When news of Cecil the Lion’s death and beheading hit the internet, the reaction was swift and severe. Dentist Walter Palmer was given the doxx of all doxxes with a few casual assassination threats thrown in. Even if your personal reaction wasn’t quite so harsh, it’s safe to say that if you had had an appointment at River Bluff Dental this week, it’ll be postponed. Your panicked, last-minute flossing can wait.
The comments on the various Uproxx posts have taken a hard stance, which was neatly summed up by Jimmy Kimmel, “If you’re some A-hole dentist who wants a lion’s head over the fireplace in his man cave so that his douchebag buddies can gather around it and drink scotch and tell him how awesome he is, that’s just vomitous.”
But here’s the rub for those frothing with anger: Palmer probably isn’t a “poacher.” He was using a well-known outfitter that he may very well have assumed was acting completely legally. It was definitely not very sportsmanlike to lure an apex predator out of a protected habitat, shoot it with a crossbow, then decapitate it, but those techniques are par for the course.
Will Palmer serve jail time? Highly doubtful. Not unless he made bribes or it can be proven that he knew his guide was breaking the law. The case against Theo Bronkhorst of Bushmen Safaris and landowner Honest Trymore Ndlovu isn’t about their techniques, not even the bit where they tried to destroy Cecil’s transponder. It’s centered on whether or not the duo had the required permits. Assuming they didn’t, it’s surely possible that Palmer was duped. All accounts agree that he paid the advertised rate for his hunt ($55,000), so if we’re playing the “educated guess” game, this very well may indicate that he anticipated it being legal. It’s hard to envision a hunter risking indictment and paying full price.
The possibility that Palmer didn’t knowingly commit a crime doesn’t mean he’s the man of the year. He’s broken the law to kill big animals before. But it’s worth noting: If you find the man repulsive, you’re not just taking a stance against illegal hunting or poaching, you’re taking a stance against big game hunting in general. If you hate Palmer and want to do so within the constraints of a solid logical construct, you’ve officially pushed all in. It’s time to turn your white-hot rage rays toward all big game hunters.
The fact that the lion was a celebrity doesn’t matter much, does it? Is our anger simply fueled by the fact that Cecil was called “Cecil” and not “lion, unnamed”? What about the “canned” captive lion hunting experiences being sold for cut rates? Or perhaps we relate more with lions than buffalo because of their revered position in the animal kingdom? Where do we stand on small game? How might we feel about an American dentist jetting to Africa to shoot a meerkat? Those little sh*ts are cute as hell! What if it had been another apex predator that’s known to hang out near southern Africa, the great white shark? Would that be cool because #TeamDryLand?
Perhaps answering a few of those questions is step number one for all of us. We all have to drawn our own line in the sand and pick a side. Are you officially anti-big-game-hunting? Anti-all-game hunting? Anti-hunting-for-sport? Anti-U.S.-tourist-visiting-Africa-hunting?
The latter stance is the one I take. I hate the idea of going to someone else’s country and using money to manipulate an often-times broken system into killing native animals. I could explain it further, but the short answer is that it just feels icky-as-sh*t. I was all aboard the justified-rage train when the news of Cecil’s death broke. I even giddily agreed with a comment on an Uproxx article that Palmer ought to be forced to battle a lion in hand-to-paw combat as punishment. Was I joking? Yes [ish]. But snorting up all that righteous anger sure got the synapses firing.
What of it? What’s the endgame here? Are we satisfied by simply ruining a single dentist’s practice? Will we, the furious masses, decide to effect real change? Or will big game hunting fade out of public consciousness until the next time a beloved animal gets killed by an American hunter?
These are the questions posed by cases that captivate the internet to this degree. “Okay, we nabbed ourselves a top-flight jackass, and he’s been publicly shamed, so what next?”
