Rarely has there been a time in human history when the callous extermination of wildlife hasn’t been connected to profit, ego or greed.
In Africa, poaching is a multi-billion dollar business involving the slaughter of elephants, rhinos, tigers or any other animal that fetches a high price for their skins or body parts. It’s a poor country, so corruption is rampant and without an economic overhaul to create subsidies for impoverished villages the likelihood that illegal trade will disappear is precarious at best.
Furthermore, these animals are killed in the cruelest way imaginable. Elephants are often left to bleed to death after their tusks are removed. Many of these majestic species are dwindling in population and facing extinction.
Trophy hunting, though it has been banned in some areas of Africa, remains a lucrative business for local tour guides. Many defend the high price paid to shoot a defenseless animal, decapitate and skin it, as actually helping conservation efforts.
However, the ego of most trophy hunters isn’t satisfied with killing the oldest, least productive animal in the group. They want to take down the strongest, most genetically viable specimen for their chest-pounding feat.
Such is the story of Cecil the lion.
Allegedly, Walter Palmer, a rich Minnesota dentist and avid trophy hunter, paid two tour guides over $50,000 for a big lion hunt. Palmer admitted killing Cecil, but claimed he had no idea the lion was famous or protected.
Oppah Muchinguri, the African nation’s environment minister, immediately condemned Palmer’s actions.
“This must be condemned in the strongest possible terms by all genuine, animal-loving conservationists who believe in sustainable utilization of natural resources.”
Palmer said in a statement that he “regretted” the kill and that he paid the tour guides to procure the proper permits for the hunt. He implied it was their fault if anything was illegal.
Palmer, an experienced trophy hunter whose whereabouts remain unknown, wants the world to believe he wasn’t aware persuading the lion that wore a tracking collar, with fresh meat to leave the protected Zimbabwe sanctuary was anything other than business-as-usual. He first shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, then tracked the wounded lion for 40 hours to finish him off with a rifle.
When asked if it were feasible Palmer couldn’t have known things were not above board with the hunt Jeff Corwin, famed wildlife conservationist replied simply:
“I find that hard to believe.”
In America, trophy hunts happen on a smaller scale, but the ego, profit and greed remain key elements in numerous “wildlife killing contests” that take place every year across the nation.
Hunters compete for cash prizes and trophies by using high-powered rifles to kill the most animals.
These sentient creatures, which are helpless to defend themselves, are deemed “nuisance” species unworthy of existence. They include animals like coyotes, wolves, pigeons and prairie dogs.
Nonetheless, prairie dogs are considered by scientists to be a keystone species vital to healthy ecosystems. Conservationists like Corwin believe that human conflict with many animals is often caused by habitat destruction, climate change and development.
For example, in March, over 2,000 prairie dogs were inhumanely gassed in their underground burrows to make way for the Castle Rock Mall, even though options for removing the animals to another site were on the table. The developer didn’t want to lose profit by delaying construction.
Perhaps the tragic loss of Cecil will highlight the insufferable cruelty of human dominance over innocent life forms that are simply trying to exist and survive while holding no malice toward mankind.
But many conservationists lament that if a dollar or an ego boost is tied to the heartless slaughter of any number of animals worldwide—the odds will remain against them.
Meanwhile, extradition is being sought for Palmer to face charges in Zimbabwe. The White House, which received a petition seeking criminal charges against the lion killer with over 150,000 signatures, is considering the request.