Do you prefer pets to people? Even, or especially, when those people are your family? Does your adoration of our furry-footed friends extend to animals big and small, the fierce and the docile, the wild and the tame?
You’re not alone.
Recent research suggests that people are twice as likely to give money to save a dog than help a dying child.
Cecil the lion is no exception. The unlawful killing of the big game animal in a Zimbabwe safari park led to worldwide condemnation.
Jimmy Kimmel, a prominent U.S. talk show host, just about cried on TV.
Cecil’s killer, a Minnesota dentist with a whiter-than-white smile, is reportedly in hiding after his identity was revealed. Dr. Walter Palmer’s Yelp review page has since been flooded with furious threats.
"Nothing in this world would give me greater pleasure than to see your head mounted on a wall, your carcass defiled, degraded and paraded as you did to Cecil and near countless other animals," wrote one person.
The death of a lion, especially one that has been killed illegally, is unwelcome and unfortunate, but is it a tragedy?
One person dies from armed conflict every minute - the number of deaths from road accidents is double that. Every day around the world an estimated 21,000 children die from the consequences of poverty -- that’s one child dying every second from hunger, preventable diseases and other related causes.
Four million newborns are dying in their first month of life and half a million women die every year from childbirth and pregnancy-related complications. Since Syria’s civil war began four years ago, more than 220,000 people have died.
The death of Cecil has captured the public imagination in a way that thousands of dead Syrians hasn't. Why do we care more about the death of a lion than a stampede of shootings, stabbings, gang-rapes and torture?
Is it, to use Joseph Stalin's oft-quoted phrase, that, “one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic?”
Or is it something more?
Humans can watch news of whole families obliterated in times of war, and put the thought to one side as they go to eat dinner. But if a beloved pet dies or a partner goes off with someone else tears and recrimination can last for months.
There’s a logic to this way of thinking.
People can only cope with so much suffering, the rationale goes. We are most affected by those close to us, stories we can relate to, animals who ask nothing more of us than food and affection.
But there may be another factor at play.
It wasn’t just any old lion that died -- it was Cecil — a man among lions, distinctively maned, and the subject of an Oxford University study. A safari park official called him “an icon,” but he was more than that -- he was a celebrity.
Every year, Americans kill 360 lions -- a Cecil every day -- where are the tears for them? Where is the outrage?
Rich American tourists kill hundreds of lions each year, and it’s all legal http://t.co/cLrMsPZdzW pic.twitter.com/lUTbCzgt9q
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 29, 2015
Cecil has a name. He cannot be forgotten unlike those other, nameless, lions.
Dr. Palmer, a long-time hunting enthusiast, did not regret killing a lion but he regretted killing Cecil. Speaking to the Star Tribune, Dr. Palmer said, “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite.”
This is the heart of the problem - if you’re killed, it helps to be a celebrity, whether human or beast.
For the rest -- the three-quarters of a million black men incarcerated in the U.S, the tens of thousands of child brides in Bangladesh, the 3000 African children dying daily of malaria -- suffering goes mostly unnoted and unheard.
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