Last month the collective moral sense of the world was outraged when an American dentist poached a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe. Apparently, the dentist, Walter Palmer, paid a guide to lure Cecil out of a nature or scientific preserve in order to kill Cecil. The main motivating factor for Cecil’s shooting was a trophy hunt.
Wait a minute. This writer made one mistake in the paragraph above. Can you spot it? Cecil was not, in reality, poached. He was, as far as this writer can determine, legally shot. Palmer’s guide even insists it was not technically illegal to lure Cecil out of the research area.
Hunting lions for sport in Africa is not illegal, and lions are not endangered; one American university lists the African lion as “threatened,” and says they could be extinct by 2050. Some organizations with a vested interest (millions of dollars in grants and donations to global wildlife charities) stir up emotions and give a general impression that animals like the lion are on the brink of extermination, but the evidence they present, if they present any evidence at all, isn’t necessarily convincing. While such groups continue to collect millions of dollars in donations, some animals such as the rhinoceros, actually do face extinction in Africa. So what are these millions of dollars being used for? They obviously didn’t save Cecil’s life.
But perhaps the most disturbing fact about Cecil’s death is the celebrity-driven move to have trophy hunting outlawed. A number of airlines are now banning the transport of certain kinds of trophy animals in an effort to improve their public appearance. Oh, and help preserve wildlife too, of course.
Trophy hunting is common and legal in Canada too. This writer spoke to fish and wildlife officers in the Rocky Mountain House area few year ago who described big game hunters from the Maritimes who were willing to pay $25,000 to an outfitter, or professional hunting guide, to shoot an elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat or other wildlife in order to have the skin glued to a plastic frame, making the entire object suitable for display.
Is this deserving of outrage? No, and why should it? There is nothing illegal about the practice, and all of the publicity surrounding Cecil’s death should either be channeled into protecting animals in the world that really are endangered like the addax, the mountain gorilla, the California condor or the kakapo, or should be channeled into an effort to make trophy hunting of lions in Africa illegal. And institute punishments that stick, including punishments on corrupt government officials who accept bribes to look the other way when criminal organizations, for example, hunt animals such as the rhinoceros almost to extinction.
It’s very difficult to avoid cynicism over something like Cecil’s death, when Hollywood celebrities, wildlife charities and airlines line up to take advantage of the incident, rather than focusing their efforts on something that could have a tangible benefit in the real world.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of The Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.