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Cecil

What Cecil the lion's death can teach us about empathy

What Cecil the lion's death can teach us about empathy

Posted 30 July 2015   by Amy         Permalink | 1 Comment

Tags: Cecil, lions, hunting

The tragic death of one of Zimbabwe's most loved lions – Cecil – has sparked global outrage. And understandably so. It's hard to fathom why anyone would want to kill such an incredible animal. The American dentist who hunted and shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, reportedly paid $55,000 for a permit to kill a lion. Reports say that Cecil was lured out from the protection of the Hwange National Park (where it is illegal to hunt) and killed.

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Cecil's death is undeniably devastating. But it begs the question -- would this story even be told if it had been any other lion who was shot? Approximately 600 lions are killed every year on trophy hunts. In a statement, the hunter who killed Cecil said:

"I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."

This lion.

Had he shot any other lion (or any other animal) we might never have heard about it. But Cecil had a name. He had a personality. He was loved.

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Cecil nuzzles a lioness at Hwange National Park.

Does having a name make Cecil's life more valuable? All lions have unique personalities. They have loved ones. They may have cubs, like Cecil did. But their deaths would not make global headlines.

Rightly or wrongly, it is an undeniable trait of human nature that we care more about those we know than about those we barely know. With Cecil, we see on a global scale that even by simply knowing an animal by name, we feel more connected to them. We understand that they are someone. If you've ever given a house spider a name (I know I have) you'll know how something so simple can build a bridge from 'other' to 'friend'.

And if we look at humankind's "best friend" we can see how deep this connection between humans and animals can go. Most of us will have at some point in our lives welcomed an animal into our homes. We will have learned about their likes and dislikes, watched them experience joy and fear and loved them just like a member of the family.

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If you've ever loved a companion animal you'll know that you'd never let anyone hurt them. And it's this love that has dictated the protection our pets have in broader society. In Australia there are legal ramifications for cruelty to dogs and cats that are not afforded to millions of other animals. If someone were to take a dog and cut off his tail without any pain relief, they would face cruelty charges. And yet, this painful procedure is inflicted upon countless piglets in factory farms every single day.

Recently, there was worldwide outrage over the dog eating festival in China. I'm the first to be saddened by the thought of a dog being killed and eaten but perhaps some cultures just don't know dogs like we do? If they did, surely they wouldn't consider them "food." Meanwhile, here at home, countless animals who are really no different to dogs are killed everyday ... to be turned into pork, bacon and ham. Why do we not feel outraged by this?

Dogs and cats have a special place in our society simply because we know them as individuals, we love them and we stand up to protect them. What if we could expand our compassion to the animals who we don't know? Imagine how different the world would be if we stood up to protect all animals?

Just like dogs, pigs have a desire to live, and feel love and have in fact proven to be even smarter than the tail-wagging slobber monkeys we share our homes with. Chickens too each have their own unique personalities, likes and dislikes and the capacity to feel pain.

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Meet Stefa Meet Little Miss Sunshine

Cecil's life mattered not because he was a lion, or because we knew his name. Cecil's life mattered because all lives matter.

Every day we make choices about how we treat individuals who we will never meet -- from what we wear, to what we buy, and most especially what we eat. To create a kinder world, we need only harness the power of our everyday choices to transform the lives of these animals for the better. And we can start today. Take the first step here.

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