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Is our outrage over Cecil the Lion going too far?

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Paula French via AP

(Read caption) In this image taken from a November 2012 video made available by Paula French, a well-known, protected lion known as Cecil strolls around in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Zimbabwe's wildlife minister says extradition is being sought for Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot and killed Cecil.

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The shooting of Zimbabwe’s beloved Cecil the Lion last month sparked international outcry, with many commenters saying that the hunter responsible, a Minnesota dentist, should be tried in court. One celebrity even went as far as to publish his home address.

Has it gone too far?

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Twitter users have expressed their opinions with the hashtag #CecilTheLion, or, more provocatively, #CatLivesMatter. Some have called the hunter a “coward” with a “very small ego” and others have even tweeted about throwing him into a den of lions.

Dr. Walter J. Palmer, an American hunter and dentist known for his interest in big game, allegedly paid around $54,000 to hunt the lion, the Telegraph reported. And in a personal statement he claims that he did not know the hunt was illegal.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” he said.

A petition intended for the president of Zimbabwe had over one million signatures as of Sunday morning. It calls for “justice” for Dr. Palmer and an end to hunting permits that allow the killing of endangered animals. And remarks by Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), became particularly controversial when Newkirk expressed her desire that Palmer be put to death.  

“Hunting is a coward’s past time. If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged,” she wrote.

All of this came to a head when news outlets began reporting that Jericho, another important lion in the park, was also dead. On Saturday, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) said, “it is with huge disgust and sadness that we have just been informed that Jericho, Cecil’s brother has been killed at 4pm today” in a Facebook post

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As it turns out, Jericho is not Cecil’s brother, but a “coalition partner,” as the Associated Press reported. And, according to the same report, Jericho is very much alive.  

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Activists of various political stripes have expressed their concern about the wide global attention the lion issue is receiving. "Black Lives Matter" activists say that Cecil has received more attention than Sandra Bland – a woman who died in prison by alleged suicide. And some conservatives are concerned that the Cecil story has undermined the recent Planned Parenthood scandal.

A New York Times report suggests that the outrage over the killing may stem from the fact that Cecil had been given a name.  Of the 600 lions killed every year by tourists – out of a total population of 20,000 – very few of them have names.