Cecil the Lion, Trophy Hunting and How the Public is Missing the Big Picture
As many of you have probably heard by now, a Minnesota dentist, Walt Palmer, paid $55,000 to hunt and kill a lion in Zimbabwe. It wasn’t just any lion but the ‘famous’ Cecil, a tourist attraction and part of Oxford University’s research. As of this writing the two guides that assisted Palmer in his hunt are free on bail but face a potential sentence of ten years for killing (first Palmer shot him with a bow and arrow and almost two days later tracked him down and finished him off), skinning and beheading Cecil. He was a protected animal living in Hwange national park, the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe. They lured him out using a dead animal carcass tied to their car as bait. Palmer claims ignorance despite prior legal issues associated with his big game hunting hobby (coupled with the fact that he and his guides tried to destroy the GPS collar unit that Cecil was wearing).
Yes, this is awful, I wouldn’t dream of denying that to be the case - Palmer and company deserve prison time if convicted, but big game hunting is still regularly permitted and justified as reasonable due to instances of fundraising that purportedly pays for park rangers, land, etc. How does it work? Someone with time to travel and money to spend pays an exorbitant sum for a license to hunt and kill what is generally an older, less fertile male of a protected or endangered species in order to ‘allow’ the younger males to breed with females, and it’s more common than you think. A simple Google search of “hunting endangered species” will unveil a long list of articles against the practice and will make note of a black rhino that we did an article on about three months ago - his life was auctioned off for a little under half a million dollars, with proceeds set to…protect local animals.
As consumers of this information we have to develop an understanding of what exactly is going on in a part of the world we may have limited access to. For example, there’s not necessarily always a “place” to put an unruly, dominant animal that weighs over 3,000 lbs that won’t interfere with the lives of other endangered animals. There might not be an appropriate preserve, there may not be a zoo and there may not be funds to do anything at all. This doesn’t make auctions like this the solution simply because they raise funds for the community and therefore, the animals. Not just because that aspect of it may be positive, but because those benefits aren’t entirely accurate. Rather than citing quotes out of context, here’s the summary from The $200 million question compiled and released by Economists at Large in 2013. The study is centered around big game hunting, lion hunting in particular, and dives into how the funds acquired from these hunts aren’t nearly as lucrative for the local community compared to the tourism generated by the animals themselves (in their respective preserves):
Advocates for the African trophy hunting industry invariably claim that hunting revenues provide benefits to rural communities. Responding to calls to list African lions on the US Endangered Species Act, Safari Club International officials stated:
“Hunters and hunting actually benefit Africa’s lions — as well as its humans. Revenues from hunting generate $200 million annually in remote rural areas of Africa.” (Rudolph and Hosmer 2011)
Analysis of literature on the economics of trophy hunting reveals, however, that communities in the areas where hunting occurs derive very little benefit from this revenue.
How much revenue reaches communities?
“We‘re more closely allied with the photographic operators than the hunters. They are finishing off the wildlife before we‘ve had a chance to realize a profit from it. Hunters don‘t recognize us; they only recognize the government …25 percent of hunting fees goes into the ‘hole’ at the district. We‘re supposed to get 5 percent: we don‘t even see that.” (Sachedina 2008, p152)
Research published by the pro-hunting International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, supported by other authors, finds that hunting companies contribute only 3% of their revenue to communities living in hunting areas. The vast majority of their expenditure does not accrue to local people and businesses, but to firms, government agencies and individuals located internationally or in national capitals. As the quote above demonstrates, expenditure accruing to government agencies rarely reaches local communities due to corruption and other spending requirements.
How important is the trophy hunting industry?
Trophy hunting advocates present the industry as large, citing figures such as $200m in annual revenue. But in the context of national economies, the industry is tiny, contributing at best a fraction of a percent of GDP. Nature based tourism does play a significant role in national development, but trophy hunting is insignificant. Across the investigated countries, trophy hunting revenue was only 1.8% of tourism revenues.
Where does the $200m estimate come from?
