Hunting the Hunter

The most appalling part of the case of Walter Palmer, who has recently become the most well-known dentist in the US, is not at all the fact that he killed a beautiful lion from Zimbabwe that was easily recognizable by his dark mane and therefore highly photogenic. There are millions of hunters in the world and although their mentality remains a mystery to most of us, we have accepted their existence. What is shocking and sick is that the infamous dentist paid for the possibility to kill the lion, known as Cecil, an astronomical sum of $55,000.

For those who are still not aware of the case, in brief: at the beginning of July, Cecil was lured out from the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe by two local guides who were hired by Palmer. The dentist from Minnesota is known among American safari enthusiasts because he is an excellent crossbow shooter. This time, however, he slightly missed and the wounded lion kept on running from his pursuers for another 40 hours; until they finally caught him and shot him dead with a rifle. Palmer took a traditional picture, with an obligatory smile of course, above the corpse of the animal; which was then skinned and beheaded.

The whole world learned about the incident, mainly because the animal was fitted with a tracking collar by Oxford University scientists. The fact that it had a name was probably also of great significance. Every year in Africa, safari lovers legally kill approximately 600 nameless lions, but it is one thing to kill a lion, it is quite another to kill Cecil.

The two locals who helped the dentist were arrested. He flew back to the U.S. before the whole ruckus started, but he is also in the doghouse. He became the victim of a sea of hatred, which brings together thousands of outraged Internet users and even people of flesh and blood. The address of his dental practice in Minnesota was made public and this is where people bring toy lion cubs, tiger cubs and other exotic toy animals. Palmer then went into hiding with his wife and two children. In a petition to the White House, over 150,000 people have demanded his extradition to Zimbabwe so that, before the court, he can answer for killing a protected animal. It is not at all unrealistic, because the U.S. and Zimbabwe signed an extradition agreement a dozen or so years ago.

The movement to avenge Cecil the Lion is led by Piers Morgan, a British journalist known in the U.S., who for several years conducted interviews on CNN and has now declared in the Daily Mail that it is time for “human hunting:” “I will sell tickets for $50,000 to anyone who wants to come with me and track down fat, greedy, selfish and murderous businessmen like Dr Palmer in their natural habit. We’d lure him out with bait … and once lured, we would all take a bow and fire a few arrows into his limbs to render him incapable of movement. Then we’d calmly walk over, skin him alive, cut his head from his neck, and took a bunch of photos of us all grinning inanely. … This may sound harsh, but if you ask Dr Palmer, it’s really not.”

Safari defenders have spoken as well. They have pointed out that the money earned from safaris contributes financially to the budgets of national parks in Africa. Furthermore, hunters usually kill old animals (at least if they hunt legally) that will eventually die of old age. Why then criticize an action that is profitable for everyone: for nature conservation and for the bloodthirsty hunting tourist from the U.S.?

The amount paid by Palmer is a standard price for two to three weeks of big-game hunting in Africa. Moreover, the local hunting industry has long ceased to limit itself to the classic “wild” safari. In many countries, baby lions (and other wild animals) are reared in captivity, just so that when they grow up, they can be put up to be hunted by tourists. If we can breed cows and pigs so we can kill them afterwards, why can’t we breed lions for the same purpose? — ask the defenders of such breeding. Is this only because lions are more photogenic?

Piers Morgan somewhat even agrees with these arguments: “[Doctor Palmer] Like Cecil, he’s an ageing, greying creature eeking out the last quarter of his life. He’s going to die soon enough anyway, right? Once we’d finished our jubilant paparazzi session, we would then take Dr Palmer’s head and skin and have them framed for our office walls. A gleaming monument to our great skill and courage.”

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