Hunting for pleasure is a barbaric, uncivilized practice that is well past its sell-by date
Like people across the world, I am extremely angry and deeply saddened about the killing of the great lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe.
Cecil was a spectacularly beautiful lion. He was lured out of the protection of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park so that he could be shot by the American trophy hunter Walter J. Palmer.
That’s an immoral practice: I cannot imagine what was going on in this man’s mind the moment he pulled the trigger of his cross bow, injuring Cecil, then tracking him for 40 long hours before shooting him dead, skinning him and cutting off his head.
Let’s be clear: this was also a crime. The hunter had no permit, he is therefore a poacher. In Zimbabwe poachers are often shot dead in their tracks. Some people on social media are suggesting that Mr. Palmer be given a death sentence. In my view he deserves a proper public prosecution, and conviction, together with the guide and landowner involved, who are already under arrest.
He should be given the most severe form of penalty: jail in Africa, and a massive fine to compensate for the loss of this incredibly valuable animal.
I have written to the US Fish & Wildlife Service to ask if Mr. Palmer is currently being sought in the USA under the Lacey Act, that prohibits trade in wildlife products that have been acquired illegally, including in contravention of foreign laws.
While the media has focused on the reaction of celebrities and Mr. Palmer’s neighbours in Minnesota, comment on social media has revealed the deep grieving and heartbreak across Africa, as news of the murder by poachers of the great tusker Satao did last year. There is also revulsion at the whole idea of killing animals for pleasure, something that is completely alien to the African tradition of respect for wildlife.
Of course many wild animals are killed by Africans, very often unjustly or for criminal purposes. But trophy hunting is, and always has been, a rich white man’s sport. For Africans, it is a symbol of colonial oppression. Formerly, most hunters were Europeans. Now the balance of power has shifted and it is no coincidence that, today, 60 percent of all lions killed for sport in Africa are shipped to the USA as trophies.
There is no ecological justification for trophy hunting. Arguments can be made (but also disputed) in favour of hunting as means of controlling populations of common animals such as deer. But trophy hunters are not interested in common animals; for them, the rarer the better. The ultimate, orgasmic experience for a trophy hunter would be to kill the last individual of a species.
Mr. Palmer ‘only’ paid $50,000 to get his kicks by killing Cecil. Earlier this year a hunter paid $350,000 to shoot a black rhino in Namibia: as a critically endangered species, black rhinos are more valuable as trophies. Photos posted on Internet show that Mr. Palmer has already shot dead at least one rhino. Maybe its severed head is now a conversation piece above his fireplace in Minnesota?
Lions are not yet listed as endangered, although populations are declining across Africa. But by targeting the biggest and best animals, trophy hunters do damage to populations and gene pools that is far greater than the loss of a single individual. The adult male lions targeted by trophy hunters are key individuals that otherwise would live long, full lives, protecting their mates and cubs and contributing their genes to future generations.
The idea that trophy hunting benefits African economies is also a myth – or more accurately a lie. Tourism is hugely important to African economies. For example it generated direct incomes of $33.5 bn in sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, a figure expected to rise to almost $60 bn over the coming decade.