When is the last time you have seen the masses so up in arms over the killing of an animal? Over any issue? It’s been just a few days since the news broke that Cecil, a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, and part of a research project, was lured out of a protected area only to meet his slow, agonizing death at the hands of Dr. Palmer, who was participating in a hunt organized by local guides. Everyone knows the story, and has an opinion, but I’ve been curious as to why this story has fired up so many people?
Poaching big game in Africa has been and continues to be a sad and disturbing trend. Though I don’t have the research to prove it, I imagine Dr. Palmer is not the first wealthy American to obtain his trophy through less than honorable circumstances. But still, why are people calling for his head?
I have two theories.
First, it’s what Dr. Palmer represents. At a time in our society when so many people are hungry, and homeless, or working two or three jobs to provide for their families; when teachers have to buy their own supplies and schools can’t afford books for every student, this man spends $50,000+ to snag a lion for his collection, and has done this multiple times as he enjoys an international reputation as a big game hunter. And when we think of the difference that money can make to local food banks, domestic abuse shelters, mental health programs and services to veterans, we are sick and angry. And the slaughter of Cecil becomes the symbol of that which is wrong with all of the greed and indifference in society.
My second theory reflects on what’s been happening in our county for some time. We have become a divided land, and frankly, I think many of us are sick of it. It’s a political issue festered by the media, and we never see our elected leaders (local up to national) come together on an issue of any kind. As a result, our population wrestles with these ugly divisions, and families and friendships are strained, and workplaces and religious institutions teeter on managing the dynamic whether it’s immigration, women’s rights, civil rights, the environment, the nuclear deal with Iran, marriage equality, the rights of gun owners… the list goes on. And when folks cry out and try to substitute their own cause and say “why don’t people get as upset about (fill in the blank)”, they are missing the point, because that would only further division among people, and that’s not what we want. So the slaughter of Cecil becomes the symbol of that which unites us; something everyone can agree on and it feels good and we want to find common ground, so we rally for the justice that needs to be brought to Dr. Palmer.
I truly believe this story hit a nerve with the American people in part because of the times; it’s like our society (with 19 candidates for president!) is in a really nasty game of tag and finally, a new player has joined and Dr. Palmer, you’re it. Poaching and the innocent slaughter of endangered species in Africa including lions will continue in part due to the corruption in Africa, as well as the repugnant acts of big game hunters. It’s too early to see the outcome of this case for Dr. Palmer and the others, but I’m more interested in the long lasting effect it has on the American psyche.
In closing, I went on an African safari in 2011, and witnessed a young elephant caught in a poacher’s snare. Our guide reported it, but it troubled me for a very long time, wondering if it would be freed.