Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cecil the Lion controversy

Man, this thing exploded. If you've seen any news outlet of any kind in the last few days, you've probably heard about a dentist killing a lion that was part of a national park and was collared for research. The outrage over this has been extreme, but I believe it is misplaced.

I confess I don't have all the details, but I figure since I know more than the average person about how African safaris go, I'd like to weigh in. For my two cents, I believe this was an accident. Why? Well, first off, nothing about this seems like a despicable plot to me. He paid for his tags, licences and was under the supervision of a professional guide hunter, who work in tandem with the government in control. Now, he paid 50,000 dollars for that tag. That's a huge price-tag that goes to preserving other lions, because anyone who knows how to work money knows that's a smart move, so the local government is pretty protective of their cats. Each animal represents a huge amount of money, and reasonably, the officials work to protect them.

You can't go around blasting indiscriminately. See, that professional hunter that you work with will have his arse carved up if that happens. He could lose his entire career or end up in prison. It's one of the toughest jobs I've ever heard of, so they usually don't get such a job unless they know their stuff to some degree. I somehow doubt that the professional hunter would have knowingly let his client bash a protected animal like that. I've heard of far lesser infractions resulting in careers almost being single-handedly obliterated. 

No, seriously. Every shikar I've heard of, you wait until the pro tells you to twang the bow or pull the trigger. It's his job to pick these things out. Now maybe, maybe this dentist ponied up enough money to convince his pro to risk his entire job to bash a well known and GPS-marked lion on foreign soil, but I am skeptical of this.

Some people claim that he deliberately used bait to lure Cecil off of the protected reserve. I don't think so. Why? Because he wasn't the only lion around, and bait can attract all sorts of stuff. Bait hunting is interesting. You can try being selective on what you can attract, but in the end you never really know what will show up. The theory of this plan being to lure Cecil out doesn't explain how it excluded the other lions on the reserve, lions off of the reserve, jackals, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs from showing up. Also, I'm willing to bet money bait hunting isn't illegal. So no foul play there.

Also, why would this guy risk his very freedom by killing an animal like this while in another country? I don't know. Seems pretty fishy to me. 

I've heard that the animal was also skinned, and this is somehow an indictment. Maybe. It might also be the case that the pro hunter had his skinner boys just do their job so the corpse wouldn't spoil and he'd have the pelt to turn over to the authorities. Have you ever tried transporting the body of a three hundred pound lion in the African bush? (That's a low end estimate too by the way)
Much easier to just get the important bits, let the other boys take what bits they want and save yourself a few hours of hauling smelly meat around. If the dentist has the pelt, then that's way more suspicious. But every time I hear about this kind of stuff, people fly off the handle and make snap judgments. Like wow. 

I guess what makes me sad is that in the grand scheme of things, this really isn't a big deal. Nigeria has way bigger issues than a single lion getting killed. From what I've read two thirds of their population is unemployed and they are having electricity shortages. Not fun. This is just me, but I believe we should focus more on helping the people trying to not starve in a remote country rather than channel rage at a single guy for what really seems like an accident to me. 

I admit, it's entirely possible that he is guilty. I don't have all the facts. I just don't like people jumping to conclusions however. I'm amazed at how intensely some people hate this man. Folks, take a breath and calm down. It's not the end of the world. There are many more lions to be had. It's sad, yes, but there are bigger issues at stake. The people that live there are actually baffled as to why Americans are freaking out the way they are. Why are these white people so concerned about a single lion when their people are trying to not starve?

This dentist isn't a poacher. He followed all the laws up until what looks for all the world like a case of mistaken identity. Again, if he shot, it's almost certainly because his pro guide gave him the okay, in which case he's at fault. 

Now, if he did somehow deliberately seek out this particular lion, then he definitely needs to meet punishment. But for crap's sake, he doesn't deserve to get nailed to a cross people. Just relax. I didn't see this much hate for the terrorists that shot up Paris a few months back.
And no, trophy hunters are NOT cowards. This guy was hunting with a frigging bow. A wounded lion can cover fifty yards in about six seconds and can carry an amazing amount of lead in their bodies before quitting. I still get reports of people getting greased by lions. These are huge, powerful predators that actually carry more advantages than the hunter. I see this attitude a lot from those who have never actually done research on it, but trophy hunting is still one of the hardest and most dangerous sports out there. So please, don't go knocking on all hunters everywhere for the infraction of one.

