DRAWING A “LION” IN THE SAND

“I am an expert witness because I say I am.
I will testify for you, I’m a gun for hire, I’m a saint, I’m a liar.
Because there are no facts, there is no truth; just data to be manipulated.
I can get any results you like. What’s it worth to you?
Because there is no wrong, there is no right, and I sleep very well at night.”
(Don Henley – The Garden of Allah)

Don Henley is one of the greatest songwriters of our time, and his words often speak of a truth that is absolute. And this particular verse really captures my attention, particularly as related to the plight of many of our endangered, threatened and beloved wildlife; including lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos, polar bears, etc., etc. And while few question the precipitous drop in population of these various species of animals over the last 20, 30, 40 years, data presented by the hunting establishment would suggest that not only are these animals at no risk of extinction, but they are actually increasing in numbers. (“I’m a gun for hire…I can get you any results you like. What’s it worth to you?”)

Big Cat Threatened Poster

The simple fact is, the populations of these beloved creatures are dwindling, and dwindling quickly.

This particular article was one I started to write several months ago, but wasn’t quite sure the path I wanted it to follow. Originally, I envisioned this as a follow-up to “Agent of Change” and “Riding the Wave of Change”. However, as any artist will attest, when the creative juices aren’t flowing toward that idea, you can’t force it. Put it away, and sooner or later, the timing will be right, and I find that time to be now.

So, three months ago, the tragic story of Cecil the Lion erupted into national and world news. Cecil was mortally wounded on July 1st; but it was not until July 26th that his story first appeared in social media pages. Three months later, Cecil continues to generate a myriad of strong and passionate emotions. And while Cecil is no longer headline news, if you listen carefully, you can still hear the steady and slow beat of the war drum off in the distance. Dum…Dum…Dum…not unlike the classic Hollywood westerns. Cecil may no longer exist in the physical realm, but his spirit projects that slow steady drum beat that continues to inspire his supporters to fight the cause of those that cannot speak for themselves.

I believe it is safe to say that the hunting community was initially caught off guard as to the passion and drive of a re-energized anti-hunting movement. And while there were, and are, a number of people who questioned why Cecil was a story at all, public opinion could best be described as shock, anger, outrage, a demand for justice, and a demand for change.

However, what caught the hunting establishment off guard was not necessarily the traditional animal rights activists and the well-known animal welfare organizations. They have been battling the hunting establishment for years. No, the surprise was that this anger was coming from the main stream. And of course, that is their greatest fear.

Historically, the hunting establishment has often been able to pass off animal activists as extremists; as people with a love for animals that exists beyond a rational behavior. And unfortunately, even though this is an unfair and very untrue statement, this argument has been bought and sold many times. And from first-hand experience, I know that many within the mainstream did not always believe the narrative of the animal rights activists. They just could not believe that humans were even capable of this type of activity or behavior, and that the story told must be a gross exaggeration. Then Cecil opened up the proverbial “can of worms” and suddenly mainstream had no choice but to acknowledge man’s capabilities of the senseless killing of defenseless animals.

As they dug deeper into the subject, they realized it was even worse than they could have imagined…canned hunting and other extreme acts of animal abuse. And once the general public becomes outraged and demands change, it becomes almost impossible to stop the momentum. Knowledge is power, and power begets change.

As Hermann Meyeridricks, president of the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) stated “From my dealings with the media and the community, it has become clear to me that those against the hunting of lions bred in captivity are no longer just a small if vociferous group of animal-rights activists. Broader society is no longer neutral on this question and the tide of public opinion is turning strongly against this form of hunting, however it is termed. Even within our own ranks, as well as in the hunting fraternity as a whole, respected voices are speaking out publicly against it.”

Trophy Hunting Illustration
Unfortunately, as animal rights activists will argue the cruelty of hunting and the unethical and immoral facets associated with this sport, the pro-hunting community will argue hunting as a mode of conservation; and that it is naturally engrained in the human psyche to hunt.

The reality is that this world is a complex place; and rarely are issues truly black and white. For every action or inaction, there is a justification for that action or inaction; regardless if it is steeped in logic. The basis may be supportable by facts; or it may just be an emotionally charged response. “Because there is no wrong, there is no right, and I sleep very well at night.”

Hunting appears to be one of those subjects that is so divisive, it truly “draws that line in the sand”. It is a dare of debate; and not a friendly and spirited debate that concludes with both sides shaking hands and wishing each other a nice ‘rest of the evening’. And in fact, if one side did extend a hand in friendship, the other side would be suspicious as to what weapon is hidden in the other hand.

Yet at the same time, this is a subject that people must engage in active communication and debate, because the end result of this will have far-reaching consequences not only in our lifetime, but in the lifetime of our children and grandchildren. The crux of the issue is not just survival of these magnificent animals; but an environment in which they flourish and are not constantly facing “threatened” or “endangered” classification, or worse, extinction.

