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Editorial: Cecil the lion's revenge?

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Published in Op Eds

Remember Cecil, the African lion killed in 2015 by a Minnesota dentist? The dentist shot Cecil with a crossbow, skinned him and then took his head as a trophy.

Cecil's death stirred worldwide revulsion, forced the dentist into hiding and, we trust, scared off other trophy hunters who would kill these magnificent beasts for sport.

We don't know if lions hold grudges, but we're tempted to say that Cecil's relatives in Africa may have long memories.

That was our first thought when we heard about what happened to a group of rhinoceros poachers who recently crept into a South African game reserve. The armed poachers apparently intended to kill rhinos and saw off their horns (worth about $9,000 a pound).

What happened looks a lot like sweet revenge. Officials found a skull and a "bit of pelvis," Nick Fox, owner of the private game reserve, told Newsweek. "Everything else was completely gone."

Fox wasn't even sure how many poachers there were, but three sets of shoes and gloves were found. "I think we had a stroke of luck here," he said. "The lions got to them before they got to the rhinos."

Veterinarians and conservation workers assessed six lions believed to be among the culprits. Conclusion: The lions' behavior was normal. Apparently, the animals react differently toward people in vehicles who come to gawk than they react to people on foot who come to make mischief.

Our surmise: When lions see people in vehicles, they may think, "tourist." When they see people on foot with guns, they think "lunch."

Sadly, rhino poaching is a big criminal business in South Africa, with more than 1,000 rhinos slaughtered in 2017. Poachers have already driven one rhino species, the northern white rhino, to near extinction. Only two females remain. But researchers say they've developed a hybrid rhinoceros embryo to be implanted in a surrogate rhino in hopes of restarting a herd. That would be wonderful. Even more wonderful would be to develop better ways to discourage poachers from killing endangered animals in the first place.

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Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen while black markets thrive. Which means animals will continue to be driven to near extinction by the most treacherous beast of all.

"The northern white rhinoceros didn't fade from evolution, it faded because it wasn't bulletproof," said Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Poachers who kill and mutilate for profit don't deserve much sympathy. Looks like they didn't get any from the lions.

Rest easy, Cecil.

(c)2018 Chicago Tribune

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