The Lion, Genesis, and Fox Hunting


In late July, news emerged that an American dentist had hunted and killed a lion, named Cecil, in Zimbabwe. Why do *you* object to this? This is a multiple choice question:

  • Is it because the lion had become personified with the name, Cecil?
  • Is it because he was tagged as part of a biological study?
  • Or, perhaps you’re concerned that the lion is a threatened species?
  • Is it that such a majestic animal was killed to become a mere trophy on a wall; with his carcass just left to rot?
  • Or is it that after he was first struck with a crossbow arrow, he was tracked for another two days, obviously in distress?
  • Is it because you abhor all sport-hunting?
  • Do you object to killing animals?

There have been just so many reasons to find his death both aberrant and abhorrent. The conversation about his death has become a cacophony. There is little commonality about what the problem is or how to fix it.

… the people is one, and they have all one language; …  let us … confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. (Genesis 11:6-7)

So the noise continues for a few news cycles before people go back to their summer of beer and hamburgers, veggie burgers or Würste.

Would it not be better if Cecil’s death were to galvanize an on-going debate for change?

I suggest that there are three lens through which to treat Cecil’s death: Ecological, reverential, and ethical.


These references, regarded as a significant driver of our environmental catastrophe, immediately sprung to mind from my ecology classes four decades ago:

And God said, let [man] have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps up on the earth. (Genesis 1:26)

And, just in case you didn’t get the first memo:

… and God said onto them, … replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over … every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)

That “dominion” thing sounds pretty nasty. Maybe that’s the reason that “Dominion Day” was charged to “Canada Day” in 1982.

Here’s the thing about an ecological argument: In Canada we have SARA, and across the world we have CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The first relates to species at risk in Canada, so no help there. And, as far as I can tell, the African Lion is on none of the CITES Appendices which would prevent someone returning with the head of a lion. The lion in Africa is listed as “Vulnerable,” being the least problematic of the three levels of “Threatened” on the IUCN Red List. Yet, populations are declining rapidly. Maybe we need to tighten up our relationship between the IUCN categories and CITES, so that we are not only preventing the trade of mainly species that are functionally extinct. That’s a debate for biologists.

And let’s not forget that during the hubub over Clive, five endangered elephants were poached.


The whole house was hung with guns and pistols, swords and daggers, arranged fan-wise, … Everywhere were the symbols of the destroyer or the poor, dead and stuffed destroyed. … Every corner held antlers of various sizes; paws, tails, mangy heads looked down from the walls in glassy impassivity, while in mahogany cases there were stuffed squirrels, or once charming, elusive waterfowl. Outside Vanessa [Bell]’s bedroom lay a snarling tiger, his scalloped length etched in blood red-felt. (Angelica Garnett (niece of Virgina Wolf)  in “Deceived with Kindness“)

My sister tells of watching an episode of the reality show “I Almost Died,” wherein the intrepid trekers risk life and limb through the mountains of some Dictator-stan of the former USSR to view a rare mountain sheep. Once spotted, high above, the hikers are awestruck by the beauty of the beast. Blam! And their high-powered rifles take it down. Huh? A great Globe and Mail article argues this well:

What virtue … is exemplified by a guy who shoots a tame lion and then congratulates himself with a selfie? … Imagine if there were people who fantasized about, say, destroying famous works of art. The more rare and precious, the better. Their dream would be to … open fire on Michelangelo from 100 metres. … [Y]ou and I would consider them to be sociopaths.

So, the modest idea is to ban the importation into Canada of exotic animal trophies: the heads, the feet, the teeth, you name it, poached tor not. (The poaching argument is a red herring, and also not to be confused with poached herring)

Now, I can already hear my brother-in-law. “But this is against the natural order of man!” That “dominion” thing is like our DNA: it runs deep. Bear with me a little longer.

Ethical vs traditional

Some will argue that it’s unethical to kill and eat animals. But only some. Yet most, if not all of us, would agree that cruelty towards animals is unethical. So, there’s strong agreement here. But how does this ethical argument fare when it is stacked against tradition and “dominion” arguments. Pretty well, it seems.

Primarily on ethical grounds, the British banned fox hunting. That was the tradition with those red-jacketed men on hunter-horses, with the Hunt Ball, hunting tartans and the hounds, and the toasts, and the prayers and the … tradition after tradition. From the Parliamentary committee that studied the issue:

In the case of the killing of a fox by hounds, … this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the fox.

English understatement: don’t you just love it?

Dog packs killed about 20,000 foxes per year, out of a population of about 220,000 foxes. Foxes are considered vermin.

The Brits banned the practice of the kill, retaining everything else, in Scotland in 2002, and in England and Wales with the Hunting Act 2004, even though the House of Lords refused to acquiesce.

A tradition fell, and the British Empire did not crumble. The sun still rises …. Um, er … every morning in the UK, at least.

I suggest that, like fox-hunting, trophy-hunting of exotic animals is without virtue and unethical. It is another tradition worth – I hate to say it – worth killing.

If the old country could do it with fox hunting, we could do it with trophy killing. And then let’s go after fox hunting in America.

Just an idea. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

See also: Was Cecil the lion’s death business as usual?

Update: It’s more than a week since the first flurry of Cecil-related news stories, and the Globe and Mail’s August 4 Web front-page has two related stories: One is that three major American airlines will join Lufthansa by no longer carrying large-animal trophies from Africa. A good start. Hello, Air Canada?

Photo credit: Photo of an 18th century etching by Georges Jansoone. Used within the terms of the Creative Commons licence at Wikimedia.

Corrections since original post: Corrected major typo with Cecil’s name, if you consider using the name Clive is a mere typo. Würste added to the summer menu.


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