Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Taking" nature: Cecil the lion, trophy hunting, and humanity's desire to dominate

Today the world learned a wealthy American dentist (with clearly nothing better to do, as in, productive and useful for society and the planet) went on a “professional” hunting excursion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park earlier this month and lured, shot, and killed a beloved local icon, 13-year-old lion Cecil.

The dentist from Minnesota, Walter Palmer, who paid $55,000 USD for the excursion, has since pseudo-apologized; rather, Palmer stated he’s sorry it was a beloved local favourite that he killed. Mainly, he just denied wrongdoing and insisted he was under the impression all aspects of the hunt were legal.

I’m not interested in whether or not this was “poaching” or “hunting” or whether or not Palmer believed his expedition was legal or not. He clearly does not actually deeply regretwhat he did, as his statement claims, since he has trophy hunted many other large animals all over the place and posted triumphant photos of his conquests with a beaming, pearly white smile.

“Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”
Non-apology. Tantamount to “I’m sorry you’re upset” rather than “I’m actually sorry.”

That lion wasn’t yours to “take.” That lion wasn’t anyone’s to “take.”

Organizing, paying for, and undertaking a hunting expedition to Zimbabwe clearly takes a lot of resources, effort, and thought so it’s not like Palmer didnt have the chance to learn more about the area, learn about the lions there, and reconsider this idea. He’s now claiming ignorance of the particulars of the hunt and the prey, deferring blame to his local guides. Palmer is only sorry he’s in trouble and taking heat for the death of this particular animal. 

I’m more concerned about what motivates a human to pursue trophy hunting in the first place. What feeling is a person who trophy hunts actually paying for?

This isn’t hunting for food, or killing for survival or self-defence. This isn’t hunting to promote and ensure sustainable, local, non-factory farmed meat harvesting. 

This is killing to feel powerful, to feel important, to dominate “the king of the jungle.” To take its head and hang it on your wall.

It’s not just pointless hunting, it’s deeply inhumane. It’s sadistic to use a bow and arrow, for the challenge, I suppose, only to miss a fatal shot and cause the animal to suffer and die slowly. Cecil reportedly took 40 hours to die. If the thrill of a clean, quick kill is what Palmer is after, it’s hard to fathom how baiting, luring, and failing to successfully shoot the animal could make him feel powerful.

To inflict that kind of needless, purposeless pain and suffering on a living creature for no other reason than to know its within your power to kill it is unconscionable. 

It’s not about whether or not the proper permits were secured, whether or not it was on nature reserve property, whether or not the hunt was “legal.” It’s not about this particular beloved and well-known lion as more valuable or deserving of life than another lion, or any other less revered animal. It’s not even just about the fact that the hunt was inherently inhumane and drawn out, causing the animal to suffer while injured for almost two days before it was finally shot fatally. 

It’s about the fact that humans desire to inflict this kind of violence on other creatures at all. It’s about recognizing the deep and disturbing horror of that fact.


A few weeks ago, a conservation officer in British Columbia was suspended without pay for refusing to kill two black bear cubs. Their mother was killed by officers after breaking into and raiding a freezer filled with salmon and meat near Port Hardy.  As reported by several news outlets, the officer in question, Bryce Casavant, refused to destroy the now orphaned cubs.  As a result, the two cubs are now at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, BC.

Imagine if more people, with direct access to animals and the ability to affect animal welfare, were equally insubordinate? Imagine if we, as humans, didn’t take our own supremacy for granted, as some kind of foregone conclusion, and worked a bit harder to co-exist in harmony with the animals whose habitats and food sources we’re routinely impacting and degrading.

Loving and respecting animals has always been a cornerstone of my life since I was a child. I have a lot of mixed feelings about my access, as a human, to “own” animals as pets. I believe deeply in the value of animal companions, and the potential for human and non-human animals to co-exist as companions in domestic settings. But as I work with more animals I become more resistant to considering myself a pet “owner.”

I primarily work with/ take care of small animals and have an ambivalent relationship to pet stores. I dislike and am wary of the commoditization of animals, yet without such establishments (as well as breeders) it wouldn’t be possible to have the chance to live with animals as pets. Yes I primarily take in animals via a rescue, but most of those same animals originally came from pet stores. They were bred to be possessions. 

Stores and breeders are a part of the commodity machine that provides us the chance to know and love and care for domestic animals, but its also part of the problem because too many animals are bred, and they’re too easy to purchase, too accessible. Yet, I wouldn’t want to give up the joy I get through caring for rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other critters. I wouldn’t want cats and dogs to not exist as pets and companions.

We need to move away from the view of animals as objects and property to “own” and reorient ourselves as stewards with immense responsibility to the creatures we have domesticated. I don’t want to be a pet owner, rather a pet “keeper.”

From pet “owning to trophy hunting we, as humans, have a fundamentally flawed perception of our entitlement to animals’ bodies and a frightening desire to dominate nature. To exert our power and flaunt our status as top of the food chain. Only we dont have better teeth and claws and we arent faster and stronger. We need so many inventions to even compete.

We, as humans, have evolved to be dominant over other species and, to hold on to that dominance, we conceptualize our needs and whims as inherently superior.

Yet we are the species that demonstrates malice and a will to kill and destroy that is not in any way connected to survival or sustenance.

How, then, can we be the superior creature?