Cecil’s Killer Violated Human Exceptionalism

by Wesley J. Smith

The killing of Cecil the Lion was a very bad thing. As I understand it, a sanctuary lion–and tourist attraction–was lured out of his safe zone and shot with an arrow, taking many hours to die.

I know that many have been making sharp contrasts comparing the outpouring of empathy for Cecil, with the far less concern about Planned Parenthood’s dismembered fetuses and other areas of human culture of death issues.

As cogent as those contrasts are, we should not allow them to distract us from the wrong actions that took Cecil’s life.

Readers familiar with my work know I vehemently oppose animal rights. That has led some to issue the canard that I am indifferent to the suffering of animals.  Drivel.

Animal rights is an ideology that forces a false human/animal  moral equality based on their and our capacities to feel pain and suffer.

Hence, in this view, Cecil’s killing would be the same as the murder of a human being. That is a pernicious morally relativistic belief that undermines human exceptionalism and transforms us, in essence, into just another animal in the forest.

But we are more than that. Human exceptionalism also includes duties–which only human beings are capable of possessing.  

One of those important duties is the obligation–because we are human beings–to treat animals humanely and with respect, and to not cause suffering unless required by an overriding human need.

And when there is a human need, we must continue to work to improve animal husbandry methods. That is why Temple Grandin’s laudable work with cattle slaughtering methods is so important.

This approach is known as “animal welfare.” It is why whaling was justifiable in the 18-19th centuries when whale oil was essential to lighting our cities and driving the rudimentary stages of the industrial revolution, as well as fulfilling in other important human uses and needs. Today, it is no longer justifiable on a mass scale because we don’t need the whale products and the harpooning method of killing–even if for food–causes the animal so much pain. 

Under an animal welfare analysis, there is simply no excuse for killing Cecil. 

  • No human benefit accrued. It was akin to dog fighting, merely serving to satiate a blood lust or give the animal killer an adrenaline rush.
  • Trophy hunting, in my opinion is killing for ego. That said, sometimes there can significant animal and human benefits derived from such hunts. For example, African countries charge very high prices for hunting licenses to cull herds, such as elephants that would otherwise destroy the environment. Those kills benefit park ecosystems by maintaining balance, providing the money necessary in many cases to keep the parks open, and moreover, the killed animals are used for food. Such justification does not exist in this case.
  • The method of Cecil’s killing caused significant suffering for no reason other than to put a thrill up the hunter’s spine.
  • Poaching is wrong. Period. Unless one is starving, I can think of no excuse for it.

Under an animal rights analysis, Cecil had a right to live because his moral value was equal to that of humans. Such attitudes must be rejected.

Under an animal welfare analysis, the great white hunter violated his own human duty to treat animals properly, and to obey the laws of Zimbabwe regarding hunts. (He says he was unaware that Cecil was in a protected area.)

Beyond that, Cecil was a sanctuary lion used to human presence. Thus, his usual wariness was probably not present when lured and killed. Talk about unsporting!

So, yes, there is too much excuse-making for Planned Parenthood. But, let’s not let that distract from expressing our repugnance over this sorry episode.