Investigating how we can follow through is particularly interesting in the case of Cecil the Lion because there are some complexities at play. The idea of “banning” big game hunting in Africa is highly improbable at best. Africa is a huuuuuge continent, made up of lots of countries, all of which make their own laws and policies regarding fish and game. Though petitions are noble, we can’t control the supply of lions — it’s not in our purview and trying to manage the natural resources of another country smacks of imperialism every bit as much as jet setting to a developing nation to kill their iconic fauna.
What we can affect/disrupt is the demand for big game trophies. Here are a few ways:
- Pressure airlines to set policies against transporting trophy kills. Emirates Airlines recently took this stance. Like what they’re doing? Thank them for it. Fly to Africa for your safari with them. Make their risk pay off. Want other airlines to follow suit? Petition them to. South African Airways banned the transport of hunt trophies in the spring then quietly lifted their embargo a few weeks later. If hunters have to charter transatlantic flights to transport their carcasses, the costs of a hunt will skyrocket. Palmer is a dentist, not a zillionaire. He and his ilk would feel that price bump.
- Dig deeper into the role that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plays in importing big game trophies. In the case of rhinos or leopards (and any threatened or endangered species), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must issue permits before a trophy can be brought into the country. After Cecil the Lion’s death, the agency said that they were “deeply concerned” about the killing, but, in March 2015, they issued import permits to two American hunters trying to bring black rhino trophies from Namibia. [NOTE: these permits are theoretically online, but, as of press time, the link was dead and the entire site was down.] In May, CNN sent a writer with Texas hunter Corey Knowlton to observe his $350,000 rhino hunt. Here’s the short version: The animal is now dead and stuffed somewhere in Texas. In a post-Cecil world, expect to see lots of pressure to reclassify lions as “threatened” — an action which seems reasonable considering the rapidly dwindling population. This shift in designation would force hunters to seek permits from the FWS before they could bring lion trophies into the country. Or, if you don’t believe in trophy hunting tourism at all, you could pressure Congress to force U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to ban the import of all big game into the country. That would be much easier and more logical than getting every sub-Saharan nation to ban their export. In fact, Australia did exactly that earlier this year.
- Learn more about the “big game hunting pays for conservation” argument and how to counter it. I’m not of the “talking about something doesn’t help the problem” school of thought [clearly]. Knowing your thought process and being able to debate it intelligently can indeed cause a sea change. These issues we’re talking about aren’t going away. We don’t need to posthumously take back Hemingway’s Nobel Prize, but, in 2015, the conversation about human dominion over animals (is it our right to kill them? cage them? keep them in tanks?) is becoming a big deal. The big pro-big game hunting argument is that it results in massive donations to conservation movements. Safari Club International went as far as to say that big game hunting brings in $200 million to rural areas in Africa. That the first statistic you’ll hear when talking with Ted Nugent and friends — to which the conservation community responded with an eye roll/scornful laugh/exasperated sigh combo. The BBC reports that a Zimbabwean family of 10 might receive $1-3 per year for allowing hunts on their land. Even pro-hunting research found that only three percent of hunting revenues went to local communities.
- Rethink oversimplification. Unfortunately, as our readers have pointed out, the threat to lions isn’t just about hunting. Loss of habitat and the limiting of ranging grounds also adversely affect population numbers. Some conservation groups, like Panthera, do begrudgingly admit that hunting might be a “necessary evil” — though killing the alpha males of a species in peril feels like reverse evolution. It’s also important to take a wide view. Yesterday, with the internet in hysterics over Cecil, World Tiger Day passed pretty quietly. Lions are definitely threatened, but tigers will be extinct in the next five years if their current population nosedive continues. It’s all overwhelming — much more overwhelming that just being pissed about Cecil and leaving it at that. Still, we as animal lovers can take solace in the words of Ricky Gervais, “It seems like a losing battle. But let’s fight it anyways.”
If this is indeed a cause we (you, me, the collective internet community) feel passionately about, there are two resources we have that can prove helpful: time and money. Time-centric actions are outlined above. If you’re more interested in making a donation, here are a few options: