An American lured a lion in Africa away from safety in a sanctuary, injured, later killed, and beheaded him for a trophy and entertainment. The public outrage has been swift and massive, though it could fade—again.
- Do we want “slow, painful death” to be an option for hunted animals?
- Do we want it to be legal to kill animals for human entertainment?
- Do we want change now or just complain about unethical hunting until “next time”?
After international attention on an American killing and beheading a popular lion in Africa for a trophy, a former hunter discusses a few soul searching solutions for humans that could prevent this from happening more, including to animals in the United States.
By Dr. David Dyson
Do we want it to be legal to Kill Animals for Human Entertainment?
I am an ex-hunter of animals who did not sleep well after reading the story of an American who killed a lion for pleasure using methods that caused the lion to suffer 40 hours.
The lion was lured away from protected sanctuary in Hwange National Park in Africa onto private land using an animal carcass as potential food, shot with bow and arrow, suffered with bleeding and pain for 40 hours, then killed by the hunter with a rifle, and beheaded as a trophy.
Bad news for the hunter though good news for this issue is that the lion was known to the public and had been given a name, “Cecil.” Brent Stapelkamp, lion researcher and part of a team that tracked and studied Cecil for nine years, alerted authorities that something might be wrong after Cecil’s GPS collar stopped sending a signal.
If the lion had not been known, the public may not have heard much of this killing. Will Cecil’s death cause change in ethics, practices, and, if necessary, laws?
A news feed stated American comedian Jimmy Kimmel turned serious and emotional asking on his show, “Why would someone do this?” Many want to know, What makes a man trick an animal in to thinking he will get food to leave protected sanctuary to injure it with an arrow, leave “the scene of the crime,” then return, “finish the kill,” and pose for a photo?
Kimmel’s appeal to donate to Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research prompted 2,600 people to give $155,000 (as of July 29).
Why Would Someone Want to Do This?
The answer seems to include “entertainment” and “to get a trophy.” I can think of several additional reasons, and I can imagine Dr. Phil having more.
Some researchers believe part of this desire to kill is left over human drive from our distant ancestors who “killed off” near cousin Neanderthal Man to eliminate a potential threat. Derek Beres, in “Our Evolving Ethics on Animals” adds,
“Our ancestors also started killing for sheer pleasure. When the hunt was no longer necessary,
we still hunted. The quest for protein became a quest for trophies.”
The need for killing wild animals for food has been essentially over for decades, except for conservation efforts. The need to kill with bows and arrows has been essentially gone for over a century. Since the invention of the rifle, the need to “ambush” an animal is essentially gone unless a “hunter” is seeking convenience and reducing time and energy required for tracking.
Yet, a small percentage of people keep killing for trophies, using weapons less humane than a rifle, and use bait and ambush for convenience.
Sorry, I was a Hunter, too
I read lots of books, especially in the sixth grade, about pioneers and Indians who shot deer with bows and arrows, then tracked them to bring home the meat to the cabin or teepee. I became a passionate hunter for a few years when a teenager, influenced, I think, by reading those books and hearing men talk of their hunting adventures. Walking in the woods, learning to shoot my gun, bringing home meat to cook and stories to tell had appeal—until I matured to think objectively.
On that last day of hunting (freshman year of college), I remember seeing a squirrel high in a tree, instinctively getting my shotgun, and killing it. For the first time, I felt bad instead of good. I finally started understanding what I had been doing. I did not need the food, the squirrel was not hurting me, and like me, I expect, just wanted a good life, and probably had family.
That day, I felt ashamed for killing animals. I was hunting for sport—before understanding what really was happening. It was legal as well as accepted behavior, but not ethical.
That day, I remembered previously killing squirrels, birds, and a rabbit. For what? The reasons seemed weak, with better options for sport and fun at hand. I decided, I could spend more time doing better things. I stopped hunting for sport that day.
It was painful the day I realized I was hunting for the wrong reasons. If someone you know is hunting for fun, I hope they will think deeper about why and what the animal endures for human entertainment. Chances are good, your friend can find a sport or adventure that is enjoyable as well as ethical.
Humans Can Change Beliefs and Habits
Humans who have been killing for trophies and pleasure have the opportunity now to answer for themselves “why” they have and “what” they need from it. Most can find a better way. Most activities like this started because someone invited them or they saw someone doing it and wanted to try. For every emotion such as the “thrill of the chase” and others cited, alternatives exist that create similar feelings that can be done ethically—without upsetting millions of people.
I understand this requires change, and many people would rather keep things the same. Some would rather spend more energy defending their habits than necessary to create better ones. Yet, if an addict who chose narcotics can find strength to get healthy or a man can dig deep to develop new levels of character and habit to restore a marriage, then a hunter can change how he or she fulfills whatever is gained from causing animals to suffer 40 hours for trophies, as did Cecil.
The biggest challenge may come for those in the business of selling trips and opportunities for trophies and adventures. Many people instinctively “fight” to protect the way they earn their living, even if not justified. Those strong enough to admit they should find a better way to make a living or spend their free time can not only help society but also leave a legacy of character for family members to show them an example of doing “the harder right.”
