Outrage at lion’s murder must spur us into halting the decline in the ‘crown jewels’ of Africa and the natural world
AS WALTER PALMER raised his fatal bow and arrow, did he look into the eyes of the lion he was about to murder? Did he consider, even for a second, his minuscule significance in the world compared with that of the innocent, gentle creature whose life he intended to steal?
It’s doubtful he can have done, because if he had, even without knowing his target was one of the most revered animals in Africa, he would have understood in a flash the moral repulsiveness of his actions.
But people who enjoy killing beautiful living beings cannot have have the modest intelligence necessary to see their murdering sprees in the context of humanity’s destruction of vast swathes of the natural world, don’t have the heart or soul necessary to understand other lives are not theirs to take, at any price.
Heaven only knows what goes on in the warped minds of individuals who take pleasure in killing sublime, sensitive creatures.
Cecil’s murder is a tragic symbol of all that’s wrong with humanity’s attitude to other living beings
It’s in part thanks to people such as the wealthy Minnesota dentist, who arrogantly think murder is acceptable if you hand over enough dollars, that numbers of African lions have been plummeting. Estimates of the decline vary, from about 200,000 a century ago to 50,000 in the 1980s, to an estimated 25,000 now; Lion Aid puts it at an even worse 15,000 today.
Cecil’s murder is a tragic symbol of all that’s wrong with humanity’s attitude to other living beings.
But less high-profile killings – hunting without permits, poaching, poisonings and canned hunting (in which animals are bred in captivity for the purpose of being murdered by humans) are all too common across Africa, going largely unreported, and therefore not prevented.
Combined with habitat loss (and guess who’s responsible for that? Clue: not other wildlife), Africa’s lion populations are facing extinction, estimated variously at between five and 20 years.
Imagine a world without some of the species we are rapidly driving to extinction – it would be barren, soulless, worn-out wreck of an Earth. Is that what we really want?
Allowing these wondrous beings to die out would be a shameful, scandalous indictment of our apathy, our failure as an intelligent race
Zimbabwe, in whose Hwange National Park Cecil was killed, is already the subject of international anger and condemnation for selling baby elephants to China, causing distress and suffering to animals en route as well as the families from whom they are torn.
There’s a deep irony in the fact that some of the poorest and most poverty-stricken countries in the world are hosts to some of the most precious, incredible forms of life.
Celebrities have been quick to join condemnation of Cecil’s murder, from Ian Poulter, Newt Gingrich and Sir Roger Moore, to Cara Delevingne and Sharon Osbourne.
So what’s to be done? The arguments surrounding the problem are not straightforward, and nor are solutions, but there can be no excuse for allowing the decline to continue. It won’t be easy, but it should be an international priority.
Hunting supporters claim the income is necessary to help support conservation in Africa, bringing more revenue than wildlife-watching tourism. Without the income, the land would be turned over to farming – and the habitats would be lost.
What an objectionable choice: murdering animals directly or killing them by destroying their habitats.
This is a breathtaking example of man’s arrogance – as though every living species must be either destroyed or farmed for food – and of the dangers of allowing unchecked population growth.
But the financial argument is fallacious and utterly unsustainable: what will the likes of Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana do for income when all the lions are gone? These governments need to look beyond the ends of their own noses. If it were true that the income was a vital support for conservation work, populations would be thriving, not dropping.
US and EU must act urgently
It’s clear that current levels of protection are woefully inadequate. African governments and organisers of paid hunts cannot be relied on, and outside help is needed. So for a start, the celebrities speaking out could help by putting their money where their mouths are and donating to charities doing excellent work on the ground, such as the Born Free Foundation and Lion Aid.
But relying on charities by definition is not enough. Some have argued for handing over responsibility to private companies.
But for a longer term solution, the EU and the US must take a lead in the world and ban the importation of trophies from any type of hunting. The US Fish and Wildlife Service could start immediately by listing African lions as endangered by law, which would stop imports of trophies. If moneybags hunters can’t bring their kills home, they will have less incentive to shoot in the first place. British MPs and MEPs should raise the issue urgently with Brussels.
In countries where corruption is endemic, the task of guarding some of our most treasured and declining fellow creatures should be supervised by inter-governmental co-operation working groups – possibly even using the funding of private businesses in return for harmless publicity – to provide the highest standards of protection.
Nothing short of a UN agreement is needed to arrest and turn around the fatal course that big cat populations are on. Lion Aid needs all the support it can get in pushing further measures in Africa itself and beyond.
We are privileged to be able to share our world with these sublime animals, and need to put as much effort into preserving them and their habitats as we put into creating our own society
When an overwhelming majority of right-minded people are disgusted by hunting, it is absurd that a minority can still be allowed to indulge their short-sighted, selfish, bloodthirsty whims this way.
So let us hope Cecil’s death marks a turning point in our priorities. `
We are privileged to be able to share our world with these sublime animals, and need to put as much effort into preserving them and their habitats as we put into creating the infrastructures of our own society.
Allowing these wondrous beings to die out would be a shameful, scandalous indictment of our apathy, our failure as an intelligent race – a perfect illustration of the adage about evil flourishing when good people do nothing. While we sit by and wring our hands, we are demonstrating how we humans are too spineless to properly tackle the crisis, and how, in lacking sufficient compassion to drive us to act, for all our technological advancements, we are still primitive in our attitudes towards conserving some of the crown jewels of the natural world.
Image: Vince O’Sullivan