A few weeks back emblematic Cecil the lion’s son, Xanda, was shot dead by allegedly trophy hunter Richard Cooke in the surrounding area of Hwange National Park, northwest Zimbabwe. Cecil himself was also killed at a nearby area on July 1st 2015, leading to a global scandal that even forced American dentist Walter James Palmer, person who hired the hunter to kill Cecil for roughly US$65,000, to quit his medical practice in suburban Minneapolis.
Company RC Safaris’ hunting team lead by Cooke claimed that Xanda had no cubs under his care when they hunted him down, a declaration that contradicts that affirmed by Oxford University researchers who had been tracking and monitoring Xanda via a GPS collar since October of the past year 2016. Apparently the alpha male belonged to a pride that included three lionesses and seven cubs. Cubs which now remain under the threat of other dominant males in the region in addition to being too young to survive on their own.
Despite the disheartening news relating to Xanda’s bloodshed and as perverted as it may sound, its killing was completely legal; having been carried out beyond the boundaries of the national park in a reserve where hunting is allowed. Member of the Oxford University research team, Andrew Loveridge, referred to Cook as one of the “good and ethical guys” because he handed back Xanda’s GPS collar and explained what happened. Loveridge also said that this was not Cooke’s first time to kill a collared lion.
Scientists have been putting pressure for years for the approval of a 5 kilometer no-hunting zone around the park; a motion that has encountered lots of opposition due to the fact that most killings happen in this bordering area.
For these majestic wild cats that once roamed Africa, Syria, Israel, Pakistan, Iran and Northwest India (National Geographic, 2017), as well as the ecosystems and species that directly or indirectly depend on them (including us humans); things are looking pretty dim as their numbers keep on plummeting to as little as 20,000 when in the 1940s an estimated of 450,000 lions wandered about the world (National Geographic, 2017).
An urgent matter already involving endangered species
According to a report published by Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States, “more than 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported to the U.S., with an average of more than 126,000 trophies every year” between 2005 and 2014 (The Humane Society of The United States, 2016). Countries of origin often included Canada, South Africa, Namibia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Zambia and Botswana and almost 32,500 of these trophies belong to Africa’s Big Five Species of lions, elephants, leopards, southern white rhinos and buffalo (The Humane Society of The United States, 2016). Out of the 32,500 imported trophies around 5,600 happened to be African lions.
These appalling figures don’t come as a surprise, given that most lion riflemen come from the U.S., UK, Germany and South Africa (Thornycroft, P., 2017). It is important to mention that all three African lion, elephant and leopard are filed under the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable species; whereas the southern white rhino species is listed as Near Threatened and the African buffalo as Least Concern.
One of the most obvious and present examples of the ‘biological annihilation’ that human beings are achieving on planet Earth is the case of the Northern White Rhino (NWR). In the 1960s there were still 2,300 remaining in the wild, as of now there are only 3 in captivity with the sub-species being considered as practically extinct. The main reason of why this sub-species’ has been placed under such serious situation is attributed to poaching.
The paradox of sport hunters believing to be contributors to conservation
While poachers are being persecuted and often solely blamed for pushing species at the edge of extinction, many argue that trophy hunters (including hunters themselves) are advocating for conservation. Researcher Peter Lindsay, one of the authors of the paper “Economic and conservation significance of the trophy hunting industry in sub-Saharan Africa”, maintains that “to justify the continued existence of protected areas in the context of increasing demand for land, wildlife has to pay for itself and contribute to the economy, and hunting provides an important means for achieving this” (Cruise, A., 2016).
Charles Darwin once proclaimed “the love for all creatures is the most noble attribute of a person” (Jeffree, R., 2013) and though there are no records of him saying “the love for all money is the most noble attribute of a person”, it seems that people like Peter Lindsay tend to follow this line of thought instead.
An ecosystem is defined as “a system or a group of interconnected elements, formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment” (Dictionary.com, 2017). Consequently the entire world could be considered to be a large ecosystem with every single organism, including ourselves, being a part of it and playing a role that reinforces it. Lindsay’s attitude suggests taking away the focus off important social-political affairs such as appropriate and realistic land and population management policies, by taking on a mediocre approach to conservation.
Truth is that when us human beings set out with our banners to promote “saving the world”, the one and only thing we are actually setting out to promote is saving ourselves from the world. The planet will continue and it will do whatever it has to do in order to bring balance back onto its surface. That is with or without us on board. Perhaps the life forms that will evolve from the drastic changes that might come about won’t be the life forms we now of today; but life on the planet will remain.
Therefore, it is not a matter of “contributing to the economy”. No. It is a matter of dropping our inherited arrogance and coming forward with humility while recognizing that us humans, just like the lions, depend on much of the planet’s land remaining untouched and in balance. Only then will we be practicing the true meaning of conservation.
What can we do about it?
