The lion roars no more

I’M not usually one for a social media backlash, but is this the queue for Cecil?

Cecil the lion had a price on his head. A US dentist is reported to have paid $50,000 to take part in a hunt in Zimbabwe. In hunter’s terms, Walter Palmer got lucky; the lion less so, as he was shot by bow and arrow and reportedly took 40 hours to die.

Sometimes people have too much money for their own good and the good of the planet. If a dentist from Minnesota can splash that much on killing African wildlife, there must be an awful lot of dollars in molars.

Not content with shooting each other, Americans – or at least the wealthy ones – are now taking their love of weapons abroad and finishing off endangered wildlife instead, all in the name of sport.

If you want to feel annoyed and upset, read up on Cecil the lion and see how he was skinned and beheaded after that lingering death.

In some reports you will find a photograph of the US dentist with another hunter getting pally with a dead lion. Palmer has his arms round his companion’s shoulders. The lion lies before them, eyes closed and great paws resting on a mound of red earth, looking as if he might be taking a nap. Well, he is – the last and longest, the big sleep, thanks to the hunter’s bullet. Or maybe arrow, it isn’t clear from the picture, although no arrow appears to be embedded in that particular once-proud lion.

The lion in that photograph isn’t Cecil, just another magnificent big cat with the misfortune to find himself on the wrong end of an American man’s horrible hobby.

Just what is it about people who have the money to indulge their dreams and desires? At what point does someone think: “You know what would make my life better? Going to Africa and shooting a lion, that’s what…”

Palmer was reported to be “quite upset” about the Facebook furore his actions had unleashed. Not as upset, at a guess, as the dead, skinned and now headless lion. The dentist issued a media statement in which he said he’d hired several professionals and secured the proper permits for a trip that was to his knowledge “legal and properly handled and conducted”.

Cecil, locally celebrated for his black mane, was popular with tourists and was wearing a GPS tracking device as part of a study by Oxford University into his movements. The lion is said to have been tempted out of a national park by bait, at which point Palmer got out his bow and arrow.

The dentist issued a statement in which he said: “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt.”

He added that he deeply regretted that “my pursuit of an activity that I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion”.

So not all that contrite, then. Palmer had no idea the lion he shot was a local favourite. But he did, at a vague guess, know that it was a lion. You know, one of those big cat-shaped mammals that are increasingly said to be endangered. As apologies go, that hardly rises high enough to ring the sincerity bell, being in effect an admission of sorrow for shooting the wrong lion – “Look, I dearly wish I’d shot some other goddamn lion and not that one everyone is making such a fuss about.”

Should we feel in any way sorry for Palmer? Well his actions have put him at the centre of a social media hate-storm, which isn’t a good place to be. He did think he was doing something legal, and perhaps he would have been if he had killed some other unfortunate lion instead. But isn’t there is difference between the legal and the morally responsible?

As for all those unkind comments about his own teeth and lack of anaesthetic, perhaps the next time Palmer hears the word “Open wide, please” he will find his head inside a lion’s mouth.

Leave a Reply