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Slaying Cecil was hideous, but our record on animal cruelty is shameful too

By Lindy McDowell

Published 05/08/2015

Savage killing: The death of Cecil outraged the world
Savage killing: The death of Cecil outraged the world

Once some years ago, I went on safari in Africa. Sort of. It wasn't the full Big Five experience but we did get to see the most amazing wildlife - elephants, zebra, impala, baboons, a protected species of dung beetle, you name it.

Our guide, a local youth in his early 20s togged out in full Indiana Jones kit, could probably best be summed up by the Belfast word wingnut. One day he took us in a rubber dingy down a river which I later discovered was infested with hippos. Hippos. Africa's deadliest.

I've never claimed to be the perfect mother, but even by my poor parenting standards, a low point was the day that I let my 10-year-old son stroke a "pet" cheetah which was being rehabilitated after having been injured in the wild. "Take his picture," cried your man. I did.

Only as the camera clicked did it occur to me that this could have set the beast off.

Then there was the night we had a traditional African barbecue in the wild. Our man built a fire. For a split second it was paradise, the flames flickering against a backdrop of glorious sunset. Then I noticed dozens of big black things scuttling out from the base towards my feet. Cockroaches. The size of your fist.

I screamed. Your man seized a log and began to bash them into oblivion. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" I yelled. "Leave them alone!"

He glared at me. Make your mind up, missus. His was a simple dual approach to wildlife. Either you run from it or annihilate it.

Except, of course, it isn't that simple.

If any good has come out of the horrible killing of Cecil the lion by American dentist Walter J Palmer it is the sudden global focus on big game hunting and conservation (and if Cecil - or See-sill as our US friends pronounce it - hadn't been a celebrity lion with a cutesy human name, would we ever have heard of him either?). Not for one second do I excuse what he did, but the vile driller killer with the fluorescent bathroom-tile teeth is only part of a complex picture.

As conservationists accept, local tribesmen, whose priority is to protect their families and their livestock, probably feel a bit less sympathetic to the big cat community than those of us raised on Disney depictions. Lions kill people. There is justification for people to sometimes kill lions.

One of the tricks conservationists are trying is blowing vuvuzelas - those screechy horns they use at football matches - to scare off the wildlife. But presumably there is a limit to the lions you can reroute with a flute.

Rich American trophy hunters, not least that vile woman pictured this week smirking over the giraffe she'd just killed, aren't the answer. They're savages.

But then, do we in Northern Ireland have any call to get on our high horse about how others treat animals?

Here, a majestic beast such as Cecil could well end up in a circus. He could live out his days in our bleak climate in the "comfort" of a cramped cage, being let out only now and again to be taught tricks such as jumping through hoops and standing on very small stools.

As Mark H Durkan has pointed out, the current Assembly has now run out of time to stop circuses in Northern Ireland from using performing animals. Westminster has introduced a ban - although that doesn't appear to extend to performing animals on talent shows.

And never mind Walter J Palmer, we have only to look at the picture of poor mutilated Norman the greyhound with his ears hacked off to know we have savages in our own midst too.

The moral of the sad story of Cecil - or the molar, as the dentist might prefer - is that it's a jungle out there everywhere. Even in our own backyard.

We'd all get a kick out of island gift

Good old Ronaldo. Who wouldn't want a friend like him?

Apparently, he's given his agent and close pal Jorge Mendes the gift of a Greek island. Which one is not disclosed (Corfu?).

According to one report, some Greek islands can currently be had for "as little as €3m". Honestly, at that price, you couldn't look past them.

If, like Ron that is, you were on several hundred thousand a week.

This is the blingy world of football we're talking about. So watch out now for a bit of island shopping one-upmanship.

An island, Wayne? I'd settle for nothing less than the full archipelago.

What about a cold weather protest?

To no one's great surprise, it has been revealed that this has been our coldest July for 20 years.

The average temperature was 13.5C. Or to put it another way, November.

A report describes how various places have set individual records for chill and rain, as if this is something to be proud of.

We protest about everything here. Why not a mass protest against the weather? We could march on Stormont demanding equality of sunshine with southern England.

It won't change anything, of course. Northern Ireland will have her madness and her weather still.

But the walk might warm us up a bit.

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