Let us begin with changing the terms we use to refer to wildlife that is being systematically hunted. A dissected carcass or a dissected piece of carcass is by a long way far from being a trophy or award. An award comes from recognizing an honorable and noble act that sheds light to those around the individual who achieved the righteous act; rather than perpetuating violence, brutality and turmoil.
It is almost absurd having to remind some people about how true respect and love comes from genuine caring, not from the caring of one’s own benefits or ego. In my opinion this is something all trophy “disgrace” hunters, plus those who blindly support them, must learn.
Another way we can generate positive impact is by supporting genuine eco-tourism. Bhutan, for instance, is an admirable and leading edge example in the field of conservation. This little country has refined a “low impact high-value” model of tourism and constructed a green-tourism industry around protected areas that does not involve trophy hunting. They have managed to maintain more than 80% of their national land covered with natural forests and more than 50% of its territory remains protected. On top of it all, this is the only country in the world that is carbon negative; as it emits about 1.5 million tons of CO2 annually while at the same time its forests absorb more than 6 million tons (Mellino, C., 2016).
Many may argue that Bhutan’s exemplary accomplishments and overall conduct are intrinsically tied to its history and culture; something that is absolutely true. However, this great nation stands as proof of the feasibility of a goal that 194 countries are yet to reach.
Furthermore, quit buying from brands that stand behind trophy “disgrace” hunting, like Under Armour.
Lastly, donate to reliable organizations and communicate your opinion on the topic to people you know; be active social media, sign petitions and even call the White House if you so desire. Hong Kong has recently announced a bill to ban ivory trade in the future after years of social and organizational pressure. Our role is to now push the U.S. government to take similar steps with regards to trophy “disgrace” hunting and stop it once and for all.
Carrington, D. “Son of Cecil the lion killed by trophy hunter” (2017) Environment: Wildlife. The Guardian, 20 July 2017. Web. 27 July 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/20/son-of-cecil-the-lion-killed-by-trophy-hunter
Cruise, A. “CAT – The effect of trophy hunting on five of Africa’s iconic wild animal populations in six countries – Analysis” (2016) Resources: Reports. Conservation Action Trust, January 2016. Web. 27 July 2017. https://conservationaction.co.za/resources/reports/effects-trophy-hunting-five-africas-iconic-wild-animal-populations-six-countries-analysis/
Davidson, N. “The Northern White Rhino Back from Extinction” (2017) Genetic Engineering. WIRED, 27 April 2017. Web. 27 July 2017. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/leibniz-institute-genetic-engineering-white-rhino
Davies, G. & Robinson, J. “Hunters who shot Xanda, the son of Cecil, ‘LIED’ about his death and knew that he was a father of cubs who will now be killed by another lion without his protection” (2017) News. Daily Mail Online, 25 July 2017. Web. 27 July 2017. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4727548/Hunters-shot-son-Cecil-Lion-lied-kill.html
Dictionary.com “Ecosystem” (2017) Dictionary: Definitions. Dictionary.com. July 2017. Web. 27 July 2017. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/ecosystem
Jeffree, R. “Bhutan’s environmental success is a pleasing paradox” (2013) Environment and Energy. The Conversation, 26 December 2013. Web. 27 July 2017. http://theconversation.com/bhutans-environmental-success-is-a-pleasing-paradox-21338
Mellino, C. “This Country Isn´t Just Carbon Neutral… It’s Carbon Negative” (2016) Climate. EcoWatch, 19 March 2016. Web. 27 July 2017. https://www.ecowatch.com/this-country-isnt-just-carbon-neutral-its-carbon-negative-1882195367.html
National Geographic “Declining Lions” (2017) News. National Geographic, July 2017. Web. 25 July 2017. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/big-cats-initiative/lion-decline-map/
The Humane Society of The United States (2016) “Trophy Hunting by the Numbers: The United States Role in Global Trophy Hunting” Humane Society International, February 2016. Web. 27 July 2017. http://www.hsi.org/assets/pdfs/report_trophy_hunting_by_the.pdf
Thornycroft, P. “Exclusive: Cecil the Lion’s Son Xanda Killed by Trophy Hunter” (2017) News. The Telegraph, 20 July 2017. Web. 27 July 2017. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/20/cecil-lions-son-xanda-killed-trophy-hunter-nearhwange-national/
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “Sport-Hunted Trophies” (2017) Permits: Application Forms. July 2017. Web. 21 July 2017. https://www.fws.gov/international/permits/by-activity/sport-hunted-trophies.html
Victor, D. “Cecil the Lion’s Son Xanda Killed by a Trophy Hunter” (2017) Africa. The New York Times, 20 July 2017. Web. 27 July 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/20/world/africa/cecil-lion-son-xanda.html
WildAid “Hong Kong announces bill to ban ivory trade” (2017) News. WildAid, 6 June 2017. Web. 27 July 2017. http://www.wildaid.org/news/hong-kong-announces-bill-ban-ivory-trade