As if we needed more evidence of the absurd sanctimoniousness of the American public when it comes to their favorite political issues, each day seems to bring another example to add to this despicable portfolio. This month’s low issue? Cecil the lion.
For the very few of you who do not know who Cecil the lion is, let me give you a brief background. Cecil is the name academics, animal preservationists, and in-country game wardens had given one particular male lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. So what was Cecil’s distinguishing characteristic that separated it from the other several hundred lions living in the park? It was his mane–not a mangy-looking affair like most male lions, but a more regal black fringed coif. This accident of genetics led the lion to gaining his sobriquet and a following among the lion watchers that visited Hwange National Park and the professors that tracked its movements by its radio collar.
That all came to end in July when an American hunter shot and killed Cecil outside the park with a bow and arrow. The hunter had reportedly paid a private Zimbabwean wild game hunting company and a freelance guide $50,000 to obtain on his behalf a hunting license and to lead him on a lion hunt. The company allegedly set bait outside the Hwange National Park’s boundaries to lure lions out of the park to be killed. Once the hunter had bagged Cecil and his accompanying guides realized they had killed a restricted animal with a tracking collar, they had allegedly tried to cover up that fact and allowed the hunter to escape the country with his trophy before the Zimbabwean authorities realized what had happened.
The Zimbabwean government, having missed its man, bellowed its anger in the press and the issue caught fire in the US. Animal rights activists, sympathizers, and those who just loath hunters and hunting in general raised Caine on social media networks, vilifying the hunter in question.
The hunter turned out to be just an unassuming dentist in Minnesota. Not an Allan Quartermain, mind you, just a hunting enthusiast who wanted the thrill of the African game hunt to add to his bucket list. And what an expensive hunt it has been. He has had to go into hiding. His dental practice has been shut down for weeks. His office has been picketed by angry activists. His summer home in Florida has been vandalized. His practice’s Yelp reviews have been repopulated with expletive-laced and hate-filled vitriol. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel raged on air about the injustice of Cecil’s death. The Zimbabwean government has demanded the dentist’s extradition. Even the governor of Minnesota has expressed his disgust with the hunter to the media.
Open and shut case right?
It turns out that the Zimbabwe government legally sanctions the culling of lions, issuing a number of hunting permits each year, resulting in the death of at least dozens of lions in the last decade. Zimbabwean poachers and ranchers shoot dozens, if not hundreds more, illegally. The dentist had thought he had legally purchased a lion hunting license. He had not targeted Cecil specifically but was just interesting in bagging a lion–any lion. The professional guide who was hauled into court in-country to defend his actions insisted that the proper permits to lion hunt were obtained and attacked the legal proceedings against him, the game company, and the dentist as “crazy” and “frivolous”.
Zimbabweans themselves, or at least not politicians in Mugabe’s government, have had a drastically different reaction to furor over Cecil’s death. An op-ed piece by a university student published in the New York Times succinctly summed up their puzzlement by saying:
“In my village in Zimbabwe, surrounded by wildlife conservation areas, no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror.”
He further notes:
“The American tendency to romanticize animals that have been given actual names and to jump onto a hashtag train has turned an ordinary situation — there were 800 lions legally killed over a decade by well-heeled foreigners who shelled out serious money to prove their prowess — into what seems to my Zimbabwean eyes an absurdist circus…we Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.”
I could not agree more. But I think that the student is giving us way to much credit. No, I think the root of the Cecil hysteria is found in the cesspool of a baser sin we Americans have committed and continue to commit way too often. Buried deep in our collective psyche, we like nothing better than a good witch burning.
In this country, we have a saying. “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones”. I think that all Americans would do well to remember that.