by Linda Brink
[The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY.]
I was thinking about how Cecil’s last hours might have passed.
In the first cool breezes of evening, he would have scented the freshly spilled blood that drew him to the kill zone—the bait being another victim destroyed and placed by the poachers as a lure to the great cat. Cecil would also have scented the humans, and other things: their weaponry, their clothing, products they were wearing. Even so, he was not particularly wary of humans as they had been in and out of his life for years now, often smelling oddly but causing no harm. Perhaps there was a bit of residual guardedness from when he’d been darted and collared, but in truth, no human had ever hurt Cecil, and so he had no real sense of danger when humans were near. Neither predator nor prey, they seemed a neutral species.
When the spotlight flared to make killing him a no-brainer, Cecil might well have felt a jolt of alarm. Wild in every sense of the word, he would likely have grasped that now, something unusual was unfolding. These humans were not acting normally, and very likely he picked up on their odors of adrenalin, excitement, fear, and on the odd stealth of their movements. Alerted by such clues, he perhaps paused to assess the situation. Squinting from bright light into darkness, he would have been shocked by the sudden, agonizing bite of the arrow hurtling into his body, piercing his skin, rupturing veins, tearing through muscle, nipping at organs. Though incredibly close, with his victim distracted by the fresh carcass of an elephant and standing in a pool of silvered light, the poacher still missed the target. Did he fire more than one arrow? Perhaps. But whatever happened during the stillness of that awful night in the Zimbabwe wilderness, instead of killing Cecil, the poacher instead wounded the great cat.
With a mighty roar, powered by an adrenalin rush of his own that fueled the burst of energy necessary for escape, Cecil leaped away, bounding off into the safety of the darkness, and the brush. And with that, the true agony of his last hours would begin.
Hunting arrows are terrible implements to look upon. They resemble multifaceted razor blades coming to a point on a shaft, and are driven through the air with incredible force by equipment that appears to be more a weapon from Star Wars than a hunting appliance. If you are intent on killing a living creature, your choice of this particular hardware for accomplishing this reveals a great deal about the person you are, in spirit. Even with a clean shot, the victim will most certainly suffer, and without question, they will bleed. Indeed, literature for these arrows declares they are guaranteed to leave a blood trail—a hook that only appeals to a certain type of killer. The Walter Palmers of the world, perhaps.
Hurt felines seek solitude, and wounded, Cecil would himself do this. He would have felt an explosion of excruciating pain, great confusion, and for perhaps the first time since a near fatal battle with other male lions in his youth, he would feel fear. The blood scented now was his own blood, and with it came a rapid ebbing of his great strength. Bewildered, Cecil would have plunged on, seeking a place he could not be found, either to heal and live on, or die. And yet, this too was not to be. Relentlessly, those who had hurt him could be heard coming closer, causing him to rise up and continue on, and on, and on for forty long hours as they kept up their pursuit, wanting but one thing from Cecil: the trophy that was his head.
Reportedly, Cecil was maimed by that disastrously aimed arrow at about 6 p.m. on or about the evening of Sunday, June 29. And so it was he suffered on, one torturous moment at a time, through what was to be an endlessly long first night. The coming of daylight would have brought with it a swarm of blood-sucking flies and other such creatures, drawn by the scent of Cecil’s oozing wound and obvious impairment. The day’s dry heat would have added to his considerable agony, and stoked what would become a horrific thirst. Wounded, he would not have had the strength to seek the water he craved, nor would he have exposed himself to the dangers inherent in doing this. All though the dry, sunlit hours of Monday, June 30, Cecil would have dragged on through the brush, stopping when he could go on no more, rousing up if he sensed pursuit. Nightfall would bring some peace, but not much as now his wound was truly a blazing inferno, and his great strength was no more. Afraid, dizzy with dehydration and pain, and cold in the marked temperature drop of a Zimbabwe nightfall, Cecil would have tried his best to find a secure resting place. He would groan and whimper; his breathing would be labored. In a state of terrible suffering now, he would have endured the slowly passing hours of one last, long black night until yet another morning sent shafts of brilliant sunlight unfurling across the plains. On or about Tuesday, July 1st, the final day of Cecil’s life shimmered up above the brightening horizon, once again dispelling the protective cloak of darkness.
He would have heard them coming for him: the humans who had brought with them such harm. Coming with that terrible tooth and claw they possessed that struck unseen, from a distance, and wreaked this havoc he did not understand, they were on his trail. He would have breathed in their scent, hating them, fearing them, and unable to continue, he would have taken his last stand. Bleeding, weak, parched, consumed with the relentless fire of the wound that was draining the life from him, Cecil would have hove to his feet, unsheathed his lethal claws, tossed his great mane, and roared back at those who were stalking him. Those humans who cared nothing about his life, his wild beauty, his gorgeous movement, his spirit—that spark that so characterized the individual who he was, alive—the poachers who cared only for his detached head, and his skin. Dead parts they would dry and treat with chemicals and mount upon a wall with such a great, false, sense of pride; a coward’s arrogance, a narcissist’s conceit. At the men who called themselves hunters but who are in fact murdering thieves—at these people, Cecil would, in the mid-morning quiet shattered by gunshot, defiantly roar one last time. And then, he would fall.
With the stilling of this great heart, a grand journey was ended, and now his powerful, beautiful person would be scalped and discarded and left as garbage in the dirt, in the bush, a fly-ridden heap. Relieved, triumphant, the poachers would cut off his head and detach his skin, still warm with the ghost of his lifeblood. They would attempt to de-activate his research collar, and in the end, leave naught behind but a pile of bone and muscle and entrails, rotting remnants upon the land Cecil had, with such breathtaking majesty, once ruled: an acknowledged monarch of the plains. A true king of the jungle.
It’s been said, death is peace.
I’m so sorry, Cecil, for all you have suffered. I can only apologize for the selfish greed that so characterizes the species to which, with rage, despair and shame, I must accept I do belong. There is now one less of your vanishing kind to grace this earth and maintain your species’ environmental niche. And when all of you are gone, yet another irrevocable weight unbalancing the scales of Nature will add to the growing, impending doom gathering on the distant horizon, for who will take your place? As our greed stalked you, it stalks the survival of every earthly creature. A black shadow of human shape, indeed, it stalks us all.
Linda Brink, Director of Sunnyskies Bird and Animal Sanctuary, Warwick, NY