In the last week there has been an incredible global reaction to the commercial hunting and death of Cecil the Lion, Zimbabwe’s most famous lion. It has been astounding how one animal’s death has caused such a media frenzy. With regards to the hunting of Africa’s enigmatic mammals, there has been a steady rise in the numbers of elephants, rhino’s and other large mammals poached and commercially hunted each year for the past couple of decades.
The numbers are truly frightening and eye-opening when you read them and think about the impact. Some estimates place the number of elephants killed in Africa at 30,000 last year while there was reported to have been over 1,100 rhinos killed and like Cecil, there have been approximately 665 trophy lions killed. That makes damning reading for those who intend to reverse the trend and save these species from extinction in the wild. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to prevent this destruction of large mammal biodiversity in Africa and other parts of the world. Death driven by an insatiable consumption of elephant tusks and rhino horn in Asia and rich westerners wanting trophies of their hunting exploits to show off. In South Africa alone, there are over 5000 lions bred in captivity to fulfil one purpose, not to the help the ailing population recover, no, these animals are bred for ‘canned hunting’. This involves the release of the animal into an enclosure where it can be shot easily by someone who has the proper permits and of course, has paid the cash. Hardly the most heroic act. When this isn’t enough for people like Walter Palmer, the man who shot Cecil, they will hunt wild animals instead. Walter paid an estimated $50,000, this is a large money maker for poor African countries and the demand is only driving that price one way.
The situation for rhinos really stands out to me as one where all the best efforts may prove futile. Their horn is prized in Asia for the use in medicine, yet it is made of the same stuff as your fingernails, keratin. The overall numbers of wild rhinos have been devastated because of this. On a more granular level the extinctions of rhino sub species makes for grim reading. Recently a female northern white rhino died in a zoo in the Czech Republic from a cyst that had become too large to treat. This rhino was not wild and had been bred in captivity but what was important about her, is that she was one of five northern white rhinos remaining on the planet. Of the other four, three are female and are in zoos around the globe while the last, a male is under 24/7 armed guard in Kenya and his horn has been removed to deter poachers. It’s hard to see the sub species recovering and the sad truth is that we are facing into a spate of extinctions in the next few decades if things don’t change.
This is where we return to the situation caused by Cecil the lion’s death. Never has there been such a public outcry of outrage and indignation from countless sources over the death of a wild creature. Walter Palmer has been forced to go into hiding. There has been protests outside his dental practice and two of the men involved in the hunt back in Zimbabwe have been arrested and are being investigated. There are talks of extradition for Palmer to face charges. Pictures of him on his previous hunts have been plastered over every animal rights blog and news website in the world. Governments around the world are putting pressure on countries like Zimbabwe to change their hunting laws and enforce blanket bans. If there is one positive that can be taken from the whole situation, it is that the awareness it has raised cannot be measured. Cecil’s death has put the situation in the global spotlight and hopefully this will lead to change. My worry is that, in a world where attention spans are short and the next major tragedy is not far away, people will not be outraged for long enough and the path to the major extinction events in our lifetime has only been extended slightly. Hopefully I will be proven wrong.
- Peter Murphy is a junior Business Analyst with 2 years’ experience.