The Ballad of Cecil the Lion

By David Shirreff 


One day out on safari

I needed dental care

They told me: “Try old Walter

In that shed over there.”


The shed was dark and gloomy

With a dusty dental chair,

The eye of Walter glistened

Like his instruments laid bare.


I turned to make my exit

But “Sit you down!” he cried,

And forced me to be seated

And open my mouth wide.


“You’ve come to hear my story,”

The manic doc began.

“No, no,” I said, “my tooth hurts

I’m not a listening man.”


“Like you, I was a hunter.

I used to take my gun

Or better still my crossbow

And kill things just for fun.


Black bears in Wisconsin,

Big elks in Californ’

Many a tusk and rhino head

My cabin walls adorn.”


“Not me,” I said in panic,

“I never shoot things dead.

To hunt my kind of trophy

You use a lens instead.”


The dentist seized my shoulder

His face was racked with pain.

“If only I had lived like you

A life without a stain.


“I came to Bulawayo

And asked a local guide

To help me kill a lion

And take its head and hide.”


“A full-grown lion will cost you,”

The guide said, “counting trucks,

Tracking and all expenses,

Around fifty thousand bucks.”


“Done,” I said, and we left at dusk

To track our noble beast

With flowing mane and flashing eyes,

Four hundred pounds at least.


“Stop!” said I in the dentist’s chair

“I do not want to hear

The outcome of your dreadful tale.”

My heart was gripped with fear.


He held me with his glittering eye.

“We left at dusk,” he said.

To lure the lion with our bait –

An elephant, quite dead.


The noblest lion of them all

Lived in Hwange Park

Even Noah would have chosen him

To sail inside his ark.


This lion, known as Cecil,

Was famed in many a land

And tracked by conservationists

By means of his neck band.


Our Cecil sniffed the darkling air

And smelled the rotting meat.

He left the safety of the park

His mind set on a treat.


We waited there with bated breath

Night goggles at the ready.

I saw him at one hundred yards

And tried my aim to steady.


Locked in the dental chair I yelled:

“Find another shoulder to cry on.

Why lookst thou so?”

“With my crossbow

I shot the noble lion.


The wounded lion slunk away

My shot had failed to kill.

We tracked him down and fired again

Until the beast lay still.”


The ailing dentist sobbed aloud:

“The dreadful deed was done.

Of all the lions in the world

I had to shoot that one.


For Cecil was a famous lion

Well known to every scholar

At Oxford’s Wildlife faculty

Who’d given him his collar.


The public outcry was immense

From Kathmandu to Georgia.

In Minnesota, my home town,

They threatened me with torture.


It seemed my crime was more severe

Than simple human error,

A contravention that’s akin

To genocide or terror.


An extradition order came

The verdict, reached in time,

Required me to ply my trade,

At the scene of my dreadful crime.


So now I’m bound to spend my days

Within these narrow walls,

And to relate my awful tale

To anyone who calls.”


I slipped out of the dental chair

Now Walter’s tale was done.

I wouldn’t call it dental care,

But my toothache was quite gone.

©David Shirreff 2015

An early warning

“Be quite sure when you go looking for a lion, that you really want to find one.”

PUNCH, August 29th 1900

VULKAN a new thriller by David Shirreff

Global terror takes many forms.

Anti-terrorist squads worldwide try

to foresee the next nightmare.

But have they thought of this one?

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