes around 1.6M USD a year from entrance fees. According to our earlier cited article, entrance fees make up around 50% of Zimbabwe park revenue, though this is as the author says, an “educated guess”.

Thus, the Hwange National park can be estimated to make 3M dollars per year. Cecil was 13 years old, and lion life expectancy is 10-14 years. Thus, Cecil probably only had a few years left in him.

Can we then really say that A SINGLE LION would bring in “millions” of dollars of revenue to a place that is only making 3 million dollars a year? It’s preposterous. If we’re generous and say Cecil would live another 5 years, thus the park would make 15 million dollars, Cecil’s mere existence would be the cause 15% of this revenue?

Ridiculous, and my statistical analysis is as basic as possible.

hwange-national-park

Now that we’ve essentially proven that Cecil’s “fame” and earning power were nil, let’s look at why he has been thrust into the spotlight. Who could gain from this?

Of course, Cecil was collared and tracked by the Oxford University Conservation Unit. They were the ones that originally broke the news to the Telegraph, and if anything, they will be the ones who profit most from his death. As Newsweek writes:

“Cecil’s death, while a blow to lion conservation and research, “has revealed the importance, worldwide, that millions, possibly billions, of people attach to lion conservation” Macdonald says, adding that his team had received a “deluge of emails” from the public since the news broke.”

“If that enthusiasm and attention can be converted into a conservation effort then that would be a wonderful consolation, a wonderful memorial to the unfortunate death of this one animal,”

Ah yes, the classic cry of the underfunded scientist, “send us more money!”

While I support fully the preservation of all animals, and the conservation of these more iconic African animals more so, I can’t help but think all of this outraged was simply the result of the OUC learning of a viscerally gruesome, reportedly illegal killing of one of “their” lions, and then using this act as a way for them to spread their conservatory message.

While it may be a noble message, Cecil was not famous. He was not particularly noteworthy, and he wasn’t particularly valuable.

The media can create outrage whenever they want if they think it’ll sell, and that’s what’s “really scary” and “sickening” about this entire fiasco.

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