The recent tragedy of Cecil the Lion has become a touchstone in the lives of many worldwide; with the reactions ranging from the extremes of “Death to the doctor!” to “He didn’t do anything wrong.” However, the majority have an opinion that falls within these two extremes. And while I have no problems professing my love of animals and have my own opinions, I also recognize that emotional outbursts and name calling – while providing a temporary feeling of satisfaction – does not bring long-term change.
What does bring change is a cohesive, unified front toward a united cause; a consistent story supported by facts, and the patience and persistence to see it through. Unfortunately, Cecil’s story risks following the path of similar tragedies. Initially, there is public outrage and the story becomes a catalyst for change. Then, as weeks and months go by, new tragedies arise and replace the old tragedies. Soon the story fades into distant memories. But the daily reminders of Cecil on my computer screensaver tell me that this time it will be different and I will make a difference. And I ask that you too don’t let this story fade into memory without making a difference. This story needs to remain on the forefront of everyone’s mind.
The reality of Cecil is that regardless of the outrage, and regardless of opinion, and regardless of facts and emotion, 98 percent of people with an opinion on Cecil probably will not change that opinion. People that believe there is nothing wrong with hunting for sport are unlikely to swear off hunting, and those that are against hunting are unlikely to become hunters. Animal lovers refer to hunters as murderers and killers.
On the flip side, hunters name call animal lovers as weak, hypocritical because they demand justice for Cecil but not for other animals, or tell them they should focus their energy and anger on “more important issues.” Or as classic rocker Ted Nugent noted, these people are just “stupid” – because after all, who can argue with that? While I agree that some people on both sides probably meet the scientific definition of “stupid,” the majority are not stupid. Rather, their opinions are based upon their backgrounds, their education, inherent beliefs, what they read and what they have heard. Unfortunately, so much of the static flying around the internet, the airwaves, etc. is based upon misunderstandings, exaggerations, lies, and emotion– and is simply propaganda to convince others to take their side.
So, where are the facts on Cecil, and where is the fiction? First, we need to eliminate the white noise; that is, those comments that are designed to mask, confuse or distract from the real truth. The purpose of this narrative is to help weed out the propaganda, the outright lies, and bring the reader back to the real issue which is: Should Trophy Hunting Be Banned?
The Many Arguments for Trophy Hunting
I can only assume that some people have tried to make this an issue because they believe the animal lover sector is simply outraged only by the death of this particular lion. Yes, they are outraged by the senseless death of Cecil. However, Cecil is the symbol of the outrage many have had over trophy hunting for years – an activity that appears to contribute nothing to society and only serves as a selfish act to stroke the ego of the “mighty” hunter … mighty being in quotes because four-wheel drives, high beam spotlights, high-powered rifles, spotters, baiting techniques and canned animal shoots are not exactly terms that suggest a fair fight or what I would deem worthy of the word “mighty.”
I’m sure the hunter brags to his friends back home as to how ferocious the animal was when he was shot. However, in Cecil’s case he was not being ferocious. He was just walking along, not harming anyone and simply following the bait. He was shot, suffered in misery for 40 hours before they finally shot him to death. He was not ferocious … he was not threatening … he was just living the life of a magnificent male lion. But because he was one of the more popular lions in the park, a lion that from most accounts, appears to enjoy the attention and was very social able with the park visitors, the outrage and anger quickly moved into social media and went viral to the point that it became a story. However, whether he had a name or not, this point has no relevance whatsoever to the issue of trophy hunting – right or wrong.
“Cecil supporters are hypocrites because they are outraged over Cecil, but not other lions or other animals.”
This argument assumes that Cecil supporters don’t have similar opinions or beliefs about these other animals; and that simply is not true. As I have continued to emphasize, Cecil is the embodiment of the cause. He is not the first animal that was subject to a senseless death and unfortunately, he will not be the last. However, Cecil has brought an issue to the forefront that many have been arguing for years. Now that this has garnered national and worldwide attention and is now stirring a true debate that threatens the livelihood of these hunting clubs and the trophy hunters, they are scrambling to distract and raise points that are meaningless to the issue.
“This isn’t that big of an issue, or there are more serious issues facing our world.”
No doubt that there are a lot of serious issues facing our world these days; however, your prioritization of important issues is not necessarily the same is my prioritization. It doesn’t mean you are wrong and it doesn’t mean that I am right, but again, this is an argument simply used to confuse, convolute and distract people from the real issue – which again is trophy hunting.