Photo 1

It is a sure bet that 99.99% of the animal rights groups would like to see every animal that is currently either threatened and endangered to be restored to a healthy sustainable level. At the same time, it is also a safe bet to assume that 97.5% of the hunting community also desires sustainability above threatened level – at least for certain animals. Unfortunately, this solidarity stops there because survival of these species has a very different meaning and very different intent for the two groups.

Animal advocates have a fundamental belief that animals have as much right to exist on this earth as humans. They have beating hearts, they have souls, they have feelings, they have emotions, and killing for the sake of killing is a cruel and inhumane sport. It is immoral, it is unethical. The act lacks complete compassion and is contrary to us as stewards of our planet.

The pro-hunting group desires a healthy animal population; but only to ensures an ample supply of trophy opportunities. Aside from the sample size of the population that hunts deer or elk, or similar game for food, the remainder of the hunting population simply has an insatiable desire to hunt…to kill.

WHY THAT LINE HAS BEEN DRAWN

Obviously, the fact that the two groups are polar opposites when it comes to the “trophy” animals (Have I mentioned that I hate that word?) is in itself the reason that line of demarcation is drawn. However, I believe it is more than that. The manner in which the trophy hunter touts his kill naturally generates this seething anger and venomous hate from the animal advocates directed at the hunter. The triumphant pose in a dominating position over their lifeless victim, or holding the animal up for a photo opportunity, and always exhibiting an ear-to-ear grin…as if this activity marked the highlight of their life. This over the top behavior is sure to spew hatred.

ivory
Source: One Green Planet

I compare this to a football game and the fan reaction when the opposing team scores a touchdown. If the wide receiver simply returns the football to the referee or perhaps engages in the basic spiking of the football, the fan’s reaction is generally limited to disappointment and maybe some frustration. However if that same receiver appears to be promoting his second career as a Broadway dancer wannabe, engages in a celebratory touchdown dance ritual, and attempts to show up the opponent, the fan tends to be a little more expressive of his feelings.

If these photographs of hunters in their celebratory poses were not circulated widely, and did not appear on social media pages, the anger and outrage toward the hunting community would be substantially lessened. The “pose” has essentially become a middle finger extension to the animal community, and certainly has added fuel to the fire.

Additionally, I would surmise that if the hunting community was more honest and simply acknowledged that this desire to hunt as just that…a desire to hunt, at least some within the animal community might have a tad bit more respect for this activity. However, when hunters attempt to justify the act with buzz words of “conservation”, “weeding out the weak and the old” and that they are doing it to help feed the villagers, this does nothing but generate more anger and hostility.

So, let’s simplify this entire discussion and make it as crystal clear as it can be. The hunter trophy hunts because he (or she) likes to hunt. Period.

Now, there is certainly a driver behind this hunting passion. Maybe it truly is related to a less than average appendage, or another biological shortcoming. Maybe it is related to an inferiority complex, or some other shortcoming. Maybe it is something handed down from generation to generation. Perhaps there are some hunters that truly believe that hunting provides an overall environmental benefit. Maybe the hunter feels a need to project his power over something, and in that regards, I guess killing an animal is better than beating his wife and child.

And while I attempt to give these trophy hunters the benefit of the doubt and to come up with a justifiable reason for hunting, I draw a blank. I hear some of the reasons (“I love animals so I shoot them.” or “The kill is just a small part of the entire experience.”), and they don’t make any rationale sense. I could easily write an article entitled “Why I Hunt” and just leave the page blank.

It pushes my limit to grasp the understanding of a hunter that states it is the love for animals that drives the hunter to kill the animal. That is no different from me saying that I love Lamborghinis, so I can’t wait to buy one so that I can crash it into a wall. True love is not stalking and it is not controlling. It is appreciating something or someone for whom or what they are; not trying to change them or own them. And killing something or someone definitely is not indicative of love.

But the true crux of the debate always seems to come back to the issue of conservation. Hunters tout that they are better conservationists and do more for lions and other wild animals than the animal loving / anti-hunting community. But, how does one define conservation?

According to the dictionary, conservation is defined as “the action of conserving something; in particular, preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystem, vegetation and wildlife.” The hunting community’s definition of conservation seems to only focus on “restoration” for the sake of killing.

This explanation suggests that hunters spend a significant sum of money for the right to kill these animals, and that money in turn is invested into the local economies. That local investment will encourage the local community to protect the lions and leopards and help them to view these animals as revenue sources rather than livestock threats and their way of life. And the second part of this argument is that by targeting and killing the older and weaker animals, this ensures survival of the species.

trophy hunting black rhinos copy

Okay, I get it. In theory (a word that needs to be triple underscored, bolded, italicized, quoted and in a 48 Font), this has some validity. As much as the rest of the world loves the beauty, grace and awesomeness of the majestic lion or the leopard or the elephant, many of the African natives simply see these creatures as a nuisance; damaging and destroying crops or livestock or threatening human life. It is difficult for us to put ourselves in the position of these simple farmers and ranchers. However, if you have ever had a squirrel in your attic, or a neighbor with a dog that barks all night along, you can somewhat understand this attitude toward these wild creatures.

