In a rather curious paper by David W. Macdonald et al. (Cecil: A Moment or a Movement? Analysis of Media Coverage of the Death of a Lion, Panthera Leo) the authors try to figure out if the reaction to Cecil the lion’s demise was simply a short-lived phenomenon or if it might be a turning point where conservationists could harness the passion generated and get society at large to pay for lion protection in particular and wildlife in general in Africa. Could a Cecil moment morph into a Cecil movement?
Two of the authors are members of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru) which established a study of lion in the Hwange National Park (Cecil’s home) and parts of the surrounding Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) landscape in 1999. This research unit had been monitoring Cecil through satellite tracking.
Using a variety of materials and methods including media monitoring and a Boolaen search the authors attempted to analyze the media coverage of Cecil the lion. They certainly had a vested interest in this research as the Cecil story generated 1.06 million US dollars, from 13 335 donors, for WildCru.
Their methodology was quite detailed but their conclusions rather ambiguous and starry-eyed. To quote: “This is a moment that offers an opportunity for radical thinking about the conservation of lions, and indeed of wildlife more generally: It raises a deep question that is ultimately about how, in the 21st Century, the human enterprise is to co-exist with nature. The answers will lie beyond conservation biology and, while fostering the very best that existing approaches can, and may yet offer, will require innovative thinkers to stand back, seek new strategic ideas and ask: can the mold be broken?”
Perhaps the answer that they were looking for can be gleaned from the general public’s reaction to the legal safari hunting of Cecil’s “son” Xanda two years after Cecil? The major news outlets did cover the story but it hardly raised a collective eyebrow. We can safely assume that the “Cecil moment” was just that and nothing else. The heated passion was short-lived; society at large is not going to pay for wildlife conservation.
WildCru did attempt to get some mileage out of the “Xanda” story by calling for a 5-kilometer no hunting zone around Hwange National Park. This to stop the killing of monitored lions that stray outside of the park boundaries. Having monitored lion since 1999 they should know by now that lion don’t respect boundaries or distances.
WildCru will do well to remember that they are a foreign research unit operating with permission from the Zimbabwean government. They are not there to formulate the country’s wildlife policy.
To read the complete paper, Cecil: A Moment or a Movement? Analysis of Media Coverage of the Death of a Lion, Panthera Leo, click on the link below.