Hunters are Needed Sometimes
In this discussion of bringing our ethics and laws to a higher level, we should remember that hunters are sometimes needed. Conservation practices sometimes call for hunting animals that are diseased to protect the herd. Skilled hunters can work with conservation officers to do the work humanely. Sometimes, bow hunting may be needed in areas close to residential and recreation areas because bullets pose a risk.
So, there is opportunity for skilled hunters to use their honed talents though the focus is on serving animals and humans instead of seeking ego-driven trophies at the expense of others. Perhaps more will get the thrill of the hunt to find a trophy for a photo (if you can get close enough for a great shot, you can show that to your buddies) and use hunting skill in service to conservation of the animals and the habitat.
One of the reasons “trophy hunting” hurts nature is that those animals most often killed are the best of the genetic pool. The strongest get killed while the sick remain to weaken the species. When the strongest get killed, those they protect, including their offspring, are at greater risk.
Cecil’s Call for Change
Many people believe killing the lion for a trophy using unethical practices is a crime against international laws or at least against human ethics. If not, this is an opportunity to examine our beliefs and laws on accepted human behavior and animal rights, then make better decisions.
Do we want “slow painful death” of animals an accepted option for entertainment for humans?
Of the many reasons this story is painful, one is that Cecil was the lion suffered unnecessarily. Reports I have read range from he was injured by bow and arrow as much as 40 hours before shot with a bullet. Another said the team shot the lion and left for the night to return the next day to kill him with a rifle.
I am impressed with the skill of archers though believe hunting with bows should be granted to those at the “mastery level” hunting in cooperation with conservationists who need bow hunting. I know of beginners with no experience and little target practice invited by older hunters to go bow hunting. Even adults sometimes don’t stop and think of the likely scenario that there is little chance of hitting the animal in a “kill zone” for a merciful death, especially by a beginner. When the arrow hits the deer or other animal, pain and suffering likely follows.
It’s common, especially for bow hunters, to have to track a wounded animal to “finish the kill.” But, what if a hunter does not track the animal for hours? What if his day or weekend time for hunting is over and he chooses “schedule” over the animal? What if he is one of those people who believe, “it’s just an animal,” and goes home. What if the hunter respects animals at least a little and tries to put the animal “out of his misery” though loses the trail of blood so the animal is left injured and bleeds to death slowly? And, what if the deer, for example, escapes and survives with an arrow stuck in him for the rest of his shortened life?
I marvel at the skill of archers hitting targets though hope Cecil’s death will encourage more bow hunters to consider if their skills should be used on live creatures. Some surely will choose to hone their skills hitting targets without blood or families. For those marksmen, respect for their integrity and ability to change will be impressive.
If change comes soon, laws will not be needed. If not, society will have to pay more taxes for legislation and enforcement or experience more drained emotion and time over future stories of killing animals.
If we do not set standards to protect animal rights, are we not, in effect, saying a human has the right to injure or kill an animal for entertainment?
The experts who work in natural habitats know the issues and some are objective enough to make these ideas better and actionable. My insights are offered to provoke thought and encourage people to fulfill their goals for adventure, skill development, and entertainment in ways that add value and do no harm.
Enlightenment or Enforcement
Many people would prefer to have fewer rules and regulations in the form of laws, except when something like “Cecil the Lion’s murder” happens, then millions say, “Somebody ought to do something!” If we want higher-level behavior we should start with education of the people—teaching the vision and motivation—that should increase probability of people doing the right things more often. For those who do not honor the education, enforcement becomes required.
Sometimes, society has members who choose to be “bad apples” by ignoring principles because they feel entitled to do what they want at the expense of others. When we look closer, some of these people are well intentioned though chose unfortunate paths to fulfill needs.
Some use their talents to “push narcotics” instead of sell valuable services. Some started getting money needed by taking it instead of working for it. Some “fell in with the wrong crowd” and pursued drugs. Yet, people can learn, change, and choose options good from them and society.
This issue is about animal rights, though I believe it is also about human rights because people want to trust that their valued creatures—and treasures—will not get ambushed for fun.
Apparently, millions of people want laws to protect animals from Cecil’s fate. I recommend we decide:
- Killing for trophies to display the heads of majestic animals is neither noble nor legal.
- Killing for entertainment is not ethical or legal.
- Killing to pose with your conquered beast to show off to buddies and waitresses (as Cecil’s killer reportedly did) is not “cool” in our society.
Hunters could help society if they:
- Developed and used their skills in approved conservation efforts, such as killing diseased animals (take a photo of the trophy and use your skills to improve health of the herd).
- Develop skills before they hunt and use merciful weapons and methods.
I hope the ethical hunters and conservation officers will use the parts of this list that work and improve with additions to establish better ethics and, if needed, laws.