I apologize if this post is a bit hectic, but it's 1 A.M. and I should be in bed. I hope that some of the information I've provided has been of use.

I just had to look at the news again, didn't I? Apparently people are now trying to list the African lion as an endangered species and make it much harder for it to be hunted. This isn't going to help lions folks. I've described this before, but I'll do so again to carefully illustrate why placing an animal like this on the Endangered Species list will not help.

Many countries in Africa, like the rest of the world, has economic issues. Remember that 50,000 dollar tag mentioned earlier? For ONE lion they can get 50K American dollars, which is a monumental chunk of cash. To the people in charge, suddenly every lion represents a major source of income. This is a resource that must be maintained and protected. So a chunk of that 50K goes to paying game wardens and rangers to scout the bush looking for poachers who want to make a quick buck busting lions. At 50K a pop, you can bet that this is ample incentive for the folks in charge to slap any poacher with a nice juicy trip to the iron bar hotel.

There are exceptions to this, as there are plenty of corrupt officials, but even so this simple economic figure provides a huge protection barrier. Also, that's not counting what the paying hunters have to pay for the camp he's staying at, which provides dozens of honest jobs for local Africans.

But surely making it illegal to hunt lions, or making it difficult to import trophies of hunted ones, will provide even greater protection, right? Well, no. Not at all. Take that price tag away and what motivation does the government have to protect the lions? Remember, these are predators that tear up livestock from local farmers and occasionally munch on people. I've heard of tourists getting the chop. Not often, but it happens.
With that price tag removed, the people in charge will wonder why these white people from across the ocean care so much and are screwing with their business, and not bother spending tends of thousands of dollars protecting an animal that is now a liability. Nah, better to utilize that lion habitat for farm land so our people can eat.

See, without that economic incentive, the people in charge have literally zero reason to protect it, pressure or not. They care more about building up their infrastructure than making a bunch of white people in America feel better.

Poachers on the other hand will have a field day. Without anyone with guns spooking around the bush, they can bag lions all they want and sell the parts to Chinese medicine makers. The local farmers? They've got huge predators trying to eat their way of living. Safer to shoot any lion they see than obey that silly law.

This has happened time after time. Wanna know why jaguars are so rare? Gauchos are sick of these big cats eating their cows, and law or not, go out of their way to trap, shoot or poison every one of them they can. The feds don't care. White rhino? Somehow that protection didn't help too much, notice that?

The lion isn't in as bad a spot as most people think. Remember, these are LIONS. Somehow I don't think that they are on the very verge of extinction. They have one of the most wide and fruitful continents to range around on. They aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Update Mark II
Well, I came across an article featuring words from a very knowledgeable person on Africa, lions and living around them. A fantastic man of learning who actually grew up in Zimbabwe, and he thinks this whole Cecil controversy is insane. He lived around them, and he knew people that died around them. He didn't think the lion dying was a bad thing at all. Huh, how fascinating. It's almost like a bunch of pasty white Americans who have never actually learned or been around wildlife might not know what they're like...
Take a look:

Just like I supposed, the local people there are a wee bit more concerned with having food on their plates and jobs under their belts than a single lion dying. And as it turns out, they like having American hunters around. It gives them money for a crippled economy and the meat from the animals feeds the people.
I do find it curious how most Americans here are more concerned with the death of this one lion and not concerned with people dying of malaria over there. A man legally kills a lion? They want him dead. Lions kill impoverished Africans? Meh, who cares. More of 'em, right?
Sure enough, the Africans over there are baffled as to why people are more concerned with a dead lion than a dead African, almost like some people value animals more than people. Fancy that.

This is why I get really irked with animal rights groups. The extremists like ALF put the life of animals on par or even above that of people. Sorry Africa, don't expect a whole lot of sympathy from the suburbanites here. They're too busy rooting out racism in movies to care about you getting chewed on by cuddly lions.
By the way, lions still totally do that. They are meat eaters after all, and if one gets hungry enough, he'll eat whatever is available, including a person. This just isn't advertised very much. Not too good for tourism.
So good job people! All that hard work liking hate ads on Facebook for the extradition of the hunter or his death are helping wonderfully to do absolutely nothing. >:(

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