Killing of Cecil a Shot Heard Round the World to End Trophy Hunting Madness of Rare, Majestic Animals
Walter Palmer tries to get back on his feet, professionally at least, by reopening his dental practice in Eden Prairie, Minn., today, according to a joint interview he conducted with the Associated Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune. With Zimbabwe not having formally charged him or requested the United States to extradite him, reportedly due to fears that prosecuting him would deter other trophy hunters from heading to Zimbabwe, you can understand why he wants to get on with his life.
Let’s hope, though, that many of his clients have gained a new understanding of the man, and realize that they can make a powerful statement by taking their business elsewhere. They shouldn’t be bamboozled by his claim that his lion-killing was just one unlucky circumstance. After all, he’s been exposed previously for breaking the law in order to kill trophy animals, as in neighboring Wisconsin where he has a felony conviction for illegally killing an enormous black bear.
But as with the Michael Vick case on dogfighting, or with The HSUS’s undercover investigations of Jackie McConnell abusing Tennessee walking horses at his stable, and the abusive handling of cows by operators at the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant in Chino, Calif., it would be a shame to focus only on the individuals involved in these crimes. Each case illuminated a larger problem in our society that needs our focus – the clandestine world of dogfighting; the “Big Lick” segment of the Tennessee walking horse show world intent on abusing, or soring, horses to win ribbons; or slaughterhouse operators willing to drag and push downed animals into the kill box, no matter the torment they suffer. All of these people, like Palmer, are part of larger enterprises that trade on the systematic abuse of animals.
In Palmer’s case, we have a vivid example of the subculture of international, competitive trophy hunting, where wealthy elites pay off guides or local wildlife officials and bend and break rules in their quest to kill the biggest, often rarest animals in order to get into the record books.
It’s good and right that we are starting to see some reform, with 43 airlines agreeing to stop shipping trophies from the Africa Big Five – African lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and Cape buffalo. Others, including UPS and South Africa Airways, should follow suit.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will, hopefully, soon formally list African lions under the Endangered Species Act. That cannot come soon enough, since we don’t want to see a bum’s rush of trophy hunters descending upon Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and other countries willing to sell off their remaining lions to predatory Americans.
Senator Robert Menendez has introduced legislation in Congress to ban imports of trophies from species now listed, or soon to be listed, as threatened or endangered. We hope, too, that Congress nixes a provision in a so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” to provide import allowances for trophies of 41 polar bears shot by Safari Club members who have been barred from importing the trophies because the animals were listed as threatened with extinction.
It’s time for a number of African nations, trading their wildlife to trophy hunters for cash, to abandon that model. Botswana, Kenya, and Rwanda have done so, and realized that the market for wildlife-watching dwarfs the pool of trophy hunters and provides livelihoods for far more people.
So, yes, let’s drive these goals. But let’s show no tolerance for the people who have trophy madness and travel the globe to kill the world’s most majestic animals in a global head-hunting exercise. We rightly abhor poachers who kill elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns. Palmer and other millionaire trophy hunters cannot rely on the poachers’ claim of economic necessity as a rationale, as if it’s some necessary evil. In case of trophy hunting, there’s no necessity, and we’re left only with the evil.
P.S.: Breaking news from Brussels: I’m delighted to announce that the European Parliament has just voted overwhelmingly to strengthen the European Union ban on the trade in seal products. The lopsided vote – 631 for and just 31 against – is not only an extraordinary win for seals but a rebuke of the Canadian government, which has been subsidizing this cruel and archaic seal slaughter every winter. This is also a great victory for our team that has worked to end the Canadian seal slaughter for over a decade. We have been up against at least seven state governments, the international fur trade, and a segment of the commercial fishing industry, and yet we’ve still succeeded in closing most of the world’s key markets for seal products. Last year’s seal kill was one of the lowest on record, precisely because of our work to close off big markets, and we’re more committed than ever to permanently end the Canadian seal slaughter.