Monday, August 03, 2015

Cecil the Lion

The internet was set aflame by the story of Cecil; a lion supposedly beloved of locals in Zimbabwe killed by a dentist from Minnesota. As usual in these cases, facts are hard to come by. There are no longer any sources you can trust for information. Every media outlet, internet or otherwise, reports unsubstantiated rumors as unvarnished Truth. The hunt was illegal, the guide a well-known local poacher. The lion suffered in agony for 40 hours. Dr. Palmer is a pedophile. Zimbabwe is looking to extradite Dr. Palmer. Zimbabwean locals have no idea who this "Cecil" was. The hunt was perfectly legal, conducted by a licensed guide.

I could go on for pages, but anyone who has tried to get to the bottom of any news story in the last ten years or so already knows the drill. True journalists, people who bother to fact check and at least try to get to the truth of a story, are like unicorns or honest politicians. They simply don't exist.

Meanwhile, for the safety of himself and his patients, Dr. Palmer has closed his dental practice, as he, his family, and anyone who has ever been a patient are now considered fair game. Literally. The local police have lost count of the thousands of death threats. Personal details of not just Palmer's life, but every member of his family are being shared on the internet. But it's all good; Palmer, the internet assures us, is filthy rich and can move himself and his family off to some foreign country to live incommunicado, safe from death threats and/or legal repercussions of his hunting trip.

This is the new "animal rights" movement in all its glory: Demonstrate your love of animals by dehumanizing people, destroying their lives and the lives of anyone close to them, or anyone who makes any attempt to defend them. Carriage horse owners in New York City. Elephant trainers in circuses. Owners of ponies who give rides to children at fairs. Hunters. Small-scale farmers. (Factory farms are kept safe behind a wall of bought-and-paid-for politicians.) Trainers who work with animals used in movies or TV. All these groups have been and/or are being subjected to the tender ministrations of these so-called animal rights activists. The tactics used are predictable. The person or group are horrible people, beneath contempt, outcasts, drunkards, racists. Their actions are indefensible to all right-thinking people. Inevitably, the person or group being demonized is labeled (always without even a shred of evidence) pedophiles or rapists. Which probably says more about the accusers mental state than the accused, but does little to mitigate the damage such accusations cause.

The favorite tool of the modern "activist" is, of course, social media. Anyone remember when the internet was supposed to eliminate arbitrary barriers and brings us all together in peace and harmony, singing Kumbaya? Instead, it became a place for international mobs to form over random news stories (even if it happens to be completely fake, like the UofV rape case), demonizing random individuals or groups and completely destroying their lives, then just as quickly moving on to the next outrage. The mainstream media, so focused on being "relevant" and eager to fill up all those 24-hour news channels, jumps on board without so much as the most cursory of investigations, never bothering to retract even blatant lies.

Left behind is the wreckage that was once some human being's life. And no one even had to leave the comfort of their living room couch or work cubicle to make it happen.

I'm a hunter and unrepentant meat-eater. I'm comfortable with killing game for food. I see no difference in killing, gutting, skinning, cooking and eating a rabbit, squirrel or deer, and going to Walmart and picking up a package of chicken, beef or pork. Other than in the later instance, I've paid someone else to do the dirty work for me. However, I will say that I'm uncomfortable with pure trophy hunting; killing an animal only for the purpose of displaying some part of it on your den wall. Note that I'm not talking about getting the head of a deer mounted that was killed primarily for the dinner table. I'm referring to what Dr. Palmer's hunt appears to have been; the killing of an animal purely for the sake of displaying some part of it on a floor or wall.

Note that I said, "uncomfortable with" rather than "violently opposed to". I fully understand that trophy hunting (as well as the less-lethal version, the photo safari) provides much needed income for countries like Zimbabwe. That it is much easier to convince locals to accept the loss of some cattle to predators from the neighboring preserve if they receive some benefit from them being there. That safari income is what pays the salaries of staff who go after commercial poachers. That some "Disney animals" like lions, tigers and elephants are over-populating certain areas, meaning some must be culled for the benefit of the remaining animals. That large predators can go rogue by hunting humans and need to be killed. I fully appreciate all of it. That doesn't mean that I would ever participate in such a hunt. However, should someone else choose to, I'm certainly not going to label him a murderer and try to destroy him and everyone around him.

In this instance, the part of the story that I do find disturbing is the length of time from the first shot to the lion being killed. If the forty-hour figure flying around the internet is even close to being true, something went terribly wrong out in the field. Someone, either Dr. Palmer or the guide (or both), at a minimum displayed bad judgement and more likely, incompetence. "Never take a shot unless you know it will be lethal" was pounded into my head at a very young age. Know your weapon, know its limitations, know your limitations, were simply givens. Leaving an animal wounded by a bad shot to suffer and die slowly was considered the worst sort of slob hunting. Because we are not living in some Utopia, things go bad from time to time. But you take every possible precaution to reduce the likelihood of things going sideways. Most importantly, if there is any doubt of a clean kill, if anything feels off in any way, don't take the shot. That something so basic seems to have been ignored is certainly troubling to me. Assuming there is any more truth to the forty-hour pursuit "fact" than there is in the accusations that Dr. Palmer is some sort of sexual predator.

Now I'm seeing Facebook petitions calling for the elimination of all trophy hunting. First of all, is there anyone over the age of twelve that believes "signing" any sort of online petition or sharing a post on Facebook has any impact whatsoever, other than making you feel good about yourself for "doing something" while not actually doing anything? Secondly, definitions matter. What, exactly, is a trophy hunt? If I take home a pound of giraffe meat along with the head and hide, is it still a trophy hunt? How about two pounds? Three? Thirty? If the goal is to ban all killing of "Disney animals", what do we do about over-population or rogues? How many local children killed and eaten do you think it will take before locals start killing animals? How much dead livestock or destroyed food crops? Third, given the success of the ban on sales of ivory and rhino horn in turning poaching into a multinational cartel, does anyone think a ban on trophy hunting would have the intended effect?

And once again, I've probably pissed off enough people and should head off to bed.