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Cecil’s Legacy: Hunting Debate Continues in Southern Africa

In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Cecil's death in a controversial hunting episode has brought attention to the issue of trophy hunting.

Cecil the Lion may no longer be with us, but his death in a controversial hunting episode in Zimbabwe has brought attention to the issue of trophy hunting. Now, more than four months after Cecil’s death at the hands of an American hunter, the hunting debate has changed.

Call it the Cecil Effect.

The killing of the black-maned Zimbabwean lion by an American dentist in July has reverberated beyond Southern Africa, and sparked a heated debate on what role trophy hunting should play in the region.

And in a rare point of agreement, both sides of this debate agree that the lion's death has brought about positive change and greater awareness of trophy hunting – whether you agree with it or not.

Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association Chairman Louis Muller said the highly publicized death of Cecil inspired his organization to take a hard look at itself and to try to do things better.

'Affected trophy hunting'

"The Cecil effect has affected everybody, not just Zimbabwe. It has affected trophy hunting as a whole in the entire globe," Muller said.

"I think we have realized we have got to be more transparent as an industry. I think we have got to clean up the act and be more self-regulatory so that where there are rogue elements within our industry, we have got to address them and be be very serious with these individuals before the authorities step in. And we have got to clean up our act before the politicians step in because then it will generally be a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.

Hunting advocates argue trophy hunting is a good way to cull herds and preserve fragile environments. Muller also said the income from trophy hunting helped children by bringing income and investment to rural communities.

Isabel Wentzel, an official with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said her group was totally against trophy hunting. She called it a “blood sport.”

Opened door for change

But Wentzel said Cecil’s death has opened the door for positive change.

"It has caused a huge outcry. … But it has forced a few governments to actually sit up and notice that there is something maybe that needs to be done, that there must be a reason why this has caused such an outcry," she said.

"So there has been different steps in the direction of legislation, even in our country, there has definitely been a better look at it. And of course America has been trying to bring in other laws, so yes, he has caused quite a ripple effect," Wentzel added.

This debate has come too late for Cecil, but as humans argue about what happened and how he has changed the game, the beloved lion, in a way, lives on.