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Thursday
Aug062015

Cecil the Lion #CecilTheLion

If you want to get a good cross section of how people view life in today’s society I suggest you follow the hashtag #CecilTheLion for a time on social media.

Male LionCecil was a male 13-year-old lion residing in the Hwange National Park in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe. The lion was a star attraction at the park and was being studied and tracked by the University of Oxford. Cecil was apparently lured off the reserve by Dr. Walter Palmer, a dentist by trade and an American trophy hunter. The lion was then reportedly shot by a crossbow and wounded, tracked for almost two days, and then killed by a rifle the first of July 2015.

So far, the hunt and kill have been determined to be illegal and officials are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident. Walter Palmer has contended that he relied on the direction of the guides he had hired to assure that the hunt was legal. I find this explanation suspicious being that the lion had to be enticed away from where it was originally. It also troubles me that this was not even a clean kill as the lion was injured and suffering for approximately 40 hours.

The killing of Cecil has sparked international outrage and a firestorm on social media. 

I have followed many of the comments on social media and to say they cover the gamut on this topic is an understatement. The remarks range from people suggesting that we have more important issues to worry about, such as human violence, to what amounts to a blood lust for Walter Palmer himself. The dentist from Minnesota has gone underground and his practice, River Bluff Dental, has been closed.

I would not condone violence against Walter Palmer. I do, however, consider the killing of Cecil the Lion as a senseless and tragic waste. In addition, putting a stop to all legal and illegal trophy hunting along with the crimes of poaching should be made a priority by the international community. The killing of Cecil the Lion has become a well-known incident due the celebrity status of this lion, however, the killing of lions in order that these selfish trophy hunters can ghoulishly display a lion’s head is hardly a rare occurrence. 

To begin my analysis of this story let me first try to put hunting into some sort of perspective. One of the tweets I noticed said something like, “Many people complaining about the killing of this lion go to restaurants and eat chicken and beef all the time so what’s the big deal about a dead lion?”

Well, there is a big difference between the proper hunting of an animal that is a member of a large population of a species considered a viable food source and, by contrast, the poaching or trophy hunting of an endangered species.

I am from Ohio and the deer population here is often a problem. When the deer become over populated they endanger themselves and the environment. Responsible hunting in this case is not only permissible but a necessity. Many hunters will have their kill butchered and load up their freezer to feed their families for many months. In this scenario the hunters are playing the role of natural predators. Lions play exactly the same role as hunters in the wild managing the population of any number of herds of various animals.

Natural predators in Ohio are long gone and unfortunately that is becoming the case in too many other areas of the world. Predators are more vulnerable than renewable herbivores. Skilled and intelligent predators are part of an elite group of nature’s animals that exist in small populations. After all, they can’t just eat what they are standing on. Different types of predators also have to compete with each other for territories and survival. These traits also put them at odds with human civilization. For these reasons and many more various species of predators are on the endangered list around the world.

Killing a magnificent and wonderful animal for a trophy has nothing to do with the observance of the food chain. Those who make the argument that there are any benefits to trophy hunting for the sake of the animals or the local residents are full of pretense. There are plenty of more cost effective and beneficial ways to help impoverished areas than hunting endangered species. Moreover and for example, when we consider the type of waste of life that is involved in the poaching of elephants for the sake of ivory trinkets, animals which have maternal bonds and mourn their dead, we are engaging in behavior that natural predators do not. Lions would not kill a herd of buffalo just to take their hides and leave their carcasses to rot in the sun. This applies to shark finning and so many other crimes against nature that human beings commit. I find it ironic that we describe a person who commits widespread abhorrent violent acts as an animal when in fact animals do not behave that way. Describing such a person as an animal is an insult to animals. 

Much of the notion that we as humans have the right to do as we please in nature comes from the religious right. According to these beliefs humans were made in God’s image and have dominion over all of the Earth. If rhinos become extinct that’s just too bad. With this attitude there is no reverence for the intelligence of a given species or its place in the food chain. There is human life and everything else. Only humans have a soul.

This notion of dominion over the Earth put forth by the largely Christian Right not only puts the animal kingdom beneath mankind but the world as well. It enables humans to do as they wish to the environment with impunity. After all, we can do as we please with the world because it was created for us. Besides, the only world that truly matters is the Kingdom of God.

If this is what certain Christians believe, that the world was a gift, wouldn’t it make more sense to take care of it? How often would we continue to give things to a spoiled child who constantly breaks what we give him? God must have considered the animals to be important too because He did save two of everything during the great flood right? I’ll leave those points of view and arguments to theologians and others who believe such things. 

What we are dealing with on a more practical level is that our world and its resources is becoming ever more synthetic. Farm animals and agricultural crops as well, such as corn, would not exist as we know them today without human intervention. For example, the ancestor of modern cattle is now extinct. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any farm animal in a pure wild incarnation. Furthermore, the conditions by which plant and animal food resources are cultivated are also increasingly artificial and cruel. Cattle and chickens that once grazed on acres of green farmland in years past are now penned up and fed processed food for quicker and less expensive farming.

The passing of Cecil the Lion is sad because his passing is another step toward a type of world that will soon no longer exist. This is all the more reason that big game trophy hunting being considered any type of sport is a farce. Two or three hundred years ago the world may have been a big untamed and dangerous place but that is no longer the case. What remaining large predators and other endangered species are living in now are essentially fish bowls where hunting trips to them are guided tours and the participants have loaded guns.

It is my view that we should protect endangered species so that future generations can marvel at these beautiful and magnificent creatures. Unfortunately, it has come to the point that the only areas where this may be possible are parks and protected sanctuaries.  

We need to pay attention to how we are changing the world as our own existence may depend on it. As you gaze outside toward the horizon be aware that the distance up to where you can no longer comfortably breathe is more accurately measured in feet not miles. This thin life support system that we take for granted is the same one that kept Tyrannosaurus Rex alive. That’s right, there has not been any new shipments of life-sustaining material to Earth. T-Rex breathed the same air and drank the same water that we do. The chemistry of our environment’s natural renewal process is now being stretched to its limits more than ever before.

I understand people who question Cecil’s death as a worldwide tragedy in comparison with human death and suffering. However, I can care about more than one important cause at a time. In addition, I would say that those who wish to criticize man’s indifference to life’s struggles can find better whipping boys than animal lovers. I do subscribe to the notion that a love of animals and the natural world demonstrates an appreciation of all life which is the greatest humanity of all.

There is a poem by John Donne that instructs us not to ask for whom the bell tolls because no man is an island unto himself. If you are annoyed by the toll bells for Cecil remember that our humanity is not an island unto itself either. The toll bells not only ring out for Cecil the Lion but they ring for us as well.

A little bit of us died with him.

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