The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated. – Mahatma Gandhi
The thrill of the hunt was and still is the blood sport of kings, the aristocracy, the fat cats and those who can occasionally spring for it.
Karen Blixon from the movie Out of Africa was of the old ‘glory days,’ when the vast plains teemed with so much wildlife that any animal, reptile or bird was considered fair game. In her letter of 1914, she writes: “I have just spent four weeks in the happy hunting grounds and have emerged from the depths of the great wide open spaces, from the life of prehistoric times, today just as it was a thousand years ago, from meeting with the great beasts of prey, which enthrall one, which obsess one so that one feels that lions are all that one lives for. I shot 44 head of game – 20 different kinds – deer, zebra, leopard, wildebeest, eland, dik-dik, marabou, jackal, wild boar, one lion, one leopard and a number of large birds.”
It was a killing free-for-all, with no boundaries, conservation, legal repercussions or public protest to worry about, but times have changed.
Fast-forward to the recent news of an American dentist who had just ‘bagged’ a well-known and photographed lion named Cecil. That trophy-worthy old soul not only was lured from the safety of the game reserve and shot, but also suffered for 40 hours after the guy’s arrow failed to make a ‘clean kill.’ Then, once the dispatching was done and photo opts over, his noble head was severed and shipped home for his man cave. Judging by his media profile, he clearly took pride in his hunting prowess – just as Karen did back then – except now this modern-day ‘mzungu’ has royally shot himself in the proverbial foot, and he was swiftly made to stand trial in front of the legal, social and talk show firing squad. Yep – his was a bit of a big game hunter blunder, but don’t come crying to me!
The worldwide uproar over Cecil’s slaying has once again ignited a public debate about trophy hunting and the psychoanalyzing by behaviorists peering into the ‘belly of the beast,’ but perhaps Cecil might’ve had a pretty good scope on things regarding our actions and attitudes towards animals, and I wonder what his thoughts were (if we could have asked), as he stared at that camera – at us – before he drew his last breath? I think Cecil might’ve said that some of our species have come a long way since the caveman days, but we’ve sure got a long ways to go yet.
He’d probably ask us some pretty pointed questions too, such as why are we still pussyfooting around the fact the earth’s ecosystems are collapsing at an alarming rate – along with a mass extinction event – and why aren’t we doing more to stop it? Why do you turn a blind eye to those who treat animals as though they’re dumb beasts devoid of emotions or feelings of pain, deprive them of basic needs and comforts, force them to exist in tiny, crowded cages and enclosures and transport and slaughter them in inhumane conditions, when you know they are all sentient beings? When will you stop using animals for conflicts, cruel sporting events, zoos, heavy burdens, experiments and sex? Why do you still allow useless culling and the killing for aphrodisiacs, ivory, rituals, religious purposes, rugs, trophy heads, ashtrays and whatever else you think you need and want? Why do you continue to encroach upon what little space we have left to survive and why do you still pollute and poison the air, water and soil when we all depend on it to live – including you?
Cecil might feel that his death would not be wasted if it triggers a massive shift in consciousness and a recalibration of our mentality around how we care and share our lives with animals, and that changing our human nature is going to be a long shot, but it’s still within range.