When the whole Cecil the Lion affair blew up in the media, people on the pro-hunting side of the argument and those who don’t feel strongly about animals, suggested that naming animals was ridiculous and that Cecil was a silly name for a lion. In another thread I stated that Cecil the Lion was first seen at place in Hwange called Magisihole Pan “Whiteman’s Waterhole” I found out later that it is more correctly “Englishman’s Waterhole” the researchers from WildCRU seeing two magnificent young male lions named one Cecil after Rhodes the most famous Englishman in the country’s history and the other Leander after Cecil Rhodes’s right hand man Dr Leander Starr Jameson. Leander was killed in a fight with another lion so he’d died well before the killing of his brother Cecil hit the headlines. So in Cecil’s case he was named by scientists working for WildCRU’s Hwange Lion Project not by safari guides or film makers, if you are following lions around and studying them it makes sense to give them names. I have to say that anyone stating that Cecil is a silly name for a lion is demonstrating that their knowledge of Africa or at least of Zimbabwe is a little bit limited if they couldn’t work out who he might have been named after.
Originally scientific researchers studying animal behaviour gave their study animals numbers rather than names because they believed this would ensure that they remained objective and did not anthropomorphise the behaviours that they observed. When the primatologist Jane Goodall started researching the chimps of Gombe Stream in Tanzania in 1960 because she did not come from a scientific background she threw this rule out of the window and gave her Chimps proper names. This was seriously frowned upon at the time and a lot of proper scientists were very critical however given everything that she and others have revealed about chimps we might well now think it somewhat ridiculous not to give them proper names. When chimps behave in a way that is similar to humans it is reasonable to assume that they are doing it for the same reasons we would behave that way and we probably wouldn’t now consider it anthropomorphism to say so. The fact that we give them names does not mean that we see them as more human and misinterpret their behaviour as a result.
Now it is common practice for researchers to give animals names or they may give them both a number to be objective and scientific but also a nickname because that’s easier to remember.
Safari guides and camps or filmmakers giving names to animals is a slightly different matter. I remember being told many years ago at Kwara in Botswana that they didn’t name camp bull elephants because although the animals appear tame they of course aren’t, giving them names could give their more foolish guests the wrong impression. Whether they seeing these elephants all the time did in fact give them names but just didn’t tell the guests what they were I don’t know it would seem surprising if they didn’t name them at all. With film makers certainly with the BBC they may have been given an outline of the story they need to tell before they start filming and they have to then try and obtain the necessary footage to tell that story. I’ve no doubt on more than a few occasions this has meant that what we are led to believe is one cheetah is actually several different ones, though these days when they do that they would have to make it clear at some point that it was more than one animal. I seem to recall that when Disney made a film about lions in the Mara they gave them completely different names to the ones they already had, the ones people would have been familiar with from watching the BBC’s Big Cat Diary. I'm not quite sure what was wrong with the original names I guess they weren't as it were 'Hollywood' enough.
Unless you are a scientific purist who believes that Jane Goodall should not have named her chimps I don’t think one can really object to scientists naming animals and suggest that the researchers from WildCRU were wrong to give lion a name. As Cecil was a very well known lion it’s only natural that local safari guides and then tourists would learn that he had been named Cecil and would then use the name when they saw him. Maybe the fact that he had a name coloured how we saw his death maybe we wouldn’t have paid so much attention if he was just another ordinary nameless lion. His death has raised the question of whether lion hunting is sustainable and also brought the plight of lions generally in to the media spotlight. Creating awareness of the fact that lions are disappearing whether trophy hunting is a significant part of the problem or not is surely a good thing, maybe lions should be thankful that a researcher named one of their kind Cecil.
Edited by inyathi, 26 January 2016 - 09:10 PM.