So, if the local community was a benefactor of this hunting revenue, that money could be invested in fencing to keep the lion or the elephant away from the crops. It could be an incentive for the local people; that rather to shoot or poison the animals, to actually look after them. Or the money could be utilized to hire additional rangers to fight off the poachers.

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that this money does not make it down to the community levels; and if it does, it is such a nominal amount, it accomplishes none of the above. There have been a number of studies on this subject, and only about 3% of the total hunting revenues actually benefit the local communities. Perhaps this has to do with the amount of corruption existing in many of these African countries. If the government leaders operated more honest and open governments, more money would funnel down to the local communities. Unfortunately today, that revenue is no more than an occasional drip of a leaky faucet. Theory is not reality. It does not work.

The hunter also suggests that he (or she) must take a God-like role in nature, and that somehow he (or she) is playing the hero because he targets the old, the weak and the sick. And in doing so, this strengthens the remaining herd and ensures its survival. Well of course. Eliminating the old, weak and sick does help preserve the remaining herd; because this is exactly what nature does and the ecosystem quite frankly, does not need our help. It operates perfectly without us.

Within the lion community, the male lion will run a pride until he is usurped by a nomadic lion who has challenged his authority. He will beat either back the challenger and continue to rule, or the nomadic lion will prove the stronger; take over the pride; and the older, male lion will be banished from his rule. At that point in time, he will live out his remaining years in isolation or perhaps team up with another nomadic lion and jointly challenge leadership of another pride.

Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory is clearly at play within the lion community, as with all other animals in the natural world. The oldest, sickest, and weakest will be left behind and will die through natural causes. This may be difficult for us to accept, because we feel compassion for those who are sick and frail and elderly; and generally, we take care of our weak. While animals also have compassion, the animal species also has an innate understanding that the entire species will be under constant threat of survival if the weak and sick are not weeded out.

This is how the ecosystem was designed and quite frankly, without man in the mix, it works perfectly. There is not a need for the hunting community to insert themselves into this process. Additionally, how many hunters, if completely honest, would agree that they seek the largest rack, the largest mane, the biggest tusks…not the smallest rack, the smallest mane, and the smallest tusks. Targeting the old, weak and sick is completely contrary to the “thrill of the hunt” and the adrenalin and emotional highs that supposedly drive this sport. This argument is completely without merit and needs to be eliminated from the conversation entirely.

If there needs to be final “nail in the coffin” proof to the fact that the hunter is not a conservationist, this may be answered in an article that was just published by Bloomberg Business.com entitled “Lion Heads Arrive in Record Numbers as U.S. Considers Crackdown”.

As the African lion population continues the dramatic and downward spiral, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has been pressured to designate the lion as a threatened species, if not endangered status. We will not get into the details as to why the US FWS has dragged their feet for so long on this issue, or the fact that certain US FWS officials are too closely aligned to Safari Club International and other hunting organizations to effectively govern without an obvious conflict of interest; although this certainly would be an eye-opening subject to expose.

Very shortly, the US FWS will be making this determination, and threatened species status would effectively make it illegal to transport any part of the lion into the United States. Although this act would not prevent a hunter from hunting lions, he would no longer be able to transport the trophy into the country. And given that approximately 60% of lions killed in Africa are killed by U.S. citizens, ban the shipment of lion trophies, and the number of hunters making that trip to Africa will drop significantly.
But according to this article and the US FWS, Americans imported a record 745 African lions as trophies in 2014; up 70 percent since 2011 and more than double the total in 2000.

As noted by Aaron Neilson, an African safari broker based in Colorado noted “Guys fearing that I’ll never get my opportunity to get a lion, they’re getting it while the getting’s good. The overall consensus among everybody selling lion hunts has been, ‘Man, get it now.”

This simple and succinct statement sums it up. The hunter cares nothing about conservation. The hunter cares about his trophy. That’s it. Certainly, if hunters were concerned about the plight of the lion; rather than intensifying their efforts to go shoot one, they should be voluntarily backing down and giving the lion population an opportunity to recover. This is the opposite of conservation.

Graph 1

The bottom line is this: the population of the big cats has dropped significantly in the last 50 years; and at the current rate, they will all become extinct. And to be fair, aside from natural factors such as disease and starvation (which should have a nominal bearing on the overall species count), poaching and loss of habitat are probably bigger contributors to the population loss than hunting. That said, losing 600 to 700 male lions every year to trophy hunting is a statistic that cannot sustain this population.

