Editor’s Note: Wayne Pacelle is the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The world is outraged that Cecil, the beloved and iconic male African lion, was hunted down by an American
Wayne Pacelle: We fully condemn trophy hunting and the senseless headhunting of animals for self-gratification
This week, the world has expressed outrage at the story of Cecil, the beloved and iconic male African lion, who was lured out of the protected confines of a national park in Zimbabwe so that a Minnesota dentist, Walter Palmer, could slaughter and mutilate him.
The outrage is justified. This hunt was, in practical terms, a “guaranteed kill” arrangement. Cecil’s tragic story comes all too soon after another pay-to-play hunt that made headlines. Earlier this year, a Texas man also sparked indignation when he paid $350,000 to shoot a highly endangered black rhino.
These incidents have put a spotlight on the ugly and often highly transactional world of international trophy hunting – where wealthy elites spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on globetrotting to slaughter some of the world’s rarest animals.
The United States is the world’s largest importer of African lion parts for hunting trophies and commercial purposes. Between 1999 and 2013, the United States imported the trophies of about 5,763 wild lions or 411 per year.
Worse, this number has increased in recent years. And while American hunters clamor for lion trophies, the number of African lions has declined by almost 50% in the past three decades – as few as 23,000 exist in strongholds today.
American trophy hunters often go to countries where the rules are lax or the wildlife authorities are easily corrupted – and willing to sell off wildlife to the highest bidders. Walter Palmer chose Zimbabwe, where the dictator Robert Mugabe has been selling off hunting rights and pillaging other natural resources as cash-generating enterprise.
This is not a new gimmick for the Zimbabwean government to profit from imperiled wildlife. Just last month, Zimbabwe sold 24 baby elephants to a Chinese zoo conglomerate.
Palmer paid about $50,000 to hire professional guides to help him with his hunt. In the dark of night, hitching a dead carcass to the back of their car, they lured the famed, black-maned lion from a protected area. Palmer then stuck Cecil with an arrow.
Even though he’s used that weapon to kill countless other rare animals, Palmer didn’t deliver a killing shot. He only wounded Cecil, and it took Palmer and his guides nearly two days to find the injured animal, where they used a firearm to finally deliver the fatal blow.
The killers then removed the radio collar nestled around his neck – because Cecil was also the object of a study by Oxford researchers – and reportedly tried to unsuccessfully disable the signal from the collar. After taking the customary pictures of a beaming killer standing atop his slaughtered “trophy,” they decapitated and skinned Cecil, leaving the rest of his body behind.
In response to international fury over Cecil’s death, Palmer has issued a statement apologizing for killing a popular lion, but considering the menagerie of animals he’s slaughtered in the past, his words are hollow. He’s sorry he got caught.
Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel weighed in on Palmer’s cowardly actions on his show, telling Palmer to “…stop saying you ‘took’ the animal. You take aspirin; you killed the lion.”
Other lion trophies come from “canned hunt facilities” – where thousands of semitame lions are bred for the bullet and shot within fenced enclosures they cannot escape. Zimbabwe’s canned hunt industry follows the bad example of its neighbor, South Africa, where thousands of animals are held in these canned hunting operations.
Many of these lions were born and raised around humans for participation in “cub-petting” experiences – where well-meaning tourists are lured in by the experience to take photos with an adorable cub, and they have no clue about the sinister fate that awaits those animals. Because they’ve spent their entire lives around people, they can never be released into the wild. When they’ve outgrown their value, grown cubs are sold to be shot as easy targets.
Wild lions have significant roles to play in the ecosystem and are a huge draw for tourists, but the animals bred and raised for canned hunts have no conservation value. The documentary, “Blood Lions,” aims to pull back the curtain on this shameful industry.
We fully condemn trophy hunting and the senseless headhunting of animals for self-gratification. Along with a coalition of other organizations, we have filed a petition four years ago to protect lions under the terms of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to list the lions as threatened, but has yet to finalize the listing.
The killing of African elephants, rhinos, lions and other imperiled and majestic creatures must end. A good first step is for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a final rule to provide federal protections for African lions.
And we must publicly shame the people who feed their egos and fill their dens with the blank stares of dead animals. Lions like Cecil deserve life – not an appalling death.