MY mind was absorbed by the biochemistry of gene editing when the text messages and Facebook posts distracted me.
So sorry about Cecil.
Did Cecil live near your place in Zimbabwe?
Cecil who? I wondered. When I turned on the news and discovered that the messages were about a lion killed by an American dentist, the village boy inside me instinctively cheered: One lion fewer to menace families like mine.
My excitement was doused when I realized that the lion killer was being painted as the villain. I faced the starkest cultural contradiction I’d experienced during my five years studying in the United States.
Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being “beloved” or a “local favorite” was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from “The Lion King”?
In my village in Zimbabwe, surrounded by wildlife conservation areas, no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror.
When I was 9 years old, a solitary lion prowled villages near my home. After it killed a few chickens, some goats and finally a cow, we were warned to walk to school in groups and stop playing outside. My sisters no longer went alone to the river to collect water or wash dishes; my mother waited for my father and older brothers, armed with machetes, axes and spears, to escort her into the bush to collect firewood.
A week later, my mother gathered me with nine of my siblings to explain that her uncle had been attacked but escaped with nothing more than an injured leg. The lion sucked the life out of the village: No one socialized by fires at night; no one dared stroll over to a neighbor’s homestead.
When the lion was finally killed, no one cared whether its murderer was a local person or a white trophy hunter, whether it was poached or killed legally. We danced and sang about the vanquishing of the fearsome beast and our escape from serious harm.
Recently, a 14-year-old boy in a village not far from mine wasn’t so lucky. Sleeping in his family’s fields, as villagers do to protect crops from the hippos, buffalo and elephants that trample them, he was mauled by a lion and died.
The killing of Cecil hasn’t garnered much more sympathy from urban Zimbabweans, although they live with no such danger. Few have ever seen a lion, since game drives are a luxury residents of a country with an average monthly income below $150 cannot afford.
Don’t misunderstand me: For Zimbabweans, wild animals have near-mystical significance. We belong to clans, and each clan claims an animal totem as its mythological ancestor. Mine is Nzou, elephant, and by tradition, I can’t eat elephant meat; it would be akin to eating a relative’s flesh. But our respect for these animals has never kept us from hunting them or allowing them to be hunted. (I’m familiar with dangerous animals; I lost my right leg to a snakebite when I was 11.)
The American tendency to romanticize animals that have been given actual names and to jump onto a hashtag train has turned an ordinary situation — there were 800 lions legally killed over a decade by well-heeled foreigners who shelled out serious money to prove their prowess — into what seems to my Zimbabwean eyes an absurdist circus.
Without the money paid by those who hunt them, ($50,000+ per trophy) the game animals would have a negative value for the natives, and would soon be hunted into extinction by those same natives to protect the people and their crops.
This is already happening in African countries where hunting has been prohibited.
But the animal rights activists would not care, as long as no wealthy man or woman was killing them.
Native hunts are so much more morally “pure”
There is a healthy and an unhealthy love of animals: and the nearest definition of the difference is that the unhealthy love of animals is serious. I am quite prepared to love a rhinoceros, with reasonable precautions: he is, doubtless, a delightful father to the young rhinoceroses. But I will not promise not to laugh at a rhinoceros. . . . I will not worship an animal. That is, I will not take an animal quite seriously: and I know why.
Wherever there is Animal Worship there is Human Sacrifice. That is, both symbolically and literally, a real truth of historical experience.
— G. K. Chesterton, “On Seriousness,” (1920)
@Petercat: I’ve seen enough of your postings to know you don’t condone the way that lion was killed.
Illegally lured from the sanctuary, wounded and tracked for many hours. Then killed and beheaded in attempt to cover up GPS tracking.
Big game hunting a sport? In whose sick world?
@Rich Wheeler: Rich I’ve got to break some terrible news to you. I had to kill a nest of wasps this afternoon. I planned to catch them alive and mail them to you, but I figured you wouldn’t give me your mailing address and I would just be stuck with them, So I sprayed them with Wasp spray and if it’s any consolation to you, I think they all died instantaneously, and I don’t think they suffered from an inhumane execution. Then just so lives wouldn’t be wasted, I tried to figure out what to do with them, should I make a delicacy of them by Chocolate coating them, or something, but figured that still wouldn’t help the taste and also, they hadn’t been properly de’stingered, so I just swept them up and threw them in the trash can. I hate I had to extinguish their young and prospective successful lives, but at least I did it as humanely as I could. I didn’t just stomp them into the ground. I did briefly think of swatting them one at a time, but I figured you’d see that as killing them for sport, so I decided not to go that way.
Sorry for the bad news, I know it’s upsetting and hope you get over the shock and sadness soon.
@Rich Wheeler: #3
On this I agree with you.
Actually hunting the lion for a reason- protecting the villagers or for food, I could go along with.
Even stalking the animal for a trophy, if it were done in a sporting manner.
But to wait for the lion to be lured to him? And to kill it with a bow, almost insuring a lingering, painful death (which is what happened)? No.
I can’t read the dentist’s mind, I don’t know for certain why he chose to use a bow, but I can’t think of a reason that I would accept as valid.
Use a powerful enough rifle, and make it quick.
I am a cat lover, and think that the big ones are magnificent.
While I personally would not want to kill one (cat meat is no tastier than chicken or pork, and old cat meat is tough and stringy) I would not deny others the privilege.
In other words, while I will judge others by my standards of morality, I will not insist that they live by them.
Those are decisions that we each must make for ourselves, and live with the results.
@Rich Wheeler: #3
You might enjoy this, a Russian hunter writes a letter to Palmer’s guide:
It’s actually pretty funny, and spot-on!