The killing of Cecil the lion has unleashed a river of emotion and empathy, not to mention death threats and demands for retribution. Wouldn’t it be nice if people merited the same concern?
Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion, has gone into hiding amid an international outcry over the death of the protected African lion, who was wearing a radio collar and being monitored by British researchers.
One of Palmer’s guides, Theo Bronkhorst, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper two days ago that after killing the lion, Palmer asked the guide if he could locate an elephant with tusks weighing more than 63 pounds, “which is a very large elephant,” Bronkhorst noted.
“I told him I would not be able to find one so big, so [he] left the next day,” Bronkhorst told the newspaper.
The Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe stated that the way Cecil was lured out of a national park was unethical and have revoked Bronkhorst’s license. Prosecutors there have charged him with killing a lion not authorized to be hunted, and he faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Meanwhile, here in the USA social media is on fire with vitriol and hatred, piling onto the troubles Palmer is facing, since his dental clinic is closed (see photo), his practice has vaporized and he’s being sought for extradition to Zimbabwe for illegally hunting in a game refuge.
Hundreds of online reviews have trashed his business. The hashtag #WalterPalmer is being used to inundate him with insults and death threats. A Facebook page called “Shame Lion Killer Dr Walter Palmer and River Bluff Dental” has more than 7,300 members. Callers to radio talk shows are offering to shoot him with a crossbow and watch him die. Even celebrities, such as Bob Barker and Mia Farrow, are weighing in with demands that Palmer be arrested right here, right now.
Which, of course, isn’t possible. The Endangered Species Act doesn’t apply to foreign countries, and even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the circumstances surrounding the lion’s killing, the object of their investigation isn’t around to answer any questions.
“At this point in time, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful,” Edward Grace, the service’s deputy chief of law enforcement, told the Associated Press. “We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately.”
Yeah, that’ll happen.
An emotional outburst
Look, what Palmer and his guides did was reprehensible. Not only did they lure Cecil out of the national park by tying a dead animal to the front of their vehicle late at night, but the lion, wounded by an arrow from a crossbow, had to be tracked for a day-and-a-half until the hunters finally located him and dispatched him with a rifle.
Why did they use a crossbow? Apparently, Palmer is an avid bow hunter who has gone on guided trophy hunts for many different animals over the years. Plus, using a bow doesn’t damage the hide, which was taken off the lion, along with his head, presumably for mounting on the wall of whatever residence Palmer can hope to live in — assuming he’s not convicted and sentenced to prison in Zimbabwe.
There is a layer of irony here, however, in that the loudest voices demanding justice for Cecil — and justice should be rendered — are the same ones demanding that the federal government halt the sale of grazing leases, who accuse farmers and producers of torturing animals and who campaign for an immediate and total ban on hunting. Not only the kind of trophy hunting fat cats like Palmer indulge in, but even the controlled use of hunting to manage wildlife populations or provide needed food for people in rural areas.
Outrageous acts like Palmer’s give legitimacy to the entire animal activist agenda, and that is a most unfortunate part of the fallout from this unnecessary and tragic killing.
It would be nice if some of the angriest people issuing death threats on social media could re-direct some of that anger toward the problems that affect people, not just wildlife. But I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that to happen. It seems as if even routine news events these days cause some group of people somewhere to explode in rage and bitterness.
However, it would be nice to hear even a single commentator suggest that Africa, not to mention America, has issues that not only are connected to the pressures on wildlife from development and loss of habitat, but that are just as important as weeping over the demise of a single lion.
I get it that lions are an iconic species, that their numbers are shrinking dramatically and that trade in everything from rhino horns to tiger paws is part and parcel of why such species are disappearing due to poaching and illegal hunting.
I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be a reaction to the death of Cecil. Only that some of the energy and outrage his death has triggered ought to be focused on people who are dying needlessly.
And we don’t have to spend 40 hours hunting for the reasons why so many people in so many parts of the world — including right here at home — are suffering as badly as any lion on earth.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator