It has been almost one year since Cecil, the beautiful male African lion, was killed by a trophy hunter. Cecil was not the first or last animal to be slaughtered for their head, skin, tusks, or horns. But his tragic death raised awareness about the horrific existence of trophy hunting.
I, along with many across the world, was outraged. We are good at that—expressing outrage, but then what? The posts of anger eventually subsided, as we moved on to something else. Sadly for the animals who are killed every single day, outrage is not enough.
There were some positive changes:
- Two subspecies of the lion were added to the US endangered species list, making it difficult (though not impossible) for US citizens to kill those lions.
- Some airlines banned the transport of hunting trophies from the so-called ‘African big five species’: African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and White/Black Rhinoceros.
- France and The Netherlands banned the import of lion trophies.
- Widespread awareness of the disgusting ‘sport’ of trophy hunting.
But will it actually do anything to protect animals from being hunted? My family and I just returned from a holiday to South Africa. In the airport, I was appalled to hear two men loudly discussing their plans to kill a wildebeest. Though they were really hoping to kill an elephant. And then a few minutes later, one of them was skyping with his child. What kind of values is this man passing on to his children?
During our holiday, we had the privilege of seeing many beautiful animals on safari. Families of animals feeding, lounging, and taking care of each other. I always thought if someone actually saw these amazing animals in the wild, saw them bonding with their young, they would understand that these animals care for each other like we care for our families. I hoped that once people witnessed the love and affection the animals had for each other, they wouldn’t be able to kill them. I was wrong.
At dinner one night, a man (who had just returned from safari) said he was looking forward to buying a zebra skin to take home. Really? Even after seeing zebras in the wild with their young, seeing them protect each other, seeing them care for each other, the idiot sitting next to me still wanted to ‘decorate’ his home with dead animals. What about decorating his home with beautiful photos of the animals instead?
Another point that is often given by hunting advocates in support of trophy hunting is that it actually helps the species. This to me is outrageous. If they really want to help the species, why not simply donate the money to conservation efforts? Why do they need to slaughter an animal for a souvenir?
While on safari, we came across a team of anti-poachers. Though their intentions are well placed, I wondered how successful they would be in protecting the animals. They weren’t armed with those massive rifles the poachers have. And there weren’t very many of them. The team we saw was made up of three people. It must be hard to encourage people to protect animals when they are likely paid more to help poachers or hunters track the animals. Unfortunately, it all comes down to money. It’s easy for those of us living far away to condemn the actions of locals who help the hunters and poachers. But we’re not struggling to feed our families.
Education must be a priority. The community must be shown that preserving the animals is also good for their own preservation. I read one article that said the hunter who killed Cecil reportedly paid US$50,000 for the permit, guide, etc. But the drop in tourism revenues in Zimbabwe, subsequent to the killing was greater than the money generated from the hunt.
Then there is the argument (people always have an endless array of arguments to kill animals) that hunting is necessary to control populations. In my opinion, it’s not an issue of overpopulation of animals, but an overpopulation of humans expanding into the animals home. Instead of culling animals, maybe it’s time to look at controlling the human population. I can almost hear the fallout from that comment. And that’s because of the fundamental belief most people have that human life is worth more than an animal’s life.
As long as we hold on to that belief, I fear there is little hope for the animals we are meant to share this planet with.
July 2, 2016 is World Heritage Species Day. What lasting changes will you make to ensure the survival of all species?