The View from The Niagara Guide

General observations and musings on how we can make Niagara a better place.

Cecil the Lion, Starfishes and Our Tunnel Vision

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Around 13,000 km from my house in Thorold, a lion was killed. The humans who knew of him called him "Cecil". It's not known what he called himself, but it's kind of moot now because he's dead, killed by an American dentist who likes to hunt large animals. The way Cecil was hunted and died has upset and outraged millions of people around the globe.

I think it is fair to say that a very large percentage of those millions of outraged and upset people had no knowledge of Cecil before news of his death hit the internet. I would further wager that a majority of those up in arms about Cecil's killing know little about the lion population in Zimbabwe or in Africa as a whole. A quick reading of articles online suggests the main factor contributing to the overall decline in African lion populations is habitat loss. Some sources also suggest that sport hunting of lions and other large animals in Africa is an important source of conservation funding. While Cecil's death will be in the headlines for another week or so, the emotional energy expended by millions of people world-wide will have little impact on the inexorable decline in the African lion population.

There are so many things in this world we can be outraged about. Social media's good for helping us focus our energies in short bursts, but it's not enough. If we want to do more, we have to develop a broader view and more importantly, develop the will to act.

Thanks to social media, many of you may be familiar with the "starfish story", originally known as "The Star Thrower". For those not familiar with the story, the gist is that the narrator was walking along a beach when he encountered a young man throwing starfish into the ocean. When asked why he was doing so, the young man replied that as the sun was coming up and the tide was going out, without his assistance the starfish would die. The narrator then said that as there were miles of beach ahead and many starfish all along the way that the young man couldn't possibly make a difference. The young man then picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, exclaiming "It made a difference for that one!".

The young man in the story made a difference to a lot of starfish that day. In the same way, our short-lived outrage may make a difference for a little while. Ultimately, the young man's starfish throwing and our outrage are similarly futile without understanding the bigger picture and taking action.

Scientists at the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. As more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, more is absorbed by the oceans, becoming carbonic acid. The decrease in ocean pH levels has profound impacts on many sea creatures, including starfish.

The young man in The Star Thrower may be making a difference in the lives of a few starfish by his actions, but if he doesn't understand the bigger picture of the destruction of his beloved starfishes' environment through climate change, his actions will be meaningless in the long run. He would be better off expending his energies on fighting climate change. Otherwise, nothing will change.

Cecil's dead. All the world's outrage won't bring him back to life. What if every single person who is mourning Cecil's passing donated $10 per month to a reputable charity that focuses on preserving natural habitat for Africa's lions and other large animals? Imagine the impact that would have. What a tribute to Cecil it would be.

Sadly, that won't happen. Emotions will fade. The outrage won't last. People's tunnel vision will focus on whatever makes the internet explode tomorrow, or the day after. The dentist who killed Cecil will eventually be back at work, saving up more money to take his next hunting trip.

Does this outrage you? If so, then I encourage you to take action that will bring about the positive changes you want to see.

Image Credits

"Lion-hwange" by Laura (cardamom) - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

By ГП (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons


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