Rudolph and Hosmer (2011)’s $200m figure is based on Lindsey, Roulet and Romanach (2006), a study based on weak sources and methodology. $100m of this estimate is based on an unpublished study by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa. Estimates of expenditure in several other countries are based on personal communication with safari companies and other unverifiable sources. The $200m estimate should be used with caution.
Would a listing of lions on the US ESA impact communities or the African economy?
A study by hunting advocates, Lindsey et al (2012), has suggested that reduced lion hunting would have minimal impact on the financial viability of trophy hunting. Even this study has been found to overstate the significance of lions to the industry. The industry is primarily driven by hunting of buffalo and plains game such as antelope.
It’s safe to say that the public is outraged, Palmer’s Twitter and his business’s Yelp are overflowing with negative feedback and he’s received so much media attention he’s temporarily closed his practice and gone into hiding. Even Jimmy Kimmel took five minutes out of his show to talk about this and shed a few tears and I’m glad that so many people are upset about senseless animal slaughter. That said, we’re upset about an apex predator with a cuddly-looking mane that was taken out by another apex predator - while each year “over 56 billion farmed animals are killed every year by humans. More than 3,000 animals die every second in slaughterhouses around the world…figures do not even include fish and other sea creatures whose deaths are so great they are only measured in tonnes.” (AnimalEquality.net)
This leads me to what will make for a bit of a stretch in segueing from topic to topic, but I’d like to talk about Engadget’s Monday news, how Google tried to buy Impossible Foods, the maker of an all-plant burger that claims to be as close as it gets to being indistinguishable from the real thing (one step short of growing artificial meat), for “between $200 million to $300 million.” While top news is still covering Cecil’s death and Palmer’s legal troubles, little attention is being paid to alternatives to the worldwide dependence on meat. I’m bringing this up for three reasons:
Excitement. The prospect of a veggie burger that actually tastes like a real burger due to personal tastes and its nature as an omnivore-friendly alternative that people might actually make waves is awesome.
This story was barely covered by major news outlets. It didn’t get nearly as much attention as I would have expected, especially given Google’s interest.
About 1/4th of the comments on this story were negative from the Engadget post alone.
While internet commentary of adamant omnivore’s and upset vegetarians/vegans may not be the best place to tally up how a product will or won’t do, I can’t help but find myself disturbed by the rift in public perception of the death of a lion compared to the deaths of billions of animals at the hands of humans on an annual basis. All the while there’s another link in the chain of potential solutions that could significantly affect and reduce those latter numbers in the form of a meat alternative…and it’s getting minimal attention! Despite all the negative press that the agriculture industry receives on a regular basis ranging from a lack of humane treatment, the absurd resource requirements (water & land) and shady marketing tactics that have caused most consumers to adopt a business-as-usual attitude (‘*sigh* that’s just the way it is’) these creatures are still regularly excluded from sympathy and the embrace of life-saving alternatives. How can we possibly justify billions of deaths with a minimal amount of public outrage (and even less accompanying change) while we shout and shake our fists over this? Viable meat alternatives that sway the general public via reasonable accessibility and convenience are essential to our success.
This protected/endangered species big game hunting business needs to end and I’m filled with sadness over the death of Cecil (I myself volunteered at the Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary that housed many big cats including the beautiful and friendly lioness, Gypsy), but I believe a lot of the outraged have failed to see the hypocrisy innate in their frustration as they continue to consume animal products out of habit and convenience.
To conclude, here’s a video from last year featuring Cecil, with a foreboding summary:
For the hunters who feel killing “older” lions is acceptable, this “old guy” [Cecil] reconquered his territory by teaming up with another “older” male. Cecil and Jericho are two mature males who are rocking’ Somalisa private concession in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Considering the numbers of cats in Africa now versus 50 years ago, the world should truly question the decline and analyze “Where’s the MONEY”? TOURISM dollars more than double…HUNTING dollars… and do we really want these beautiful creatures to become endangered or worse…extinct?!? #savethecats