The killing of Cecil the lion shocked people throughout the world, but Americans took particular offense because the shooter was one of our own – a privileged dentist from Minnesota. What a misuse of time and wealth to kill an extraordinary and beautiful creature, an icon of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and a driver of revenue to the ecotourism economy there.
While our outrage and anger were well justified, we should feel the same disgust for the Americans who kill lions on American terrain. In Montana last week, an American trophy hunter – seeking notoriety and prestige within the fraternity – shot a mountain lion named Sandy who had astounded scientists in British Columbia with her recent migration from Canada into the United States.
Just as Cecil had been carefully studied and radio-collared, so too had Sandy, thrilling scientists who had followed her 450-mile journey from Canada into Montana. This is an unusual feat for female lions who typically do not travel far from their birth areas.
American trophy hunters kill more than 700 African lions a year (although this number should drop dramatically because of their impending classification as threatened and endangered), but they kill more than 2,500 mountain lions in the American West. Only in California do mountain lions enjoy special protection from trophy hunting.
There are perhaps few things as senseless as the killing of mountain lions, or wolves for that matter: no one eats these animals, and that makes killing them trophy hunting in its purest form
These carnivores provide all sorts of benefits to their natural ecosystems. Mountain lions keep the herd healthier, taking the weak, sick, and diseased animals. They leave carrion for black bears, grizzly bears, and other scavengers.
This past weekend, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a piece documenting the struggle of a small population of lions trying to hold on in the limited open spaces in Los Angeles and its immediate environs, a sprawling mega-city with 18 million people. Led by California State Senator Fran Pavley, there’s been a push to build an overpass over the 10-lane-wide 101 freeway to open up a migration route for the animals – as a way to prevent deaths on the road and allow lions on opposite sides of the freeway to breed.
That’s the best part of humanity – using our human creativity to save and preserve. On the other hand, killing these animals as a headhunting exercise, whether in Zimbabwe or Montana, should produce nothing but shame and embarrassment. We are better than this. But in order to stop more killing of lions at home, we’ll have to get active, as the nation did when it learned of Walter Palmer’s slaying of a famous lion. We cannot be bystanders when the killing is happening in our own backyard.