Hunters will continue to argue themselves as conservationists. However, there is one very simple way of proving this. Ban all trophy hunting activity for a period of five years. At the end of that five-year period, let’s take a look at the lion, leopard and cheetah populations. If these populations have continued to decline at the same rate, this will prove that trophy hunting does not have a negative impact on these animals. However, if these species show stabilization and recovery, then this proves otherwise. Something tells me that the hunting organizations will never go for this idea because they already know what the answer will yield. What do you think?

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CECIL THE LION – AN AGENT OF CHANGE

A hypothetical conversation that may occur in the future:

“Hi Dad. What type of animal is that?”

“Well son. That is a male lion. He was one of the most majestic and beautiful creatures ever to roam the earth. They called him the “King of the Jungle” and you could hear his roar from a mile away. People would travel from all over the world just to see him roam the African Plains. He was one of the most beautiful animals that ever existed.”

“Can we go see one?”

“I’m really sorry son. Unfortunately, the last lion became extinct around 2030.”
“What happened?”

“Well, there were a lot of people out there that really loved the lion and fought a gallant battle to protect him and ensure that he would be around for your generation. Unfortunately, there were others out there that didn’t really care what happened to the lion and were more interested in killing one so they could stuff and mount his head on a wall and make a rug out of his coat. Then there were poachers that killed them solely for greed. Between the hunters and the poachers, the loss of habitat, and failure of the governments to act early enough to save them, they really never had a chance.”

“But that’s not fair Dad. I never had a chance to see one. What about some of these other animals, Dad? The elephant, the rhino, the hippo, the leopard, the tiger, the cheetah? What about them? Can we see them?”

“I’m sorry son. They are gone too. You see, this earth and the people, animals, plants, forests, insects…everything are all part of this thing they call an ecosystem. As designed, it is perfectly in balance, but it is very fragile. If one animal becomes extinct, then it sets off a chain of events that impacts every animal above and below him. Unfortunately, some people never grasped an understanding of this until it was too late. Now most of the great creatures you see today can only be seen in a handful of zoos. I’m really sorry son. Let’s go home.”

Is there anyone that looks forward to this conversation? Somewhere down the line, someone will be having that tough conversation and that will be a sad day in this world…unless we do something about this.

The recent tragedy of Cecil the Lion has become a touchstone in the lives of many worldwide; with the reactions ranging from the extremes of “Death to the doctor!” to “He didn’t do anything wrong”. However, the majority have an opinion that falls within these two extremes. And while I have no problems professing my love of animals and have my own opinions, I also recognize that emotional outbursts and name calling – while providing a temporary feeling of satisfaction – does not bring long-term change.

What does bring change is a cohesive, unified front toward a united cause; a consistent story supported by facts, and the patience and persistence to see it through. Unfortunately, Cecil’s story risks following the path of similar tragedies. Initially, there is public outrage and the story becomes a catalyst for change. Then, as weeks and months go by; new tragedies arise and replace the old tragedies. Soon the story fades into distant memories. People may still be dissatisfied or unhappy with the occurrence and the perhaps lack of perceived justice in this world, but the emotional element fades away and people more or less, just accept and live with the circumstances and go about their lives.

And I also normally find myself in this group. But the daily reminders of Cecil on my computer screensaver tell me that this time it will be different and I will make a difference. And I ask that you too don’t let this story fade into memory without making a difference. This story needs to remain on the forefront of everyone’s mind.

The reality of Cecil is that regardless of the outrage, and regardless of opinion, and regardless of facts and emotion, 98% of people with an opinion on Cecil probably will not change that opinion. People that believe there is nothing wrong with hunting for sport are unlikely to swear off hunting; and those that are against hunting are unlikely to become hunters. Animal lovers refer to hunters as murderers and killers, and tell us that male hunters were born with certain unusually small body parts. And I won’t repeat what words are used to describe female hunters.

On the flip side, hunters name call animal lovers as weak, hypocritical because they demand justice for Cecil but not for other animals, or tell them they should focus their energy and anger on “more important issues”. Or as classic rocker Ted Nugent noted, these people are just ‘stupid’; because after all, who can argue with that?

Why I agree that some people on both sides probably meet the scientific definition of “stupid”, the majority are not stupid. Rather, their opinions are based upon their backgrounds, their education, inherent beliefs, what they read and what they have heard. Unfortunately, so much of the static flying around the internet, the airwaves, etc. is based upon misunderstandings, exaggerations, lies, and emotion; and is simply propaganda to convince others to take their side.

So, where are the facts on Cecil, and where is the fiction? First, we need to eliminate the white noise; that is, those comments that are designed to mask, confuse or distract from the real truth. The purpose of this narrative is to help weed out the propaganda, the outright lies, and bring the reader back to the real issue; which is: Should Trophy Hunting Be Banned?

