If Cecil Had Lived in Costa Rica, He Might Still be Alive Today

If Cecil Had Lived in Costa Rica, He Might Still be Alive Today

Cecil at the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Credit: Vince O'Sullivan/Creative Commons.


By Camila Cossio, AIDA intern

Last month Cecil, a 13-year-old African lion, was tracked and killed by a tourist from the United States. Cecil was a victim of trophy hunting, a cruel hobby that serves no conservation purpose. If Cecil had lived in Costa Rica, he might still be alive today.

Costa Rica is home to many top predators, including big cats like pumas and jaguars—and the government is committed to their protection. Hunting animals for sport is illegal in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Congress in 2012 unanimously approved an amendment to the nation’s Wildlife Conservation Law, which bans trophy hunting and the general hunting of wildlife. Costa Rica is the first country to ban hunting save for scientific studies, subsistence, and to reduce overpopulation. Hunters who fail to comply with the law may be fined up to $3,000 or jailed for up to four months.  

In light of Cecil’s death, many trophy hunters have argued that their actions help conservation efforts. Science, however, tells us otherwise. Natural predators, such as lions, wolves and bears, help balance natural ecosystems by killing the sickest and weakest individuals in a species. This is natural selection at its core. In contrast, trophy hunters aim to kill the most “desirable” animals – those that would look best hanging on their walls tend to be healthy top predators like Cecil. By hunting healthy predators, humans are interfering with the delicate balance of species populations. When a dominant lion like Cecil is killed, for example, it is common for a new lion to take over the pride and kill the former leader’s cubs. This pride disruption would not have occurred now had Cecil not been hunted to his death. 

Another kind of disruption is being seen in regard to United States wolf populations.  The overhunting of red wolves led to an increase in coyote populations. As coyote populations grew, they suppressed the numbers of many smaller predators, such as foxes. Foxes prey on mammals responsible for infecting ticks with Lyme disease. It’s no coincidence that humans are currently facing the highest incidence of Lyme disease ever documented. Instances like this make it clear that predators play a vital role both for healthy animal ecosystems and for human health.

Trophy hunting also creates a market for the poaching of threatened and endangered species. Organized trophy hunts imply that animal populations are “recovering” and not in danger, thus increasing the exploitation of already sensitive populations.[1]

Costa Rica is a pioneer in wildlife law and wildlife protection – as evidenced by its landmark legislation, and by everyday actions I witness during my internship here in AIDA’s San José office. I see the nation’s concern reflected in the work our attorneys do to protect endangered species. And I see it on the streets, in bumper stickers bearing the image of a big cat like Cecil, captioned “Animals Have the Right of Way. Respect Them."

[1] Cecil and the Myth of Conservation Through Sports Hunting, http://www.friendsofanimals.org/news/2015/august/cecil-and-myth-conservation-through-sport-hunting (accessed Aug. 5, 2015). 

About the Author

AIDA Staff


Founded in 1998, AIDA is a nonprofit environmental law organization that works across international borders to defend threatened ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them. 

Any opinions expressed in this blog are the authors’ own and may not be shared by the organization. AIDA includes them with full respect for the freedom of expression and plurality of our team of professionals.

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