The ongoing uproar about the death of Cecil, the sleepy-looking lion in Zimbabwe who was killed by a crossbow-wielding Minnesota dentist, is one of those stories where the competing viewpoints simply don’t understand each other.
Supporters of big-game hunting depict it as a noble sport with a long history — one that has attracted the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway and that, they say, can serve animal conservation efforts and support the economies of impoverished African nations. Opponents of big-game hunting recoil at the idea of humans hunting and killing innocent creatures not to survive or feed their families, but solely for their own pleasure.
I’m in the latter camp — and the death of poor Cecil, who was lured away from the safety of a sanctuary by an intentionally placed animal carcass, then shot with a bow, tracked for hours, killed with a gun, skinned, and beheaded, triggers every anti-hunting sentiment in my being. It’s hard for me to see how anyone could portray that kind of scenario as a noble sport, much less fair, or just, or humane. I see it as simply slaughter designed to make a wealthy guy feel like even more of a macho big shot and allow him to hang stuffed trophies of his wall, where they no doubt creep out many of the people who see them. (When our family first moved to Columbus 45 years ago, we bought our house from a guy who had big-game trophy heads on the walls of the basement. I thought their marble-eyed likenesses were sad and disturbing and disgusting then, and I still have the same reaction now.)
Then there are those who view the outcry about the death of Cecil as an overreaction. It’s only one animal, they say, and not as important as other issues of the day. I’m not defending the internet death threats against the Minnesota dentist — although I sure wouldn’t want to have my teeth examined by somebody who has no problems with killing an innocent creature and then grinning for a photo op with its dead body — but I can understand why this one incident has captured worldwide attention.
So many of the issues of the day are so vast and complicated that they seem far beyond our full comprehension, much less our ability to solve. Big-game hunting is different because it is simpler. Should wealthy people using high-tech weaponry be able to lure and kill lions, and elephants, and other beautiful animals? It’s not a hard issue to grasp, and it’s one where we feel that maybe, just maybe, we can do something about it. Already the killing of Cecil seems to be moving the needle on international views about big-game hunting. If it produces a ban on big-game hunting, or at least more rigorous controls, then perhaps there might be something noble about Cecil’s death after all.