Need To Know
People all over the world have risen up to condemn a single man. The internet is going ballistic.
It's not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose crackdown against peaceful protesters led to a civil war that has so far claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of others. It's not the leader of the Islamic State either, a terror group that makes Al Qaeda look tame. In fact, it's not any of the usual suspects.
It's an American dentist and father of two from Bloomington, Minnesota. Walter Palmer is his name. So what did he do? He allegedly paid tens of thousands of dollars to a company that helped him lure a beloved — and protected — lion beyond the confines of a national park in Zimbabwe so he could legally hunt and kill it. He shot it with a bow and arrow. The lion, nicknamed Cecil by locals, reportedly died some 40 hours later.
Palmer is a big game hunter. Killing record-breakingly large animals for sport is his passion in life. The New York Times even did a story about him in 2009. So, proudly, Palmer posed with the lion's corpse and shared the photo on his social media. In a single day, the photo was shared thousands upon thousands of times across the world, and not for the reasons Palmer had hoped.
Justified or not, the public shaming has been intense. Every detail of this man's life has been laid bare: his wife's name, his business, his kids, his home. Everything. He must be feeling stalked, hunted even. But while it will be hard to generate much sympathy for Palmer, the blame can easily be shared around.
Illegal hunting and poaching is a massive problem throughout Africa. Animals listed as vulnerable and endangered, such as the lion, require strong protection to ensure they aren't slaughtered into extinction. And governments — in this case the Zimbabwean government — are often not doing enough to protect these animals. Palmer paid professional guides to help him track the lion. And while some argue that such money can go a long way toward helping to protect wildlife in general, it can also tempt unscrupulous guides and officials into allowing terrible things to happen.
Palmer, for his part, says he regrets killing the lion. He said he relied on his guides to make sure the hunt was above-board. Those guides are due in a Zimbabwean court today. Palmer's dental practice is at the moment closed. The internet has spoken.
Want To Know
Wealthy suburban dentists aren't the only threat to the world's already endangered wildlife. Drug traffickers in Central America are also proving to be a major problem. One of the animals most at risk these days is another big cat — the jaguar.
While drug traffickers aren't collecting the heads of hunted jaguars for sport (that we know of, at least), they are taking over huge tracts of protected land that was once jaguar territory. Cartels need the remote land to both build airstrips and ranches to raise cattle, a popular way for drug dealers to launder their money. As a result of all this lost habitat — in some cases they have gutted primary rainforest — the jaguar is losing its home.
Ultimately, this destruction of protected forest is “a narco-enabled land takeover by very well-capitalized investors,” one expert told GlobalPost. “Pension funds and hedge funds and everybody else want to invest in flex-crop markets and global land markets and REITs [real estate investment trusts].”
Even conservationists themselves are under threat. One forest ranger, who had recently reported to authorities that illegal logging was taking place, was professionally gunned down in the middle of the afternoon by two men on a motorcycle. As a result of this danger, many forest rangers have been taken out of the field and placed at a desk. And that, too, is bad news for the jaguar.
Strange But True
While a lot of humans have gone mad with rage over the killing of Cecil the Lion, activism for most of them probably will not extend beyond a poorly-worded comment on the dentist's Facebook page. Fortunately, though, there are many small groups of dedicated individuals around the world who are actively trying to save big cats and other animals from extinction. Let's pour some out for them.
For example, the Iberian lynx is close to being the first species of cat to disappear in more than 2,000 years. But in a high-security compound, hidden deep in the hills above a medieval town in southern Portugal, a dedicated band of humans is helping the lynx make a comeback. And it's working.
Then there are also the various groups and individuals who have campaigned against the abuse of circus animals around the world. As a result, Mexico just became the 29th country to ban the use of exotic animals at circuses. Tigers, elephants, zebras, lions and other animals performing in Mexico's circuses are all being freed. In the US, if you are wondering, only 22 states have passed similar laws.