I have a fondness for smaller cities. Compared to the great metropolises, they are more discrete, more human in their scale. They are also often built upon a single resource. One thinks of Salzburg, with its salt mines, or Seville, which hosted all the gold of the Americas. Oxford is the most human of all, though, as it is built on the very commodity which puts the sapiens into Homo sapiens. Here, they mined wisdom.
I remember my own sense of awe when I arrived as an undergraduate in the mid-1990s – first as a biology student under one of Kenya’s greatest ecologists, and then studying philosophy under a tutor whose own tutor could trace a direct line, tutor to tutor, back to Immanuel Kant himself. I remember how, in the warm autumn sun, the university buildings stood like vast stone-clad thrones for the human mind – their distinctive golden colour coming from the ancient coral reefs that fossilised to form the limestone deposits of nearby Headington.
I was originally asked to write this piece by The Spectator, but apparently I was a bit too late filing my copy – zoology professors and professional hunters are hard to round up at short notice – so here it is, unexpurgated and unimproved.
Je ne suis pas Cecil… and neither was he
I never cease to be surprised either by the posturing courage or the sheer inhumanity of the expressions of ‘moral’ outrage on social media, but this recent furore over the death of the ageing Zimbabwean lion everyone knows as Cecil really has been quite special.
The complicity of the press is particularly grotesque. CNN went as far as to run a photo of the big cat with the caption, “Cecil the lion probably never knew how beloved he was,” surely winning some sort of prize for most redundant use of the modifier ‘probably’ in journalism.
He also certainly didn’t know he was called Cecil, a hilarious piece of nominal colonialism by British conservationists working in the country bloodily carved out of the Dark Continent by Cecil Rhodes and for almost a century called Southern Rhodesia in his questionable honour. (Rhodes is a distant relation of mine.)
I myself fell under the aesthetic spell of lions aged nine –thirty years ago – in London and Colchester Zoos, joined and raised funds for the WWF from that point on, went up to Oxford to study Zoology under renowned Africa ecologist Dr. Malcolm Coe, and myself visited the Hwange Reserve almost twenty years ago where I followed the pride made up of the grandparents, and probably parents, of that lion, whom I photographed at the time.