After Cecil the lion was shot and killed by an American dentist three years ago, YouTube was flooded with searches for footage of Zimbabwe’s favourite predator when he was still alive. There’s plenty of it. The soundtrack, almost always, is of shutters clicking.
Why can’t people leave it at that? What possesses them to shoot critically endangered animals with guns and arrows instead of cameras? What sort of dinner party chat goes on back home in Minnesota under the taxidermist’s rendition of Cecil, or on it, if he’s been turned into a rug?
I ask for two reasons. The first is genuine bewilderment. There is a deep, wide gulf between those who consider this sort of hunting acceptable and those who consider it a crime. There might be a chance of bridging that gulf if those on either side of it made more of an effort to see the other’s point of view, but who honestly wants to get into the mindset of a killer?
The second reason is that it has happened again. A large adult male lion from a pride well known to visitors to South Africa’s Kruger National Park was lured from the park last Friday and shot by another American trophy hunter for $60,000.
The technique for lining up the shot and for evading the law is familiar from the final hours of Cecil. In that case the reserve where he had been protected was Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. In both, the animals were lured out of areas where hunting is banned, into neighbouring, privately run reserves where it is technically legal and enormously lucrative.
The argument about money is familiar, too. Big game hunters claim their five and six-figure fees to parks and licensing authorities help pay for wildlife preservation. It is true that private reserves have an interest in
preserving local populations for canned hunts paid for by millionaires. It is also true that where populations of
rare wild animals are holding up across large areas it is thanks to the herculean efforts of park rangers on public lands where hunting is anathema.
Africa’s population of wild lions has fallen by 90 per cent in the past century. It now stands at about 20,000.
Some of those are cubs in the Kruger that are now without a father and are likely to be killed by other adult males.
The human who killed their father may have to fight in a South African court for the right to export its head and
skin. Presumably it will be worth the effort, but it is hard to fathom why.