The killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe has suddenly sparked debates on the trophy hunting. Big game Hunting – often associated with the hunting of African Big Five (lion, elephant, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo and leopard) – which is considered as a valiant sport turned into a repulsive thing. The social media streamed with messages condemning Palmer the dentist (he hunted Cecil) and various other people who have posted their pics with hunting trophies.
The social outrage on the killing of Cecil has also shone a light on the ‘big game industry’ and also makes us ponder over people’s reactions, whereas few decades before big game hunting was associated with one’s fearlessness. Trophy hunting is legal in African countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, while it is illegal in other countries like Kenya, Botswana and Zambia. Since the African wild animals roam a large distance, traveling in and out of national parks, the hunting regulations itself is considered a tricky one. As per a ‘National Geographic’ article, roughly 200,000 lions roamed across Africa, a century ago. Now the lion’s population is reduced to 30,000.
Although Big Game hunting is legal in Zimbabwe, Walter Palmer (the man remains in hiding and recently his home was vandalized) was accused of illegally luring Cecil out of the game reserve. The lion was shot with a bow and after 40 hours of stalking, the animal was gunned down. The international outcry after this incident calls for closely scrutinizing the trophy hunting and also to eradicate the practice. However, the politics around the big game industry is much more complex as governments, scientists, and even conservationists support the hunting as a means to raise funds for protecting the animals in their natural habitat.
Many international treaties support legal trophy hunting. 2013 figures stated that more than 7,000 hunters traveled to South Africa for big game hunting. Hunters pay tens of thousands of dollars and nearly 6,000 lions across Southern part of Africa are bred to be hunted (at least 900 are killed in a year). The millions of dollars paid by tourists is said to make up majority of income for certain nations, while also helping for conservatory purposes. Explorers call this method ‘conservation by gun’. Scientists supporting the sport hunting argue that ‘it strongly contributes to enhancement of the survival of the species’, while the explorers & animal lovers point out at the increasing number of captive bred lions than the wild lions.
Hunters posing with their trophies may have suddenly become as a hideous gesture, but the social outrage does confuse over licensed hunters with that of poachers, whose sole aim is to butcher a species for economic benefits. In Asia, poachers annually kill at least ten thousand elephants due to increasing demand for ivory. Rhinoceros, one of the world’s most endangered species, are being poached at a faster rate for their horns. So, trophy hunting isn’t feeding the black markets or raising the demands for traditional cures (from animal parts). But at the same time, the critics also note that the so-called conservation isn’t really happening since the millions of dollars drawn out from tourists were often siphoned off to fulfill the involved authorities’ private funds.
Big game hunting is also viewed by some as a survived symbol of colonialism. A century or decades before, Europeans and Americans traveled to what they thought as ‘exotic lands’ (in Africa and India) for slaughtering wildlife. The killings and the preservation were not only a gesture to showcase the colonialists’ bravery, but also a means to demonstrate their political & social dominance in the area. Now the trophy hunting has a different ideology behind it, but whatever it is, the hunting-conservation model isn’t the culprit for rapidly decreasing population of wild animals. And, our mainstream media and social media, with the death of Cecil, find a perfect instance to throw a ‘pity party’.
I’d like to end with a comment of Mr. Peter Knights, director of WildAid conservation charity: “It takes a lot more fortitude and determination to go after a big animal armed with just a camera than a high-powered rifle”