By Maria Fotopoulos
July 29, 2015
Minnesota dentist Walter J. Palmer is much in the news for killing Cecil, a beloved 13-year-old Zimbabwe lion. Local celebrity Cecil was lured out of a protected national park with meat drug on a truck, shot with an arrow (but not killed) and then tracked for 40 hours before he was shot dead by a rifle. This is “trophy hunting.” Cecil then was skinned and beheaded, with his remains abandoned at the park border. Evidence indicates those involved in this horror marathon also tried to destroy Cecil’s tracking collar to cover their tracks.
Poor Cecil. He just wanted a snack.
Due to Palmer’s pointless, incomprehensible bloodthirst, Cecil’s bloodline probably will be removed from the world of lions, as the next lion in the hierarchy will likely kill Cecil’s cubs. In addition to negatively impacting dwindling biodiversity among the lion population, Palmer denied thousands of others their right to see this creature alive and enjoying his life in the natural world. Just who does this guy – and others who contribute to this kind of wanton slaughter – think he is?
Palmer reportedly started shooting at age 5. Perhaps he shot rabbits and deer as a boy and young man before he was able to turn the profits of his dentistry practice into his “trophy hunting” pastime. Records show he has killed bighorn sheep, buffalo, caribou, deer, elephant, leopard, lion, moose, mountain lion and polar bear. Any large animal seems at risk from Palmer’s narcissistic sights. I’m no psychologist, but taking the life of a highly sentient being seems to indicate something truly pathological about this man and those of his “trophy hunting” ilk who feel a need to kill an animal, stuff it and ornament a wall; dead animals are not objets d’art. These are people whose moral compass is not set to the 21st century.
After the story on Cecil’s killing went international, Palmer issued a statement, “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted. I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”
What we’re learning of the circumstances of the killing makes Palmer’s comments improbable. The dentist’s voracious appetite for killing animals, including threatened species – coupled with a felony charge that he killed a bear illegally, falsely certifying that the bear was killed in a legal hunting zone – might cast doubt on his veracity. That, plus the estimated $55,000 “investment” he made to kill a majestic animal, might lead one to speculate that Palmer wanted to get his kill at any price; he may have thought he deserved and was owed his “trophy.”
Add to that his long-running record of hunting for pleasure which clearly demonstrates utter disrespect for the tremendous loss of biodiversity the world is experiencing, commonly known as the Sixth Extinction, or the greatest loss of biodiversity since the age of dinosaurs. It’s disheartening to think that the tremendous wealth Palmer allocated to killing so many wonderful living creatures could have been directed to conserving wildlife and making a positive difference. His actions show so little awareness of, or perhaps sheer indifference to, what’s happening in the natural world.
The vitriol across the Internet directed at Palmer is intense, and it’s right that this man is being publicly vilified. Already two Zimbabwe locals have been arrested in the death of Cecil. Hopefully, justice will lead to the extradition of Palmer to Zimbabwe to face poaching charges. No small number of people would like to see this man put behind bars, so he can bring no more death to animals. Maybe he’d seek enlightenment for his deadly sins during an incarceration, and come to an understanding that the animals he’s been destroying have a right to live on Earth. Failing that, we might hope that the outrage in his community is so great that his business fails, and he is deprived of the income that has funded his wildlife killing spree for the “fun of it.”
The heartbreaking and senseless death of Cecil the lion comes on the heels of the killing – also by an American – of a rare black rhino in Namibia. The pricetag on that offense: $350,000. And those are just two stories of the not-talked-about-enough world of trophy hunting, which shockingly still exists. Nearly 7,000 male lions were taken as “trophies” in a recent ten-year period.
We need a new Age of Enlightenment related to the world’s biodiversity. Man’s ascendancy and rapid population growth since the Industrial Revolution have decimated wildlife populations. In 1900, the world population was under 2 billion people. Today, we’re at 7.3 billion, and growing. This growth has led to loss of vital animal habitat and the rapid decline of many apex predators who are essential to healthy ecosystems.
Lions once roamed most of Africa, along with parts of Asia and Europe, but today they survive only in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, with a very small population of about 500 Asian lions in India’s Gir Forest. There are no more lions in 25 African countries, most having been extirpated from their ranges by the early 1900s. Lions face extinction and have seen their numbers plummet from 200,000 in 1960 to an estimated fewer than 30,000 today. The human population in Africa is 1.2 billion, and expected to more than double to 2.4 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations. Africa has enough problems without Americans, and others of wealth from China, Europe and elsewhere, plundering their wildlife. No matter high permit fees and the issuance of limited permits, killing these animals is not a sustainable economic model.
The idea of the “Great White Hunter” is in no small part due to famed novelist Ernest Hemingway, who shot big game in Africa and romanticized it in his writing sufficiently before he shot himself. Hemingway has been gone more than 50 years. It’s a miserable state of the world that trophy hunting didn’t die on that timeline.