The killing of Cecil the lion: A replay of colonial fantasy

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THE killing of a lion called Cecil in Hwange National Park has grabbed international headlines.
At first, it looks like an adventurous or a bad environment story about a dentist who leaves America with his guns, manages to get into Zimbabwe legally, pays over US$50 000 and is offered the chance to kill a real lion by Zimbabwean guides.
Walter Palmer, the dentist from Minnesota in the USA succeeds, but what he did not know is that this lion called Cecil was really special because he was the subject of an Oxford University study about wildlife.
Cecil the lion wore a tag or a GPS system which helped to track where he was.
Palmer and the Zimbabwean guide were caught and there are demonstrations outside Palmer’s dental surgery in Minnesota even today.
Some Americans even threatened to kill him or chase him out of his home.
There are real tears shed by many for Cecil.
Teddy bears and flowers are placed at the surgery to remember Cecil’s tragic death.
Walter Palmer from the USA came here to prove that he was man enough to kill a lion.
It may sound very primitive and savage, but what Palmer did was nothing new except that he was caught in the web of technology and social media’s outrage and Westerners’ love for animals.
To understand why Palmer came to Zimbabwe to shoot a lion, we must go back to the past.
During colonial days, coming to Africa was meant to enhance and promote the strength of white or European manhood and masculinity.
Young men were encouraged to face the ‘deep darkest continent’ of Africa.
Such perceptions were well captured in literature.
The men saw Africa as an impenetrable place, a test for them to face the danger of wild animals and dangerous snakes.
Africa was this vast continent where you enter, find wild animals and you shoot them.
You achieve instant manhood and take the trophy to Europe.
The trophy was displayed in a home to show that the owner of the house had indeed been a courageous hunter in Africa.
In the book King Solomon’s Mines written by Sir Rider Haggard, a group of Englishmen venture into Africa to conquer the continent.
Haggard’s story is told by Allan Quartermain, a British hunter in Africa searching for the legendary treasure of King Solomon.
Along the way through the beautiful landscape, they meet all sorts of obstacles in the form of wild and dangerous animals and threatening African native warriors.
Alan Quartermain was based on Rider Haggard himself who had spent many years in Africa as a ‘gentleman hunter’.
A film based on King Solomon’s Mines was first made in 1919 in South Africa. Another one was made by the British in 1937 starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke.
Then in 1950, more money was poured in to make another one which was set in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the Belgian Congo.
As one reviewer noted, the film, “was a thrilling adventure with fantastic footage of landscapes and wildlife including pythons, tigers, rhinos, and crocodiles — not to mention a lengthy, thundering stampede of various animals which is easily the highlight of the picture.”
In the movie, you also get to see many lions and some of them are killed mercilessly.
Books written about the empire to encourage young white boys to come and prove their manhood in Africa and kill lions are many.
Among them are Edwin J. Brett’s Boys of the Empire.
This was followed by The Religious Tract Society or RT which published the Boy’s Own Magazine in 1855.
Later on the image of Africa presented in King Solomon’s Mines was captured in Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter and Sydney Pollock’s Out of Africa.
These films feature the adventurous white hunter striding heroically in Africa confronted by wild animals including elephants.
Another most famous movie about Africa was Born Free which was made in 1966 featuring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna.
In the movie a couple called the Adamsons, who loved lions live in Africa to tame and conquer them.
There are more lions killed or captured in films about Africa like Four Feathers with Ralph Richardson made in 1939, and in Simba with Dirk Bogarde.
Another famous film based on Ernest Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro also features the vastness of Africa and the shooting of lions and other wild animals.
Real hunting of big game remains in Africa and Zimbabwe is a major attraction. However, times have changed.
They cannot come here and destroy wildlife the way they did to their own in Europe.
All wildlife in Europe is depleted.
Now they can only hunt rabbits, ducks and guinea fowls.
In some countries like Finland and Germany, they may still find big wild boars or pigs and deer.
While the killing of Cecil should not have happened, the incident has shown that Zimbabwe is a safe country to walk through the game reserve without fear of being robbed or getting killed as can be possible in other African countries.
And yet, when the media writes about Zimbabwe, they still want to paint a bad picture of violence and lawlessness.
If Zimbabwe was that dangerous, would Oxford University scientists carry out their studies in a peaceful and tranquil environment such as ours?
In the end, we read the story of Cecil and see an American seeking to prove his fantasy of power as if he is still living in the colonial era.
Walter Palmer, the American dentist who came to prove that he was a big white hunter and killed Cecil must be condemned.
The African landscape should not be the playground for young white boys trying to prove their bravery by killing our animals.

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