May Cecil the Lion’s Wrongful Death Not Be in Vain

Cecil with Cubs 1By Susan Ha

When you think of Africa, what animal stands out to you as the king of the jungle? The lion, of course, and that is why it is named so. The lion is at the top of the food chain, and has forever been a symbol of “strength, power, and ferocity.” Its roar can be heard from 5 miles away, and it can run as fast as 50 mph for short distances, and leap as far as 36 feet. Lions are also the most social of all big cats, and live together in prides, which consists mostly of females and a few males. Cecil was such a beautiful and majestic 13 year old lion and the king of his pride, which consisted of 3 lionesses and 8 cubs, and he had a rare black mane to show it. He was very friendly and tame, and thousands of tourists came yearly to Hwange National Park, a wildlife reserve in Zimbabwe, just to see him. He was even popular on the Internet and had fans all over the world. Sadly, Cecil’s majestic reign was put to an end on July 1 by a trophy hunter named Walter Palmer, an American dentist from Minnesota, who paid $50,000 to Theo Bronkhurst, a professional hunter and founder of Bushman Safaris Zimbabwe, and Honest Ndlovvu, a private game park operator whose land Cecil was slaughtered on, to help him maim and kill Cecil for his trophy hunt.

Cecil was illegally lured out of the park by Mr. Bronkhurst by attaching an animal carcass as bait to the rear of a car. Mr. Palmer then shot him using a spotlight, a crossbow, and an arrow, wounding him on the evening of July 1. The trio then tracked and found Cecil 40 hours later, and Mr. Palmer viciously shot him with his rifle. They proceeded to take off Cecil’s GPS tracking collar, because he was being studied for a research project by Oxford University, and then tried to destroy it but failed. They then knowingly and illegally skinned and beheaded poor, innocent Cecil, the once majestic lion who was too trusting of humans.

Mr. Palmer is currently a suspended member of the Safari Club International (SCI), and has 43 registered trophy kills with them. He stated, “’I deeply regret’ killing ‘a known, local favorite,’” and says that he thought the hunt was legal, and relied on his local guides who had permits. However, his actions could be a violation of the U.S. Lacey Act, a “conservation law meant to shield animals, [and is] tied to a United Nations treaty for the protection of animals, [which] governs the actions of Americans who violate the laws of foreign governments.” Mr. Bronkhurst appeared at the Hwange Magistrates’ Court regarding poaching charges and claims that the hunt was legal. Honest Trymore Ndlovu also faces charges of allowing the hunt on his land without proper permission and for violating wildlife quotas. The Zimbabwean government has requested for Mr. Palmer, who is currently in hiding due to public outrage and threats, to be extradited from the United States to face charges as well.

One of the reasons that this atrocious incident has caused such an uproar worldwide, is because global wildlife populations have been drastically diminishing over the past decades, and some animals, like the African lion, the African elephant, and the West African black rhinoceros, are now scarce, endangered, or extinct. The World Wildlife Fund stated that “global wildlife populations shrunk by 52% between 1970 and 2010, [which is] happening at a much faster rate than previously believed.” Their dwindling numbers are not because there is not enough food to eat, or because there is an outbreak of disease in their populations. It is due to the vile and horrendous acts of trophy hunting. According to PBS, trophy hunting is the “sport of hunting wild game, generally with the intent to collect ‘trophies’ – either an entire carcass, or body parts like the head, hide and legs – which are then taxidermied” to preserve the animals so that they “look like they did when they were alive.” Every year, trophy hunters hunt and kill thousands of exotic wild animals from hundreds of different species in different countries, mainly in Africa.

What the public needs to realize is that Cecil is not the only endangered and protected animal that has been illegally killed in this world. He is well known because he had a name and was well known by tourists and throughout social media. However, the outrage is not only because Cecil was a protected lion, but because it is immoral and inhumane to kill helpless, defenseless animals just for the fun of it. There has been global outrage demanding the punishment of Walter Palmer and the consequential signing of petitions, but they forget to realize that this has been going on for a long time, and people should not just be pointing the finger at one man, who rightfully deserves to be punished for his atrocious crimes, but also at the safari hunting clubs that disgustingly encourage these types of behaviors through various reward systems.

Trophy hunters pay significant amounts in order to hunt some big game animals, one even paying $350,000 at a Dallas Safari Club auction to kill a “critically endangered black rhino.” The cost generally pays for hunting guides, supplies, and required hunting permits from the country’s government in which the animal is located, and a permit from The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an “international treaty that regulates the wild animal trade, allowing hunters to transport animal remains back to their home countries.” IDA International states that many trophy hunters are members of “powerful and wealthy organizations such as the Safari Club International (SCI), which promotes competitive trophy hunting throughout the world, even of rare and sensitive species, including in cowardly ‘canned hunts’, through an elaborate awards program.” PETA defines a canned hunt as hunters paying to hunt on private lands that are usually fenced so that animals can “never stand a chance of escaping, fighting back, or surviving.”