“This story would have not even made the news if Cecil wasn’t given such a cute name.” No question. Giving someone or something a name personalizes the story. Ask any good prosecuting attorney why they continue to repeat a victim’s name to the jury – particularly a murder victim that cannot speak for his or herself. The jury connects emotionally with a “Jim” or a “John” more than they would if the person was simply referred to as the “the victim”. This humanization naturally does the same for animals and “Cecil” has become a beloved lion rather than just one of hundreds of lions that are hunted down for fun each year.

That said, Cecil was not named because someone thought it would be cute. Cecil was named by the Oxford University researchers that have been studying lions in Hwange National Park these past nine years; and he was named after Cecil Rhodes (i.e. The Rhodes Scholar”). Sure, they could have named him Lion #269 and they could have named Jericho Lion #273. However, it generally is easier to remember a name over a number; and the naming of animals is a practice that has been used by researchers for generations.

I can only assume that some people have tried to make this an issue because they believe the animal lover sector is simply outraged only by the death of this particular lion. Yes, they are outraged by the senseless death of Cecil. However, Cecil is the symbol of the outrage many have had over trophy hunting for years – an activity that appears to contribute nothing to society and only serves as a selfish act to stroke the ego of the “mighty” hunter….mighty being in quotes because four-wheel drive vehicles, high beam spotlights, high powered rifles, spotters, baiting techniques and canned animal shoots are not exactly terms that suggest a fair fight or what I would deem worthy of the word “mighty”.

I’m sure the hunter brags to his friends back home as to how ferocious the animal was when he was shot. However, in Cecil’s case he was not being ferocious. He was just walking along, not harming anyone and simply following one of the female lions. He was shot, suffered in misery for 40 hours before they finally mercifully put him out of his misery.

He was not ferocious…he was not threatening…he was just living the life of a magnificent male lion. But because he was one of the more popular lions in the park, a lion that from most accounts, appears to enjoy the attention and was very social able with the park visitors, the outrage and anger quickly moved into social media and went viral to the point that it became a story. However, whether he had a name or not, this point has no relevance whatsoever to the issue of trophy hunting – right or wrong.

Cecil supporters are hypocrites because they are outraged over Cecil, but not other lions or other animals.” This argument assumes that Cecil supporters don’t have similar opinions or beliefs about these other animals; and that simply is not true. As I have continued to emphasize, Cecil is the embodiment of the cause. He is not the first animal that was subject to a senseless death and unfortunately, he will not be the last. However, Cecil has brought an issue to the forefront that many have been arguing for years. Now that this has garnered national and worldwide attention and is now stirring a true debate that threatens the livelihood of these hunting clubs and the trophy hunters, they are scrambling to distract and raise points that are meaningless to the issue.

“Cecil supporters are hypocrites because they don’t have a problem with eating other animals.” There is no absolute answer here that everyone will agree; and we could debate this ad nauseam. Those that are vegans can exempt themselves from this conversation because they can rightfully argue that they are not responsible for the killing of any animals. For the rest of the population that do partake in eating meat, poultry and / or fish for sustenance, and for those that hunt for purposes of putting food on the table, this is vastly different from hunting for sport. True to the core animal lovers may disagree with a practice of eating anything, but those attempting to bring this argument into the conversation do so for no other reason than to move the subject off topic and force people to take the side of either” “no animal should be killed” or “the killing of all animals is okay”. Those are arguments that can be debated in different venues. But, the simple question we are addressing in Cecil is whether it is right for an animal to be killed for sport? Period.

This isn’t that big of an issue, or there are more serious issues facing our world.” No doubt that there are a lot of serious issues facing our world these days; however, your prioritization of important issues is not necessarily the same is my prioritization. It doesn’t mean you are wrong and it doesn’t mean that I am right, but again, this is an argument simply used to confuse, convolute and distract people from the real issue – which again is trophy hunting.

Or, when posed a similar question as to why he supports so many animal rights issues, Captain Paul Watson (if you are not familiar with him, you should be) states that the ecological law of interdependence states that we cannot live on this planet without the other species – therefore saving animals is also saving people. Besides, people who demand that I should not be concerned with helping animals and should be helping people are usually not doing anything themselves to help people.”

“Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemmingway both hunted wild animals and they were known conservationists. “ First of all, just because Roosevelt was one of the great Presidents of the United States and Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest writers of our time, does not mean that they were right on this issue. More importantly, the world is quite different than it was 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, there were in excess of 300,000 lions in Africa. Today there are 20,000 to 30,000. That is a 90% drop over a 100-year period. There were also no four wheel drive vehicles or high powered rifles back then — and other technological advancements and conveniences we have today that basically eliminates the “man versus beast” mentality of kill or be killed. The advantage man has today doesn’t even make this a sport anymore.

For those that believe it is okay to trophy hunt today because it was accepted back then, need I remind them that slavery was also an accepted practice by most 150 years ago. I think it is safe to say the majority of the population has a very different opinion today – although human trafficking in this world has also reached crisis level . But non withstanding the ethical or moral issues of hunting for the “thrill of hunting”, the primary reason this argument is not valid is that we have lost 90% of the lion population from 100 years ago.

