Jason Goldman for Conservation Magazine:
When the story of Cecil the lion’s death at the hands of an American hunter hit the media, the global response was “the largest reaction in the history of wildlife conservation,” according to a new paper. Researchers from Oxford’s Wildlife Research Conservation Unit (or WildCRU, the same organization that had tracked the lion since 2009) analyzed the traditional and social media response to the hunting incident. They found that a combination of elements in the story may have made it go viral in a different way than the average Internet sensation. And conservationists may subsequently have a golden opportunity to transform the “Cecil Moment” into a “Cecil Movement.”
To recap the sequence of events around Cecil’s death: Around 10:00 pm on July 1, 2015, a hunter from Minnesota named Walter Palmer sent an arrow into the side of a 13-year-old male African lion nicknamed ‘Cecil’ on privately owned property outside of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. This arrow failed to kill the beast, but the second one, shot some 11 hours later, did. Several weeks later, the news hit both mainstream news and social media. On July 27, Palmer was publicly named as the hunter. The next day, Jimmy Kimmel denounced the hunt—and trophy hunting in general—during the monologue portion of his nightly talk show on the ABC network. While tearing up, he encouraged folks to donate to WildCRU and displayed the unit’s website on the screen. The site received some 4.4 million visitors following Kimmel’s monologue before it went down due to server overload.