Trophy hunters prefer to kill the biggest, the rarest, and most beautiful animals, and the majority of them, if not all of them, are members of safari hunting clubs. The Safari Club International (SCI), which currently has 50,000 members, holds killing contests, which include the Africa Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhinoceros); the North American Twenty Nine (all bear species, bison, caribou, deer, moose, and sheep); and the Antlered Game of the Americas. In order for a hunter to win all 29 awards, he or she would have to kill 322 animals of different species or subspecies. The organization also gives out “Grand Slam” and “Inner Circle” titles to those who kill particular species, and updates its “Holy Grail,” which is a three-volume record book filled with thousands of pages listing hunters’ names, along with when and where they killed a particular animal. The record book lists more than 1,100 species, some of which have already become extinct. It also maintains an online record book which states, “You can submit your score and method of kill for any species, and it will interactively show you where you would rank in the book if your entry was submitted today.” You may also find gruesome photos of trophy hunters with their dead trophy kills on their website.

The SCI has made many efforts to prevent wildlife protection, including fighting a current bill which would protect the African lion under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). It also worked with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to intervene with a law that required the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Northern Rocky Mountain wolves from the endangered species list. It has also been involved in testifying at a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service hearing to oppose the proposal to list polar bears as a “threatened” species under the U.S. ESA. IDA International states that the SCI “continues to create and feed a culture glamorizing death and violence globally, across political lines, international borders, and against wildlife and even people.” It also states that trophy hunters make fortunes from the killing of millions of animals in an “endless spiral of competition.” The SCI has even had the audacity to argue to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that captive breeding was “necessary for the survival and rescue of the species in the wild, [and that] sport hunting of surplus, captive-bred animals generates revenue that supports these captive-breeding operations and may relieve hunting pressure on wild populations.”

In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) implements the Endangered Species Act (ESA), only allowing endangered species to be imported for scientific research, enhancement of propagation, or species survival. However, it broadly interprets the term “enhancement” to include trophy hunting of protected animals, in which trophy hunters find loopholes and take advantage of them. African animals that are extremely popular with trophy hunters include “relatively scarce game like lions, rhinoceroses, leopards and elephants, as well as species that aren’t threatened, like warthogs and springbok.”

Sadly, the United States is the “world’s largest importer of African lion parts for trophies and for commercial purposes.” U.S. citizens claimed 64% of the international market for lion parts between 1999 and 2008, and this number has been increasing. More than 60% of the foreign-participated lion trophy hunts carried out each year are done by about 15,000 Americans traveling to Africa each year, and many of them want to bring home a trophy. Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, stated that “Eighty percent or more of Americans want to see endangered species protected.”

Over the past 30 years, the lion population has significantly declined by 60%, from 200,000, to 32,000, throughout Africa. This drastic decline prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider listing African lions as a threatened species. Oxford University professors have been studying the effects of trophy hunting on lion populations in Zimbabwe, and 24 of the 62 lions tagged have been shot and killed by sport hunters, while 10 have died from other causes. Every year, foreign hunters export 665 wild lion carcasses, usually just the head and hide, from Africa, which is an average of about 2 lions a day. In 2013, hunters in Zimbabwe exported 49 lion trophies, and from 2005 – 2008, lion trophy hunts were banned in Zimbabwe after scientists warned that it had “hurt the population.” At least one study has shown that trophy hunting is “impacting negatively on some lion populations.” Even the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa is seeing it has a huge problem and sent out an e-mail to its members to “reconsider its position on lion hunting – especially captive bred lion hunts known as ‘canned hunting.’” Herman Meyeridricks, its president, stated, “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.” He then goes on to say, “I have come to believe that, as it stands, our position on lion hunting is no longer tenable.”

What is also worrisome is that trophy hunting “reverses natural selection,” due to hunters seeking the largest animal, or the one with the biggest horns or tusks. Weaker animals not hunted may pass down their genes. African elephants have inherited a “positive trait” of being tuskless, and now make up 30 – 40% of many elephant populations, due to this being done over many generations. These elephants are already endangered, facing possible extinction in 50 years. They are also more susceptible to death from infighting, and are incapable of defending their young from predators. Trophy hunters’ actions are “transforming the species into a sub-prime version that, while protected from ivory-trophy seekers, makes them much less protected from everything else.”

The Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa argues that hunting “places a value on wildlife and wild areas, creating a direct incentive to purchase, own, protect and conserve this precious resource.” In sub-Saharan Africa, 5,382,265 square miles of land are “used for hunting tourism – a larger area than that encompassed by national parks.” The lobbying group Conservation Force also argues that lion hunts, which range from $24,000 to $71,000, are necessary for its conservation, bringing in $675 million to South Africa to be used for habitat expansion and species conservation efforts.

However, Mr. Flocken states that legal trophy hunting contributes millions to Africa’s economy while non-lethal nature viewing contributes billions, or 13 – 15 times more revenue. Economists at Large found that hunting companies contribute “only 3% of their revenue to communities living in hunting areas, [and] the vast majority of their expenditure [accrues] to firms, government agencies and individuals located internationally or in national capitals.” The money going to government agencies “rarely reaches local communities due to corruption and other spending requirements.” A community household in Zimbabwe with an average of 10 people will receive $1 – $3 per year, and communities in Tanzania receive $4 per year per square kilometer, while hunting operators receive $110 per year. Also, the average contribution to GDP from hunting is 0.06% for 11 Africa nations participating in trophy hunting, while 15% of their land is set aside for it.

In addition, researchers of the International Fund for Animal Welfare calculated the value of a live elephant by “viewing camps, safaris, and photo tours in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa, where elephants drive a growing regional ecotourism industry, [and found that] a single elephant can contribute $22,966 per year to the local economy, [compared to a $20,000 elephant hunt], and that grows to $1.6 million during a 70-year lifespan.” Also, according to a poll conducted on behalf of the International Fund for Welfare (IFAW), “70.4% of Americans would pay to view lions on an African safari, while only 6.6% would pay to hunt them.” Most importantly, 95% of Americans  oppose the hunting of any species that are threatened or endangered.

Pro-hunting advocates argue that “removing the older lions like 13-year old Cecil, who are less prone to breed, is actually beneficial for species populations because it allows more vigorous and youthful cats to mate more successfully.” However, Hwange National Park officials said that Cecil had been “muscled out of his pride five years ago by a younger, stronger male, [and] subsequently mounted a comeback by forming a coalition with another older male lion named Jericho.” Mr. Flocken also argued that the killing of a dominant male in a pride, like Cecil’s, could “result in the deaths of others in the group, [because] males from other prides who might be interested in the open leadership position created by Cecil’s death could attack other males, cubs and protective females.” It was recently found that at least one of Cecil’s 8 cubs has been mauled to death by an outside male lion, and that the rest of the family are in danger. Experts say that the rest of Cecil’s pride only has a 5% chance of survival. An employee at Hwange National Park added, “Lions practice infanticide – the male looking to take over and mate with the three lionesses would have crushed the cub’s skull as he looked to stake his claim,” and that it is unlikely that the lionesses would be able to protect the cubs. Brent Stapelkamp, who leads the Oxford University Hwange lion project, argued, “They’re too rare, they’re too sensitive, and the repercussions felt after that hunt far exceed anything in any other species.”

Outrage by the public has spoken volumes to U.S. politicians, and on July 30, Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona and ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon and co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus – led a letter that was signed by 48 other House Democratic members “urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize its proposed rule listing the African lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.” A bill called the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act will be introduced by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, and will “extend import and export protections for species proposed to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.” Recently, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that would encourage international cooperation to “fight illegal poaching and trafficking of wildlife.”

Trophy hunting is seen as a thrilling and exciting “hobby” for some, but for many, it is viewed as inhumane, unfair, immoral, and evil. Many ask themselves how a human being could be so cold and heartless to not appreciate and respect the life of innocent, defenseless animals who have done nothing wrong to deserve such treatment. Trophy hunters say that their hunting helps to conserve the animals, but because of them, many animals are scarce, endangered, or even extinct, like the West African black rhinoceros. Some of the animals that are now extinct are listed in the Safari Club International’s “Holy Grail,” which actually says a lot about these safari hunting clubs and their complete disregard for innocent animals. Cecil was a friendly and tame lion, beloved worldwide, and killed by a selfish, greedy trophy hunter, who is currently a suspended member of SCI. How many more animals have to become extinct for people around the world to recognize the dangers of the influences that safari hunting clubs have on trophy hunters, which can prevent future generations from enjoying the viewing of these beautiful and lovely animals in their natural habitats? Governments need to work together and put an end to this vile and inhumane “hobby,” and the public needs to recognize that safari hunting clubs that encourages these types of vile behaviors needs to be scrutinized and blamed. Let Cecil’s death not be in vain, and let his memory live on forever through our actions.

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