We must change our perspective on animal welfare

Ill-famed trophy hunter Walter Palmer will not be facing charges for the hunting and killing of cherished Zimbabwean lion Cecil. The reason for his acquittal, as Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri defended, was that all his hunting permits were legally obtained.

The paradox that is legal hunting continues to be practiced. While hunters try and legitimize their actions by distinguishing it from poaching, it still entails the pursuing and killing of wild animals in cold blood. The outcome of Cecil’s death raises two topics of discussion. The first concerns the nature of human empathy and the extent to which it relies on tragic events to catalyze reform. The second concerns a lack of urgency on behalf of authoritative bodies responsible for protecting animal welfare.

Many argue that human diversity is both a blessing and a curse. Because we are diverse, we conceptualize morality differently. Walter Palmer exemplifies this fact considering the only ounce of guilt he expressed towards the death of Cecil was due to the fact that he was so famous. Palmer went as far as paying $55,000 for his hunt of Cecil, and boasts his list of 43 kills, which include bears, leopards and rhinos. Sociologist Amy Fitzgerald contends that hunters like Palmer are driven by a need to demonstrate power and prestige.

If anything positive came out of the tragic death of Cecil, it is an acknowledgment of the need for greater legal reform concerning the protection of animal welfare, particularly in the realm of international law. If crimes against nature were treated with the same urgency as crimes against humanity, then the drastic decrease in species populations would not be as appalling as they are today. The fact of the matter is that people fail to recognize the pending effects of this leisurely approach to animal conservation and environmental protection. Indeed mass extinctions have always been part of a natural geological cycle, but studies from Stanford biologists show that we are currently experiencing the first mass extinction primarily caused by humans.

Perhaps things would be different if we did not rely on tragic events to trigger public pressure that prompts substantial reform. Why does it take images of a washed up baby on a beach or a young girl fleeing napalm attacks or the death of a treasured lion to make the determinative difference? Human empathy can be so powerful, it just needs to be channeled sooner than later.

The exposure surrounding the death of Cecil the lion also brought greater attention to a number of questionable enterprises such as Safari Club International where Palmer was a member. This is an international organization comprising of more than 50 000 members who protect the right to hunt. It functions on a ranking system that rewards hunters with trophies based on the value of the animals they hunt and kill. Ranked at the top of this list are Africa’s ‘big 5’, some of which are critically endangered. A spokesman of the club Dick Stein argues that the benefits of trophy hunting outweigh the disadvantages if they are carried out in the right conditions. Other justifications also include animal conservation and outdoor education.

Surely there are other ways to ensure conservation and education without harming any wildlife. I admire human ingenuity and I do not doubt that it can be applied to generate creative solutions that cater to those who so desperately need the gratification they gain from hunting without actually harming any wildlife. Ultimately, it remains a concern of urgency on an international level if they are ever to gather adequate resources and awareness to transform current perspectives on animal welfare.

Image Credit: Derek Keats

 

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