The whole idea of evolution is that we are supposed to evolve into higher beings. There is a reason that we no longer live in caves, that we no longer rely on fire as the only means for heating. The hunting of animals in prehistoric times was a necessity because it was either kill and eat, or don’t kill and die. It was a matter of survival. Today, trophy hunting is definitely not about survival, and our evolution advancement should be far enough along that we recognize this ecological interdependence and the importance of animals in our world….not to hunt, but the importance in their contribution to the ecosystem. And this does not even begin to address the other contributions animals provide to us. Watch a nature program on television and note your sense of calmness and wholeness with the world around you. Compare that to a “shoot ‘em up movie.” How do you feel after watching that?

“Trophy hunters are conservationists because…Part I.” This brings us to the crux of this discussion and the primary defensive that the trophy hunters defer too…believing that this will immediately put the question to rest. But to be fair, let’s address this question. If trophy hunting is truly an act of conservation and “you must kill an animal to save an animal”, then perhaps this is a legitimate justification for trophy hunting.
The argument is primarily two-fold: (1) hunters weed out the weak, ensuring that only the strongest and healthiest contribute to the gene pool, and thereby improving the overall health of the species; and (2) the fees paid for trophy hunting is invested back into the infrastructure of the local communities; thus it contributes to conservation and saves the animals.

So, the argument goes that by establishing an economic value for a lion, a tiger, a bear, an elephant, or a rhino, that ensures survival of the species. In other words, if the economic value of a lion is $50,000, only a handful of people will have the financial means of which to kill the lion, and so very few lions are killed. However, if the lion has no economic value, then killing him or her will not be restricted only to those with financial means, and more will therefore be killed. I don’t believe this argument truly supports itself; and would suggest even further that establishing an economic value has had an opposite effect and has a direct impact on the dramatic increase in poaching of these beautiful animals.

The Dallas Safari Club just auctioned off a hunting permit for a black Rhino for $350,000. Guess what the economic value of a black rhino is now? $350,000. And guess what economic value the black rhino has to poachers? $350,000. And do you think a poacher now has a greater incentive to poach black rhinos now that they know hunters will pay $350,000 for a black rhino. Of course they will. The answer is painfully obvious.
But going back to the conservation argument, in answer to the first point, this might be true if the hunters truly targeted the weak and the old; but they don’t. They seek the biggest, the largest, and the most formidable of beasts. What hunter seeks out the weakest animal, mounts the creature on the wall, and then brags to his friends: “Yes, this animal only had three legs, was starving, and on death’s door when I shot him. See how I helped preserve this species. Aren’t you proud of me?”

No, the hunter is looking for the animal with the largest tusks, the largest antlers, the largest mane, the largest animal. I am not bringing the topic of deer hunting into this discussion because deer are not a threatened species and I view this as a very different subject matter. But to use as an example, has a deer hunter ever bragged about how small that two-point buck was? No, but does he brag about a 14-point buck? Of course he does. Those that can afford it (and many who can’t) buy the biggest house, the biggest car, the most expensive diamond. Not because we need it, but because it strokes our egos and makes us believe we are something bigger than we are. Same goes for hunting. The Sierra Club and similar hunting organizations give out awards for killing the largest animal, not the smallest animal.

Why are elephant tusks on average, much smaller than they were 20 years ago? Simple… because in seeking to kill the biggest and strongest, it is the weak that remain to populate the gene pool. This will continue to perpetuate a downward decline in these majestic animals. Is there any question that there is absolutely no support for this argument?

Now for the conservation part. On the surface, this sounds logical. After all, if the $50,000 spent to kill Cecil truly went to the local economy; or if hunters paid an average of $40,0000 per lion for the estimated 600 male lions that are killed each year, that would generate $24 million in annual revenue. That would indeed contribute much to the local economies, to hire more park rangers, to spend on conservation education to the locals, etc.
The problem with this argument is that it assumes that this $40,000 or $50,000 actually makes it to the local communities. It does not and therefore, contributes very little to conservation. The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation reports that only 3% of revenue from trophy hunting ever makes it to the communities affected by hunting. The rest goes to national governments, foreign-based outfitters, and dare I say, in the pockets of many corrupt politicians and others (Many of these African countries don’t exactly have great track records in responsible and honest government) . So, using these figures, Cecil’s life was basically worth about $1,500.

The fallacy of this argument is that it assumes trophy hunting as the only solution and the only financial means to hire park rangers and to help support the national parks and other protected areas. But, studies show that hunting only contributes one-tenth of 1% to the Gross Domestic Product of these African countries. Compare this to ecotourism (i.e. photo safaris) that contributes an estimated 12% to GDP. I agree that you can’t simply ban trophy hunting without making a commitment to ecotourism. There is no question that although a very small percentage, at least some of the licensing and permitting fees do indeed support the conservation program. However, if you could replace an activity that contributes one-tenth of 1% to the local economy, with one that contributes 12% to the local economy, why would you not do that?

