At least Walter Mitty didn’t harm anyone in his fantasies of a heroic life. The same can’t be said for Walter Palmer, a nonentity who imagined that killing animals larger than himself gave some heroic quality to his utterly mediocre life cleaning people’s teeth.
Political theorist Hannah Arendt spoke of “the banality of evil”, applying this to men like Adolph Eichmann who managed the Nazi holocaust. Evil, she argued, is not generally the province of overt monsters; it’s more usually practiced by unexceptional little men like Walter Palmer.
Unlike Cecil the Lion, who had nowhere to hide, Palmer couldn’t even face the cameras when people with cameras, rather than guns and bows and arrows, went hunting for him. As of this writing, he’s still in hiding.
His defense: “I thought it was legal.” Well, yes, lots of things are legal. Laws are written by people who vote for their behavior to be made legal. Genocides and massacres can be made legal. Factory farming is legal (but taking photos of it is illegal in several states). The Taiji dolphin hunts are legal (and interrupting a dolphin hunt is illegal). Legal just means enough bad people voted for it; it doesn’t stop it from being murder.
(Incidentally, in 2008, Palmer pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to lying to a federal agent regarding the hunting of a black bear. Instead of the maximum penalty of five years in prison, Palmer got a year’s probation and a fine of nearly $3,000.)
Palmer has lots of company in Congress, where being a member of prestigious groups like Safari Club International makes you part of a global old-boy network of 50,000 members that includes corporate CEOs, famous generals, and politicians like Rep. Paul Ryan (Mitt Romney’s running mate), who, like Palmer, prefers killing animals with hi-tech bows and arrows.
Cecil actually survived Palmer’s initial bow-and-arrow attack. He wandered around in agony for almost two days before the dentist’s goon squad hunted him down again, killed him and beheaded him. (Shades of ISIS goons, who also operate “legally” according to their code.)
According to Safari Club International, Palmer has 43 kills listed with them so far, including lions and elephants in Africa, and polar bears and black bears in America.
Sticking it to Cecil didn’t kill just one lion; Palmer will probably be able to add a dozen more to his list of triumphs. That’s because Cecil had 12 cubs, all of whom are in serious peril since they have no father to protect them from other lions.
“The next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told The Guardian. There are no sanctuaries that can take these cubs in, and local charities have meager resources that can’t stretch to taking care of orphaned lion cubs. Rodrigues said it’s more than likely that the cubs are already dead, in fact, since Cecil was actually murdered a month ago.
Speaking of charities, hunting groups like to tell us that what they’re really doing is conservation – i.e. saving endangered animals by killing them. That’s because a portion of the big bucks you pay to bag your prey (Palmer paid close to $50,000 to kill Cecil) goes to support conservation efforts. Perhaps these “conservation” groups could explain to us how come their efforts have led to the decline of the lion population in Africa from 80,000 in 1980 to fewer than 25,000 today.
Much has been said already about the fact that the only reason most people are appalled by what Palmer did is because the lion had a name and was well-known. According to Ernest Small, Ph.D., who specializes in biodiversity for the government of Canada, “most humans are … not just ignorant of but indifferent to almost all of the species on the planet.” Worse, we’re actually biophobic, meaning humans are “slightly to extremely negative towards the majority of species they encounter.” In some ways, then, most of us related to Cecil a bit like we relate to big, cuddly dogs.
Meanwhile, about 600 lions are still being murdered each year. And with only 25,000 still alive in the wild, the International Union for Conservation of Nature calls the situation completely unsustainable. The IUCN also says that tourist hunters kill around 105,000 animals overall each year. Here are some of the numbers. (Note that rhinos are only getting hunted less because there are virtually no more left to hunt.)
The murder of Cecil may end up doing something to slow down the continuing massacre, but, honestly, that’s unlikely. Folks like Jimmy Kimmel can get all emotional on TV about it for a few minutes and encourage their viewers to donate to real conservation programs before getting back to the comedy. But Kimmel and his parent network do business with all the big-name chain restaurants, fast-food joints and other meat companies that kill sentient creatures by the millions every year.
The fact is, compared to your typical egg-laying chicken and dairy cow (both at least as cognitively complex as a lion), Cecil had a better life, and even death, than they can ever expect.
Still, maybe a few more of the Walter Palmers, CEOs, royal princes, generals, politicians, and other impotent males will scare themselves back into the closet for a little while. It’s a small thing, but at least they can get a very mild dose of what it’s like to be hunted.