The (Lion) King is Dead. Now what?
August 21, 2015
From pride to hide
His name was Cecil. He was a 13-year old black-maned Southwest African lion (Panthera leo bleyenberghi), the star of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. On July 1, 2015, he was lured outside the park which granted him safe harbour and got killed. For what purpose? Some call it trophy hunting or hunting for sports, I consider either definitions as oxymorons. A trophy is something you gain from a victory. What victory is there in a fight that is one-sided? As for sports, does the notion of athletic endeavour apply to the muscles used to pull a trigger? The jury is still out on that one.
Warning: Media storm
Cecil’s death triggered a social media storm, a world-wide outrage, a global uproar.
Zimbabwe even banned all hunting. Woo-hoo !
Let’s not cry victory too soon. The ban was lifted a week after. Go home people, Cecil died in vain.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. The “art” of collecting beheaded animals is apparently still alive and kicking (well, sadly only for the hunters).
A whole chain of trophy industry has been in existence for a long time; from luring the preys in impoverished countries or international waters, to the transport of their stuffed carcass by major airline carriers back to first-world lands and beyond. Greed knows no bounds. It’s a fact, poaching happens everyday, on all species across the planet.
In the air
According to Birdlife, 25 millions of migratory birds are killed in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea every year. These are not accidental deaths. These birds are deliberately trapped or shot. My guess is that you had no idea about this. Apart from the emblematic eagle or colourful exotic macaws, birds are just birds.
In the sea
While most people have heard that the fishing industry is catching more than the sea can sustain, few people could envision that the ocean is a poaching ground. Oh but it is. You see, along with teeth and fins, the jaw of a large great white shark brings in its share of cash. The bloody cetacean hunt in the Faroe Islands, Denmark makes people wail. But too few people care about sharks.
Off the cuff, if you were asked to list off terrestrial animals you know are victims of poaching you’d say that’s easy: Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Orangutans, Tigers and Leopards. Yes, all correct. Those animals have all made big news about their endangered status. Have you heard of Pangolins, Lemurs or Hirolas? Maybe, maybe not. Yet, they are being illegally hunted too.
Regal, Iconic, Charismatic or even Cute
As I mentioned in my 2012 TEDx talk in Singapore, we have the propensity to anthropomorphize animals. For instance, we will categorize animals in the category going from “oh, so cute” to “oh, damn ugly”. It may help conservation groups gain more traction from the public for protecting certain species (have you seen them Lemurs?) but it won’t help achieve anything in a campaign to protect sharks.
We have to grow out of this need to project emotions and feelings onto the natural world. That does not mean we can’t be moved by the sheer experience of nature around us. Let’s just keep in mind that there is nothing particularly more regal in a lion compared to, let’s say, a tapir. The lion is just a predator in an ecosystem with a role to play. So is the tapir.
Cecil was described as majestic and charismatic and that is why there was such a storm in the media. The fact is, all species need defence against the worse predator of them all: humans.
Indeed, humans are the only predators in the world which impact so many ecosystems at once. It’s unfortunately nothing new, but it’s certainly what will be killing us off as a species.
“It” versus “Thou”
In the Power of Myth Joseph Campbell makes a reference to the buffalo killings perpetrated by white men in the 1880s in the United States:
Joseph Campbell: That was a sacramental violation. (…) When I was a boy, whenever we went for sleigh rides we had a buffalo robe. Buffalo, buffalo, buffalo robes all over the place. This was the sacred animal to the (native) Indians. These hunters go out with repeating rifles, and then shoot down the whole herd and leave it there. Take the skin to sell and the body’s left to rot. This is a sacrilege, and it really is a sacrilege.
Bill Moyers: It turned the buffalo from a “thou”.
Joseph Campbell: To an “it”.
Bill Moyers: The Indians addressed the buffalo as “thou”.
Joseph Campbell: As a “thou”.
Bill Moyers: As an object of reverence.
Joseph Campbell: The Indians addressed life as a “thou”, I mean, trees and stones, everything else. You can address anything as a “thou”, and you can feel the change in your psychology as you do it. The ego that sees a “thou” is not the same ego that sees an “it”. Your whole psychology changes when you address things as an “it”.