People have already begun to question the anger over the killing of Cecil, a lion that lived quite happily in a Zimbabwe national park until Walter J. Palmer, a Minnesota dentist originally from North Dakota shot Cecil on a hunting trip.
Why do people care so much about a lion?
The answer is simple: mostly, they don’t. It’s not about lion. It’s never really been about the lion.
Instead, Cecil’s death was the result of a number of converging factors, and I would argue that these are issues that people should care about and discuss.
A number of people were horrified to find out that lions are still hunted at all, given how few of them are left, and have taken a position against all lion hunting. Some have extended this to big game hunting in general. (I personally would have to study this issue a lot more before I would assent to that.)
However, the question is worth asking: What is the place of big game hunting in the modern world, particularly for endangered species?
A number of people are uneasy that an apparently wealthy, white American paid an enormous sum, significantly more than many people’s annual income, to visit a foreign country and shoot an animal beloved there.
Zimbabwe seems to need the income these foreign tourist-hunters provide, but in the long run is that what’s best for Zimbabwe? And merely asking that question is incredibly presumptuous as well, because Americans should not get to decide how Zimbabwe manages its wildlife, its money or its tourists.
Yet it can certainly be argued that this specific type of tourism is preying on a nation suffering endemic poverty.
However, the question is worth asking: What is the place of American tourists and foreign hunting tourism in Zimbabwe and other disadvantaged countries?
Quite a few people, including Gov. Dayton of Minnesota, have pointed out that the alleged behavior of the hunting party in question wasn’t very sporting. And indeed there are quite a few details of this particular hunt that seem to have not been in keeping with good hunting practices:
- Deliberately luring an animal out of a park where it was protected. This is legal in Zimbabwe, but that does not mean it is ethical.
- Shooting an animal wearing a scientific research collar. We don’t know how visible the collar was.
- Illegally hunting. There was no quota for a lion on that land, meaning it was an illegal hunt under Zimbabwe law.
- Wounding an animal and then waiting 40 hours to kill it. Perhaps it took that long to find the lion; I haven’t seen information on that.
However, the question is worth asking: What constitutes ethical hunting behavior, and is it appropriate to bait animals to get them off protected grounds?
The dentist who shot Cecil has been violently threatened and his business was flooded with negative reviews after word got out about the hunt. How seriously should we take online threats, and what can be done to protect people under extreme forms of attack?
Traveling hunters usually rely on local hunters to know rules and regulations, according to a recent Reuters story. It is not yet clear in this case who is responsible for breaking the rules. How can travelers ensure they properly follow local laws and avoid situations like these?
No bleeding heart required
Discussion of all these issues isn’t a waste of time. It’s not based on feeling pity for the poor lion that got suckered into becoming a trophy, or anger at hunting in general.
Instead, Cecil’s death has served as a touchstone of sorts for these issues, an event we can use to discuss and measure the values of various positions we take.
For example, we can weigh the ethical merits of spotlighting deer and baiting bears with reference to the way the hunting party in Cecil’s case used a carcass to draw him straight to the guns. Are these practices right? Whether legal or not, are they ethical? Where do we draw the line?
You don’t have to care about lions, or Cecil, to care about these issues. Good hunters already care. Responsible travelers already care.
It was never about the lion.