According to recent research, the average lion is deemed to have an economic value (there is that word again) of $50,000 per year for the ecotourism industry. But, that is $50,000 for a live lion, not a dead one – and therefore, meaningless to poachers, unless the poachers convert to kidnappers and begin operating their own Poacher’s National Park and begin catering to this same photo op crowd.

So, a lion that lives an average of 13 years will generate, on average, $650,000 in revenue to the economy over their lifetime. Cecil was 13 when he was killed, so, over the course of his life, he generated $650,000 to Zimbabwe’s economy. He was killed for $50,000. But, by all accounts, he was a very healthy lion and could have lived for another five or six years, which would have yielded another $250,000 to $300,000 in revenue for the country. So, there is your “economic value” comparison.

And despite the lopsided comparison of $50,000 to hunt versus $650,000 to photograph, the true comparison is even more lopsided. Studies show that lion cubs have a mortality rate of nearly 80% during their first two years. And there is no question that there are numerous reasons for this: starvation, poaching, elephant and buffalo attacks, hyenas and nomadic lions seeking new prides. So, hunting is not the sole reason for the decimation of the lion population.

As most people probably understand, and as cruel as it seems – when establishing himself as the leader of a pride, the male lion will typically kill the cubs sired by his predecessor; thereby having the opportunity to sire new cubs with his pride. Cecil and Jericho as a team stood a very good chance of defending their pride against other nomadic lions. However, with the loss of Cecil, the odds are against Jericho to defend his territory are sadly, slim…or at least the odds are against him. That said, Jericho will risk his life to defend his territory, and the female lions will fight to their death to defend the cubs.

Cecil and Jericho actually protected two separate prides, including a total of 12 cubs and multiple lionesses. So beyond Cecil; the tragic and senseless killing of Cecil has not only ended his life, it has put to great risk Jericho, the female lions and all 12 cubs. As Professor David Macdonald, founder of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit as Oxford University so succinctly put it, “The death of one lion is not just the death of one lion, it is a cascade.”

So, we aren’t talking about the loss of a single lion and the loss of his economic contribution. We are talking about $650,000 per lion, multiplied by five… six…eight… twenty. If any of these twelve cubs are subsequently killed because Jericho cannot protect them by himself, then they produce no offspring; and their offspring produce no offspring. And if any of the female lions are killed while defending the cubs, they produce no more offspring either So, is it the loss of one lion (Cecil), the loss of his entire pride or it is even beyond that?
Are we talking about one lion or a hundred lions? Are we talking about $650,000 in lost lifetime revenue for one lion, or $65 million in lost revenue for 100 lions? I say that Dr. Palmer needs to pull out his checkbook. He needs to add a few more zeros to that $50,000 “murder for hire” check.

A hundred years ago, there were over 300,000 lions roaming the African plains. Today there are as few as 25,000 to 30,000. While trophy hunting is only one of several causes attributable to the reduction of the lion population, Cecil’s death is directly attributable to trophy hunting and the 600 lions killed every year can be directly blamed on trophy hunting. So, over a ten-year period, that is 6,000 lions; and how many additional cubs or lionesses were killed because the males were not there to protect them? Even if the number of lions killed by poachers, starvation and other natural phenomena remained, take trophy hunting out of the mix and how many lions would we have today. Well, we know at minimum, 6,000 – because that is the number killed on average the past 10 years by trophy hunters. But of course, the number would be much larger.

Although I am certainly not touting violence as the answer, I have an alternative solution that may be a bit on the macabre, but maybe it should be addressed. Given that park rangers have been given the order of “shoot to kill” any poacher, an extreme solution might be to deputize animal trophy hunters and instead of shooting the animals, they can shoot the poachers. Now, that is a story they could tell their friends and it would be much more dramatic and entertaining than a story of killing a defenseless animal. Because killing poachers is not deemed illegal, the hunters would not have to worry about facing murder charges, and perhaps they would pass a law legalizing the taxidermy and mounting of a poacher. What a story to tell their friends! to see a poacher’s head mounted above the hunter’s fireplace. It certainly would be a good conversation piece, and you eliminate or substantially reduce two of the threats to the survival of lions and species: hunters and poachers. Maybe not the best answer…but maybe it is. If these hunters really want to test their resolve and prove their manhood, then going after poachers that can equally match on firepower, that sounds like a true test to me. I will then be the first to say “Yes, you are truly a real man.” Anyone know what the economic value of a poacher is?

“Trophy hunters are conservationists because”…(Part 2) a by product of trophy hunting is an additional food source for the local communities. I can’t speak universally on this issue and I will give the benefit of the doubt that in many cases, this is probably true. However, as it relates to Cecil, this definitely did not happen. No, his carcass was left abandoned in a field for the buzzards and hyenas, and providing sustenance for the locals was the furthest consideration from their minds.

