By now everyone on the internet has heard about the death of Cecil the Lion.
Cecil was a thirteen year old male African lion, the male of a pride in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. He was shot by Walter Palmer, an American dentist, around July 1st, 2015. Palmer and/or his guides decapitated the lion, skinned it, and attempted to destroy the radio collar that he was wearing.
Big deal, right?
Yeah, Cecil the lion was a pretty big deal. He was a very successful lion; he sired around thirty cubs in his lifetime, including six young cubs who will now be killed by the new male in order to induce the pride’s female lions to mate with him. He wore a radio collar because he was part of a research project with Oxford University. He was a favorite with photographers and a big tourist attraction for Hwange. He was not your average lion.
He was initially wounded by Palmer at night, using a crossbow. Palmer and his guides then tracked the lion for forty hours before finishing him off with a rifle and attempting to destroy or hide the evidence of the kill.
Now I have a pretty nuanced view of hunting. I’ve killed my own meal before, and I’m a big fan of venison, so it would be incredibly hypocritical of me to denounce hunting in general. In fact, in urban areas like here in Bellingham, there are few enough predators that the city is overrun by deer. I think it would be a good thing if some hunters thinned out the deer population here, and if they’re not going to use the meat, it could go to the local food bank. That would also give gardeners and small farmers here a bit of a break.
And I understand that the government of Zimbabwe actually sells big game permits to mostly western hunters in order to fund their conservation efforts. And aside from the fact that western colonialism is why many African nations are so poor to start with, I think that’s a good system.
But Cecil was in Hwange, where it is illegal to shoot the animals, and it seems as though the guide did not have a permit for lions in the first place. They did lure Cecil out of the park by attaching a bait animal to the car, which is not the typical “bait and wait” method you’ll see in African lion hunting, but pretty close. Cecil had six young cubs back at the pride, who will now probably all die.
So that’s seven African lions killed because of one stupid dentist with more money than good sense.
Walter Palmer has had similar problems before, when he faced possible jail time for lying not once, but twice, about the location where he killed a black bear. In the end he only got a fine and probation.
I can kind of understand the desire to bow-hunt an African lion. I think it’s stupid, but I can understand wanting to do it once in your life.
Walter Palmer killed an African lion in 2008.
He has also killed many other animals, some threatened or endangered.
His guides from the hunt are possibly facing 2-15 years in prison for the hunt. How many years do you think Dr. Palmer will serve?
This got me thinking a lot about how privilege derived from wealth functions around the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve benefited from that privilege. I have had opportunities to travel internationally with both my parents and my older sister. And I’m grateful for that. Grateful enough to always try to be a good international citizen and to try to avoid participating in the things that make this power dynamic harmful to the nations and communities that I visit.
That also means that I don’t kill, or traffic in, endangered animals or their products.
Even if I had the fifty grand to drop on a lion hunt, I’d rather spend the trophy fee as a donation to lion conservation.
And now it appears that the local guides will suffer the legal repercussions of this hunt, and I’m guessing that Palmer will not. Because he is a wealthy American.
We exist in a system in which the systems and institutions of human society just function differently for the rich and for everyone else. From the local courts to the federal government and everywhere in between, doors open for the wealthy.
It’s not that I’m jealous of wealth, or that I want to be wealthy (I don’t, but I’ll explain that some other time). If you earned money to buy a fast car, go you. Enjoy your fast car. If you earned money for your barbie dream house, that’s swell. That’s not the inequality that I’m talking about. I’m talking about the fact that the wealthy have more influence in government, more free speech (thanks, Citizens United), more legal leeway in not just charging but in sentencing. The rich get better healthcare and better schools.
I just want a system that functions the same for everyone regardless of income. And there’s psychological and sociological evidence that suggests when you have these advantages, you start to feel that you deserve them. And in fact, society starts to believe that you deserve them. And we live in a society that idolizes the wealthy, and people start to not recognize that the inequality is much deeper than just wealth. It goes beyond fast cars and Barbie dream houses. And people don’t fight against that inequality because they stop seeing it.
And that reminds me a lot of racism and sexism, especially when the advantages of wealth are spectacularly hereditary for a so-called “classless society.”
And so, Cecil the lion is dead, and the author of his death will likely not see any jail time. And Zimbabwe’s lions are for sale. And I wish that we didn’t exist in a world like this.