Regardless of where one falls on the rather broad spectrum of views on hunting, I think nearly everyone agrees that poachers – those who hunt animals illegally – are the worst of the worst. Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer is a poacher, having plead guilty in 2008 to a felony related to a bear he illegally killed in Wisconsin.
Earlier this month, Palmer paid professional hunting guides $55,000 so he could go to Zimbabwe and kill a lion with a crossbow. Palmer and his guides tied a dead animal to the back of their vehicle and scented an area just outside Hwange National Park to lure the lion out of the protected area at night. The 13 year old lion, a beloved tourist attraction named Cecil who was wearing a GPS collar and being monitored by researchers from Oxford University, followed the scent out of the park and onto private property where Palmer lay in wait. Palmer reportedly shot Cecil with an arrow and the lion fled in terror. Palmer and his guides tracked the injured lion for 2 days and finally killed him with a rifle. He then allegedly tried to destroy Cecil’s tracking collar, cut off his head and skinned him, leaving the headless, skinless remains to rot:
The hunt was illegal, according to Zimbabwe parks authorities, who say that the hunter and the landowner did not have permits to kill a lion. The landowner and professional guide accompanying Palmer will face court in early August for poaching charges[.]
Calls for the prosecution of Palmer have been swift and numerous. In a statement, Palmer threw his guides under the bus and claimed he didn’t know Cecil was collared until after he finished killing him. His statement fails to address why at that point he didn’t report the killing to authorities but instead went ahead with the beheading and skinning of Cecil.
Trophy hunting is big business and Americans make up the vast majority of trophy hunters. Lion “trophies” get sent to the U.S. more than any other place in the world. And some conservationists support trophy hunting as a means to manage and fund conservation efforts.
I don’t know if Walter Palmer is concerned about conservation work or whether he has ever used his money to help animals stay alive. In researching this post, I found that in 2009, he paid $127,500 and agreed to undergo sexual harassment training to settle a claim filed against him by a female employee who said she “was subjected to verbal comments and physical conduct involving her breasts, buttocks, and genitalia.” In 2012, he donated $5000 to the presidential election campaign of fellow animal abuser Mitt Romney. I did not find any record of Palmer funding conservation efforts directly.
Whether one supports or condemns trophy hunting, it is legal and will continue to take place, courtesy of rich Americans mostly. Poaching of course is illegal but it too will continue so long as there is someone with cash in hand. On Monday, under cover of darkness, poachers killed an adult female elephant and 4 of her offspring in Tsavo West National Park in Kenya, hacked off their tusks then escaped on motorcycles. The story barely made the news.
In the midst of all the back and forth over the sinister killing of Cecil, many people have been deeply moved. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel choked up on live television when talking about the story. An interview with Ernest Small, an academic who specializes in biodiversity revealed that, despite understanding the science behind the emotional reaction to Cecil’s death, even he feels upset:
“I was disgusted frankly. If there was a lynch mob I’d probably join it,” he said, acknowledging the irony.
Our relationship with animals is complicated. I don’t have any particular wisdom to impart regarding Cecil and I am just as sad and angry as everyone else. I don’t think that signing a petition or making a donation is going to make me feel better although I’m certainly not opposed to either. Being human is a heavy burden and a great responsibility. Animals have always made that burden easier for me and in return, I try to be as compassionate and respectful as possible. It’s not enough and it doesn’t negate the Walter Palmers of the world, but it’s something. And something beats the hell out of nothing any day of the week. Where there’s life, there’s hope.