And regardless of the circumstances, I seriously doubt that these trophy hunters truly are thinking about their proud humanitarian efforts of contributing a food source while at the same time, killing these magnificent creatures.

SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

Should Doctor Palmer be extradited and face poaching charges? Those who defend him say no, because he relied upon a 3rd party to arrange the expedition and did not know Cecil was illegally killed. And of course, he expresses regrets because he “took” the lion. If you believe that killing a beautiful creature like Cecil make you a real man, then at least be man enough to tell like it is. You killed him, you murdered him….you didn’t “take” him. Be proud of your action!

Aside from that, does anyone believe he is really sorry? (more on that below.) No, he is only sorry because his face was plastered in newspapers and social media across the world and he became public enemy # 1. He is only sorry because he was caught. This is a man who has already been fined for illegally killing a black bear outside of an established hunting zone; and paid $127,500 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit out of court. So, he is not exactly a poster child for ethical behavior, and therefore, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.
He should be extradited and should face charges because he was complicit in the illegal killing. You have to ask yourself the question, “If he didn’t think they had done anything wrong, then why did they try to destroy the radio collar?” According to Lion Aid, it is not illegal to kill a collared lion. So, why destroy the collar? And why didn’t the law-abiding Dr. Palmer seek out Zimbabwe officials or U.S. officials to let them know these other hunters were trying to destroy the collar? After all, he was there. Shouldn’t the act of destroying the collar raise a question in his mind that perhaps something illegal had occurred.

No, rather than having a concern for this suspicious act, after killing Cecil, he then asked the Zimbabwean hunter accompanying him if they could find him an elephant larger than 63 pounds (the weight of one tusk) to shoot…which apparently is a very large elephant. When they told him they could not find one that large, he left the country and flew back home. So, this is how sorry he was about “taking” Cecil. As soon as he killed a collared lion, he immediately was seeking the next kill. And notice that he was not asking for them to find the smallest elephant; so to my earlier point about weeding out the weak.

So yes, he should be extradited and he should be charged and he should face these charges, because everyone should be held accountable for their actions. But as much as I would like to see him punished, I no longer focus my anger and energy on this little man…and anyone else desiring to see a change and a ban on the hunting of lions and other threatened species should not spend any more time or energy on this little man either.

No, I have said Cecil is our touchstone and he can be the agent of change toward trophy hunting. So, utilize your energy to support The CECIL Act – or the “Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies” Act that would extend restrictions on the import and export of animals that are being considered for inclusion under the Endangered Species Act. Write your congressional representative and ask them to support this. Ask them to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to upgrade the lion to a “threatened” species. Continue to pressure the transportation companies to ban the shipping of animal trophies.

The challenge of course is that the majority of individuals that trophy hunt are those with significant wealth and therefore, can hire the lobbyists to influence the politicians. They can hold campaign contributions as a penalty or reward for voting for or against certain legislation that would curtail or help their trophy hunting industry. The good news is that the number of people desiring to shut this industry down far, far exceed those that want to keep it afloat.

Whether that reason is the love of animals, the love of lions, the Occupy Wall Street crowd that hates the one percenters, those that don’t like the wealthy white elite, whatever the reason. Or perhaps you would like your children or your grandchildren to have an opportunity to see a lion in the wild and not just in the zoo or in an old National Geographic video, you will do something to make a difference.

And to the trophy hunters that still believe that big game hunting is conservation and helps to save these species, I have a couple of additional, alternative solutions that perhaps you might consider. As an avid photographer, I can assure you that $50,000 will buy you the absolute best, top of the line photography equipment you can by. Develop that talent; and not only could you display hundreds of the magnificent photographs of these animals in your home, you could make multiple prints and donate to the various wildlife organizations, and you could even sell prints and use this as an alternative revenue source. Hunting wild animals really only truly provides you one opportunity to brag of our greatness. Photography offers three: (1) touting your photographic skills, (2) touting your contribution to nature and conservancy through donation of your photography and (3) touting yet another way to make money.

Or, you could simply donate the money and benefit from a generous tax write-off. I’m sure all of these African parks would gladly accept a $50,000 check and think what that would do to help wildlife. Or for those that criticize animal lovers that there are much more important issues and crisis are facing today. Maybe you are right. So why don’t you contribute that $50,000 to those causes that you believe animal rights groups should be spending their time and energy on.

And finally for those trophy hunters that tout they do more for conservation than those non hunters? Well, as a non-hunter, I am proud to announce that I saved a lion today. In fact, I saved a lion yesterday. I saved a lion last week, and I saved 365 lions last year. Why? Because I did not shoot a lion today, I did not shoot a lion yesterday, and I will never shoot a lion. Give me a better example of conservation than that.