Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.
This Greek slave, later a freedman turned philosopher, shared several ideas that get interpreted lots of ways and still resonate today. The boys throwing stones quote came to mind as I read the many Facebook posted stories about the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil, the 13-year old male lion, in Zimbabwe. It died for no reason beyond the grownup greed of a dentist wanting a trophy.
Trophy hunters like the dentist rationalize their big kills of large predators and vulnerable but rare hoofed animals. It’s easy to rationalize if you are rich and the government allows your bad behaviors because you’ve paid for the right to take a life. A poor person shooting any animal on a preserve for food is simply labeled a poacher.
Here’s the problem with trophy hunting rationalizations. They’re just plain wrong. Some of the most common lies told in the name of excusing a completely unnecessary and undesirable behavior:
I removed an over-mature male from the population (big antlers), making room for younger healthy animals to grow up. What this really means is I removed a dominant, successful breeder. It’s kind of like a farmer saying I killed my best bull for meat instead of keeping it in the breeding herd. No farmer does this but wildlife agencies allow trophy hunting of the biggest and best breeders in wildlife populations because they want the fees, which brings us to the next misconception.
My big fee for hunting supports the local community and gives them jobs as guides, porters, food preparers and drivers. Photography safaris do this even more effectively because they leave the animals for others to see instead of putting a head on the wall. Also the big money for licenses and safaris goes mostly to large landowners, resort owners and sometimes to corrupt government officials. There are many more effective ways to help local communities around the world. Mountain gorilla tourism in Rwanda and Uganda shows the real power of non-consumptive tourism to help local communities and protect vulnerable wildlife populations. Every license fee includes a percentage back to local communities. Mountain gorilla populations have increased over fourfold in two decades due to the protections offered by non-consumptive tourism.
We are keeping the herd numbers controlled. If we really wanted to keep a herd or population of animals from overeating the food supply, we would return the appropriate predators to the area to do that job. Trophy hunters do not want old, sick and injured animals which are the ones targeted by natural predators.
We removed a dangerous predator to protect people. The only real predator of consequence for humans are other humans. Large, dangerous predators in natural areas play a key role in removal of prey from populations based on natural selection of sick, injured and unfit to survive animals.
We killed this animal to protect local villages from damage to their farms. All over the world, people are finding creative ways to live next to wildlife without having someone fly in from halfway around the world to kill animals to “help.” When outsiders take it upon themselves to solve a problem, there’s a good chance the animal killed is not even the one causing the problem. And if this is a real need, shouldn’t local people be involved in the decision and asked whether that kind of help is really needed?
Trophy hunting has been a blind spot in wildlife management for many decades. Sport hunting is a big industry with powerful lobbies. Animals suffer incredible indignities and very real suffering as injured animals, shot by ego-junkies. Cecil was injured and tracked 40 hours before being killed. Surely there’s a more humane way to decorate a living room.
Aldo Leopold is often regarded as the “Father of Wildlife Management” for writing an early textbook on the subject. Over time he has become even better known more widely for his land ethic. He wrote,
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.
Human greed trumps and perverts our understanding of ecological principles. The power of money and large egos have twisted our ethics on every front. We allow trophy hunting despite there being no basis for it in wildlife management that makes sense.
Bion of Borysthenes also is quoted,
The miser did not possess wealth, but was possessed by it.
A dentist who will pay $50,000 to kill a large animal for its head and the joy of killing cannot make that action make sense to anyone but another greedy trophy hunter. We need a real movement to change the decision-making in wildlife management toward practices that are more humane and sustainable. It’s a good time to get started. This lion died in earnest, but perhaps he will not have died in vain.