Or, when posed a similar question as to why he supports so many animal rights issues, Captain Paul Watson (if you are not familiar with him, you should be) states that the ecological law of interdependence states that we cannot live on this planet without the other species – therefore saving animals is also saving people. Besides, people who demand that I should not be concerned with helping animals and should be helping people are usually not doing anything themselves to help people.”
“Trophy hunters are conservationists because…”
This brings us to the crux of this discussion and the primary defensive that the trophy hunters defer too … believing that this will immediately put the question to rest. But to be fair, let’s address this question. If trophy hunting is truly an act of conservation and “you must kill an animal to save an animal,” then perhaps this is a legitimate justification for trophy hunting.
The argument is primarily two-fold: (1) hunters weed out the weak, ensuring that only the strongest and healthiest contribute to the gene pool, and thereby improving the overall health of the species; and (2) the fees paid for trophy hunting is invested back into the infrastructure of the local communities; thus it contributes to conservation and saves the animals.
So, the argument goes that by establishing an economic value for a lion, a tiger, a bear, an elephant, or a rhino, that ensures survival of the species. In other words, if the economic value of a lion is $50,000, only a handful of people will have the financial means of which to kill the lion, and so very few lions are killed. However, if the lion has no economic value, then killing him or her will not be restricted only to those with financial means, and more will therefore be killed. I don’t believe this argument truly supports itself, and would suggest even further that establishing an economic value has had an opposite effect and has a direct impact on the dramatic increase in poaching of these beautiful animals.
The Dallas Safari Club just auctioned off a hunting permit for a black Rhino for $350,000. Guess what the economic value of a black rhino is now? $350,000. And guess what economic value the black rhino has to poachers? $350,000. And do you think a poacher now has a greater incentive to poach black rhinos now that they know hunters will pay $350,000 for a black rhino. Of course they will. The answer is painfully obvious.
Going back to the conservation argument, in answer to the first point, this might be true if the hunters truly targeted the weak and the old,but they don’t.
No, the hunter is looking for the animal with the largest tusks, the largest antlers, the largest mane, the largest animal. Those that can afford it (and many who can’t) buy the biggest house, the biggest car, the most expensive diamond. Not because we need it, but because it strokes our egos and makes us believe we are something bigger than we are. Same goes for hunting.
The Wildcat Sanctuary
Now for the conservation part. On the surface, this sounds logical. After all, if the $50,000 spent to kill Cecil truly went to the local economy; or if hunters paid an average of $40,0000 per lion for the estimated 600 male lions that are killed each year, that would generate $24 million in annual revenue. That would indeed contribute much to the local economies, to hire more park rangers, to spend on conservation education to the locals, etc.
The problem with this argument is that it assumes that this $40,000 or $50,000 actually makes it to the local communities. It does not and therefore, contributes very little to conservation. The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservations reports that only 3 percent of revenue from trophy hunting ever makes it to the communities affected by hunting. The rest goes to national governments, foreign-based outfitters, and dare I say, in the pockets of many corrupt politicians and others (Many of these African countries don’t exactly have great track records in responsible and honest government). So, using these figures, Cecil’s life was basically worth about $1,500.
The fallacy of this argument is that it assumes trophy hunting as the only solution and the only financial means to hire park rangers and to help support the national parks and other protected areas. But, studies show that hunting only contributes one-tenth of one percent to the Gross Domestic Product of these African countries. Compare this to ecotourism (i.e. photo safaris) that contributes an estimated 12 percent to GDP.
If you could replace an activity that contributes one-tenth of one percent to the local economy, with one that contributes 12 percent to the local economy, why would you not do that?
According to recent research, the average lion is deemed to have an economic value (there is that word again) of $50,000 per year for the ecotourism industry. But, that is $50,000 for a live lion, not a dead one – and therefore, meaningless to poachers, unless the poachers convert to kidnappers and begin operating their own Poacher’s National Park and begin catering to this same photo op crowd.
So, a lion that lives an average of 13 years will generate, on average, $650,000 in revenue to the economy over their lifetime. Cecil was 13 when he was killed, so, over the course of his life, he generated $650,000 to Zimbabwe’s economy. He was killed for $50,000. But, by all accounts, he was a very healthy lion and could have lived for another five or six years, which would have yielded another $250,000 to $300,000 in revenue for the country. So, there is your “economic value” comparison.
And despite the lopsided comparison of $50,000 to hunt versus $650,000 to photograph, the true comparison is even more lopsided. Studies show that lion cubs have a mortality rate of nearly 80 percent during their first two years. And there is no question that there are numerous reasons for this: starvation, poaching, elephant and buffalo attacks, hyenas and nomadic lions seeking new prides. So, hunting is not the sole reason for the decimation of the lion population.
As Professor David Macdonald, founder of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit as Oxford University so succinctly put it, “The death of one lion is not just the death of one lion, it is a cascade.”
A hundred years ago, there were over 300,000 lions roaming the African plains. Today there are as few as 22,000 to 30,000. While trophy hunting is only one of several causes attributable to the reduction of the lion population, Cecil’s death is directly attributable to trophy hunting and the 600 lions killed every year can be directly blamed on trophy hunting. So, over a ten-year period, that is 6,000 lions; and how many additional cubs or lionesses were killed because the males were not there to protect them? Even if the number of lions killed by poachers, starvation and other natural phenomena remained, take trophy hunting out of the mix and how many lions would we have today. Well, we know at minimum, 6,000 – because that is the number killed on average the past 10 years by trophy hunters. But of course, the number would be much larger.
So Where Does This Leave Us?
Should Doctor Palmer be extradited and face poaching charges? Those who defend him say no, because he relied upon a 3rd party to arrange the expedition and did not know Cecil was illegally killed. And of course, he expresses regrets because he “took” the lion.
Aside from that, does anyone believe he is really sorry? He should be extradited and should face charges because he was complicit in the illegal killing. You have to ask yourself the question, “If he didn’t think they had done anything wrong, then why did they try to destroy the radio collar?” According to Lion Aid, it is not illegal to kill a collared lion. So, why destroy the collar? And why didn’t the law abiding Dr. Palmer seek out Zimbabwe officials or U.S. officials to let them know these other hunters were trying to destroy the collar? After all, he was there.
So yes, he should be extradited, but as much as I would like to see him punished, I no longer focus my anger and energy on this little man … and anyone else desiring to see a change and a ban on the hunting of lions and other threatened species should not spend any more time or energy on this little man either.
No, I have said Cecil is our touchstone and he can be the agent of change toward trophy hunting. So, utilize your energy to support The CECIL Act – or the “Conserving Ecosytems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies” Act that would extend restrictions on the import and export of animals that are being considered for inclusion under the Endangered Species Act. Write your congressional representative and ask them to support this. Ask them to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to upgrade the lion to a “threatened” species. Continue to pressure the transportation companies to ban the shipping of animal trophies.
The challenge of course is that the majority of individuals that trophy hunt are those with significant wealth and therefore, can hire the lobbyists to influence the politicians. They can hold campaign contributions as a penalty or reward for voting for or against certain legislation that would curtail or help their trophy hunting industry. The good news is that the number of people desiring to shut this industry down far, far exceed those that want to keep it afloat.
And to the trophy hunters that still believe that big game hunting is conservation and helps to save these species, I have a couple of additional, alternative solutions that perhaps you might consider. As an avid photographer, I can assure you that $50,000 will buy you the absolute best, top of the line photography equipment you can by. Develop that talent; and not only could you display hundreds of the magnificent photographs of these animals in your home, you could make multiple prints and donate to the various wildlife organizations, and you could even sell prints and use this as an alternative revenue source. Hunting wild animals really only truly provides you one opportunity to brag of your greatness. Photography offers three: (1) touting your photographic skills, (2) touting your contribution to nature and conservancy through donation of your photography and (3) touting yet another way to make money.
Or, you could simply donate the money and benefit from a generous tax write-off. I’m sure all of these African parks would gladly accept a $50,000 check and think what that would do to help wildlife. Or for those that criticize animal lovers that there are much more important issues and crisis are facing today. Maybe you are right. So why not contribute that $50,000 to those causes that you believe animal rights groups should be spending their time and energy upon?
And finally for those trophy hunters that tout they do more for conservation than those non hunters? Well, as a non-hunter, I am proud to announce that I saved a lion today. In fact, I saved a lion yesterday. I saved a lion last week, and I saved 365 lions last year. Why? Because I did not shoot a lion today, I did not shot a lion yesterday, and I will never shoot a lion. Give me a better example of conservation than that.