So, Cecil the lion is now a household name, right?
For those of you who may not be aware, last week a story broke about Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, who went to Zimbabwe in June of this year for some recreational hunting of big game animals and killed a lion named Cecil. Cecil was a 13-year-old lion living on a conservation reserve and was being studied by scientists from Oxford University. According to the news story, Dr. Palmer paid a professional Zimbabwe hunter, Theo Bronkhorst, $50,000 to help him kill a lion with a bow and arrow.
Long story short, the two men lured Cecil out of the national park and shot him with a cross-bow. Cecil ran and hid in the bush and the men tracked him for forty hours. They eventually shot him, beheaded him and skinned him (and took a photo, as you do). It was only when the hunters found the tracking collar on Cecil that shit hit the fan and the general public began to react en masse as the story spread. Theo Bronkhorst is facing charges of failing to prevent an unlawful hunt and Dr. Palmer and his wife have gone into hiding as people have vandalized their home, picketed outside his dental office and some even left several pickled pigs’ feet on the driveway of one of his homes, an illogical message at best but also an example of the hierarchy we place animals in: lions are the white and affluent of the animal kingdom, pigs are the non-Caucasian and marginalized.
The great thing about public outrage? It gets shit done fast. Yesterday, in response to the shock over the death of Cecil the lion, Air Canada declared they will no longer carry, “any shipment of lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, or Cape Buffalo trophies worldwide as freight.” (Although they will still allow elk, deer, black bears and grizzly bears. The airline also doesn’t operate flights to Africa so, you know, this wasn’t so much of a sacrifice for them as it was a PR opportunity but I’ll still take the official ban.) Delta, United and American Airlines also followed suit with the ban of transporting “hunting trophies.” Rarely can one predict what the tipping point will be for a social cause and if this happens to be the one for trophy hunting, I will welcome it with open arms. Big game hunting for ego’s sake is one of the most repulsive motivations for killing an animal. In addition to that, it is a rich man’s (and rich woman’s) “sport”, invented for people with too much money and too many resources available to them, the privilege of which allows their already-inflated heads to be pushed further up into their own asses.
That said, I want to bitch about three things in relation to this story: one is, despite my repulsion for trophy killing, I draw the line at vandalizing someone’s personal property, uttering threats or standing outside their work with a sign that reads, “Killer”. Dr. Palmer and his wife have had to find their own bush to hide in, as it were, and hire a private security company to guard/track their whereabouts 24 hours a day with round the clock surveillance. The outrage has become counter-productive; he is now essentially being hunted. Too quickly public uproar and shaming can become an exercise in making someone else a victim of hatred and no social movement or cause will ever be won that way. That same fear that Cecil the lion likely felt on that first day in July when he was cornered and killed may very well be what Walter Palmer is feeling now. I know some feel that’s justice and I do understand that inclination, I really do. But it’s mob justice, it’s mob mentality – it’s intensely reactionary, emotional and cannot be sustained for long. It either makes things worse or it fizzles out and neither outcome is productive. Reasoned, rational response is what is hardest in these situations but also the strongest in the end because it allows for real discussion in getting to the heart of why people are hunting animals for fun in the first place.
Two: stop blaming only animal activists for these kinds of reactions! The backlash to this story has become another way for people to stereotype activists as “wacky” or “crazy” or whatever other term people like to use for people who speak up on behalf of animals. While I’d certainly be willing to wager some of the people speaking out are activists, it’s the masses crying out on this one. Since a lion isn’t considered a food animal in North America, many feel justified in unleashing their outrage towards the hunters, even to the point of unreason. It’s a different ball game entirely when it comes to killing animals we don’t eat – then everyone’s a goddamn advocate (again, I’ll take it but sweet Jesus, an animal is an animal is an animal!). Rather than spending further energy on ostracizing two people, what animal activists are wisely capitalizing on through this story is bringing further awareness to ongoing trophy hunting, airlines that continue to ship other animals (like Air France who transport live monkeys to labs for experimentation) and generally hoping people stay awake long enough to still care about this issue next month.
Third and lastly (and you can probably guess what it is): the hypocrisy. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled with the mass outrage to the point that it drew attention to trophy hunting and the absolute pointlessness and cruelty of it. But people:
SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION LAND ANIMALS are killed in Canada every year for food we don’t need to survive.
TEN BILLION LAND ANIMALS are killed in the United States every year for food we don’t need to survive.
To my mind, factory farming is as much of an ego trip as trophy hunting is at this point. We keep breeding, confining, mutilating, exploiting, enslaving and slaughtering animals for the simple reason that we don’t want to stop eating them BECAUSE THEY TASTE GOOD. If that’s not ego, if that’s not machismo bullshit wrapped in an enigma of delusion and self-serving propaganda that only serves to push our own heads further up into our asses, I don’t know what is.
Believe me: I understand the reaction to Cecil the lion’s death. As a vegan, it’s how I feel all the time, for all the animals.