I Hope He Stays There

I can’t not write about the murder of Cecil, the 13-year-old famously black-maned lion lured out of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and shot by an American hunter, Dr. Walter James Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota.

Yes–I meant murder. The shooting was the final act in this grisly drama, after Palmer first shot Cecil with a crossbow then tracked the wounded beast for 40 hours. In a sense, then, the shooting was an act of mercy–but none of this was necessary.

Big game hunting never is–especially when the numbers of some of these animals are in decline–and it should be totally disallowed. I have read claims that only vegetarians should be granted a measure of disgust regarding this, but vegetarianism and the abhorrence of big game hunting make for a false equivalency. In Africa, hunting the “Big Five” (elephant, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard) is big business–and the hunters, “a large number of whom are well-to-do Americans,” according to The New York Times, do not eat their prey.

Of course they don’t. It’s murder, pure and simple.

Again, from The New York Times: “In one particularly dreadful practice called ‘canned’ hunting, private ranches raise lions purely to trot them out to be killed by ‘hunters’ for trophies.”

This kind of thing is in part why, if aliens ever visit our planet, they’ll give us a wide berth. In being our own worst enemy, we may have inoculated ourselves against invasion.

I’m not against killings lions, per se. In Maasai culture, for instance, killing a lion is the direct route to manhood for a boy. But the Maasai have to contend with lions on a daily basis–and they do so with club and blade. I very much doubt that if a Maasai boy used a high-powered rifle he would be welcomed as a man by the tribe.

How much of a man is he who goes thousands of miles out of his way and for no communal benefit uses modern firepower to claim a mere trophy? Methinks he’s over-compensating for something.

Before you start thinking this is a first-world problem, many “Big Five” populations are dwindling–which is a problem for us all. And while Palmer’s inglorious junket may have cost him somewhere around $50,000–shared among a small number of “guides”–Cecil’s eco-tourism worth was estimated by wildlife officials as at least $100,000 annually. That’s money which went to the whole of Zimbabwe. It might not sound like much, but in a country that has been in an economic meltdown for the past several years it certainly doesn’t hurt.

It is, ironically, just this sort of poverty which makes illegal “guiding” attractive. If we want to stop poaching, we will first have to stop poverty. Zimbabwe is battling shortages of water and electricity, and there is no definitive measure of how many are working in the informal sector–described as the “dark side” of the economy. There may always be people like Palmer, but nobody doing well enough financially would be willing to “guide” him on his aims.

At the time of this writing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to contact Palmer, who was convicted by the service for lying about a bear kill in Wisconsin in 2009. Now, his actions might have violated the Lacey Act, which is connected with a United Nations treaty and is concerned with the activities of Americans abroad who violate the laws of foreign governments. And while investigators for the service have been to Palmer’s dental practice and place of residence, the State Department is investigating his actions in Zimbabwe.

On July 28, amidst an ever-widening global outrage, Palmer said, “I deeply regret killing a known, local favorite.” Then he promptly blamed his “guides,” who he said he had trusted. But the fact that they used a goat carcass to lure Cecil out of the park–wherein he was protected, and where his killing would clearly have been illegal–makes a mockery of Palmer’s assertion that the hunt was legal. Still, there remains some question, technically speaking, of the legal status of his actions.

Meanwhile, Palmer has gone into hiding. He deserves a good hiding. I hope he stays there.


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