Two stories of murder and mayhem gripped our collective consciousness this week. On Sunday we heard the first ominous reports of a missing 8-year-old girl in Santa Cruz, CA, and on Monday it was revealed that an American dentist had stalked and killed Zimbabwe’s famed Cecil the Lion. Within days revelations about the death of the child spread a veil of sadness over the San Francisco Bay Area. As the truth emerged surrounding the death of the lion an explosion of anger and hatred gripped the entire nation, if not the world. My question is why would the death of an animal, any animal, trigger a collective emotional reaction that dwarfs that of the rape and murder of a little girl?
Maddie Middleton was a sweet little girl who was minding her own business, playing in her yard, and enjoying a warm summer afternoon when 15-year-old neighbor AJ Gonzales lured her into his apartment with the promise of ice cream. Once inside Gonzales attacked, bound, raped, beat and strangled the little girl to death before dumping her remains in a recycle bin like a piece of trash. While this outcome shocked everyone from the boy’s mother to the casual television observer, the visceral reaction barely registered when compared to the outrage over the death of Cecil the Lion.
Minnesota dentist Dr. Walter J. Palmer traveled to Zimbabwe to hunt and kill a lion with a bow and arrow. He paid $55,000.00 to secure proper permits, hired professional trackers and guides to ensure that his hunting expedition would be legal and successful. Cecil the Lion was wounded with an arrow, stalked for 40-hours, killed, skinned, and beheaded. Dr. Palmer’s claim that he was unaware that the lion was lured from a protected national park are speculative at best.
Protests have sprung up in front of Dr. Palmer’s home and office calling for his extradition to Zimbabwe and prosecution over the death of Cecil the Lion. Countless hours have been invested on various Cable News outlets about Dr. Palmer’s lack of empathy, calculating ambitions, and cold soul. Countless death threats and the scorn of a nation have driven him underground.
Ironies cascade upon each other. The very same people who are demanding that Dr. Palmer be extradited to Zimbabwe either ignore or are unaware that Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist since 1980, is one of the most egregious human rights violators on the face of the earth. Between 1982 and 1985 alone he was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of 20,000 of his own countrymen who were then buried in mass graves. Where are the protests against Robert Mugabe?
Of course, the larger and more alarming irony is that the outrage over the death of an animal is so much more amplified and visceral than the outrage over the murder of a little girl. I am not defending Dr. Palmer. I think that what he did is despicable and he should be ashamed of himself. However, the killing of Cecil the Lion is not comparable to the murder of Maddy Middleton. I understand that certain people are more invested in animals than they are in children. Without conservationists, zoo keepers, and others who work to protect animals our world would be far less satisfying. But never forget, Cecil was the king of the jungle and challenges to that authority can emerge from anywhere. Maddy was a defenseless child with hopes, dreams, and aspirations. She cannot protect herself, so it is our responsibility to protect her. This is not apples and oranges. This is about priorities, and sometimes I fear that our priorities need a serious adjustment.