History suggests Laws may be needed until Good Behavior Follows
As has been the case in the past, when some choose to violate the values of the Constitution or the laws set to guide human behavior, leaders have to educate on the vision and set parameters for ethics. Through leaders we elect or by our own votes, we can guide good behavior and punish bad behavior. This requires spending more time documenting common sense and more money hiring people to enforce societal standards with those who ignore education of our values. In history, tough changes often have required enforcement of laws until society learned and embraced the laws as well as the values behind them.
In this case, we seem to have two views—those who want to keep their individual rights to kill as their sport versus those who want to protect animals except in approved circumstances. Society is “filing a law suit” against the trophy hunters so they will stop and pay damages.
Sometimes we have to not only educate but also give more motivation to those who do not honor society’s values. And, we may need laws with punishments for the relative few who violate animal and human rights to motivate them to do the right things faster.
Dog Fighting Connection
We got forced to pass laws so humans would not sponsor dog fighting. People confine dogs that could be family pets, teach them fear and force them to fight, then sell tickets to people who watch dogs “fight for their lives.” The Animal Legal Defense Fund defines, “animal fighting as a contest in which people urge two or more animals to fight for the purpose of human entertainment.”
Society has had to hire more law enforcement officers and start more nonprofit organizations to help watch for violators and “care for the wounded.” Entertainment of some people proves expensive for society, including higher taxes and emotions that distract us from productivity toward good ends.
Some dog fighting “fans” call this “family fun.” Whether intentionally harming or not, these people chose to earn money hurting others so society has to pay more in time and taxes to get them to stop.
We hope all people will soon adopt a vision for ethical treatment of animals so our officers of the peace can serve in other ways. Our animal service organizations and volunteers have enough challenge finding good homes for millions of healthy animals so they don’t get euthanized. Rescuers are challenged further when they have to care for and try to place dogs with injuries. Also, dogs trained to kill are often harder to place and socialize.
Human Rights Connection
Just 50+ years ago, with many good people being fair and respectful, some did bad things to other humans because it was “legal.” The quest for “human rights” was developing too slowly so leaders focused on “civil rights” and enforcing The Constitution. To support this movement, the U.S. passed the Civil Rights Act. Legal rights were pursued because societal values were not yet strong enough to foster human rights.
Planning the mission and vision is the first step. Then comes education. If people choose to be unethical, legal parameters become needed to enforce the vision and education. The cost of making and enforcing laws adds burden for society. Yet, the few force us to enforce common decency until society learns and can trust itself. Eventually, decency can prevail.
The Story is Bigger than the Lion
Cecil the Lion suffered and died, in part, because animals need more rights until society becomes more humane instinctively. If you care about that lion and the principle behind why the hunter could kill and behead it, the story is bigger than that dentist. It’s about animal rights, human values, and what our society says is legal—and more importantly, ethical.
It’s also about capacity for personal transformation to examine learned habits, even family traditions, and realize there often are better ways available to us. What many are enraged about in Africa could create positive change in exotic places and in our home states, if we admit what happened, accept the consequences, and commit to action more humane for animals and less expensive for society.
People who are causing the “enraging” could improve this situation with self-reflection and decision to do things differently for the greater good. In research for this article my “jaw dropped” when reading an article about “Christian Hunting.” My first thought: Come on men, it’s great to bond with sons and nephews and teach them how to be men, but surely we can find better ways than chasing and killing beasts to develop our callings, gifts, and talents.
Society can Increase Trust and Decrease Costs
What happened to Cecil the Lion in Africa happens to animals in the USA annually. Some hunters use food to entice the animals to them. Some using bows and arrows hit the animal only to cause injury and cannot find the prey—losing the trophy and leaving the animal to suffer. I respectfully believe, most of these hunters are good people, though sometimes engaging in activities that merit deeper consideration and choosing better ways for recreation. If we take away the quest for killing, we have lots of options for exercise and recreation in nature.
Animal rights of a society reflect the core of human rights. People tend to treat others as they do animals. When a person honors human and animal rights, whether legal or not, you likely have met a trustworthy person. If people kill animals for entertainment because they claim it is legal, they are more likely to “find a legal loophole” and “ambush” you, calling it “nothing personal…just business…it’s legal.”
As long as we have Americans killing lions in Africa and novice hunters injuring animals in the U.S., we may need the Animal Rights Act of 2015. Yet, this is more than animal rights.
The majority of humans love animals in their families or at least like them from afar. Humans want the right to believe animals will be treated well. We want to know those in the food chain are harvested humanely. We want the right to enjoy animals and not see or not hear of a “trophy hunter” with a bow ambushing a tagged animal with a GPS collar.
Surely, the rights of this individual to hunt and kill with his weapon of choice should pale before the rights of many in cases like this. This is not a case of one man’s rights and one animal’s loss. The individual caused—and is continuing to cause—harm for others.
The dentist-hunter-trophy collector did more than kill Cecil the Lion. Cecil’s cubs are at greater risk of getting killed by other lions seeking to take over Cecil’s pride. Animals, too, sometimes kill their competition. The team that dedicated part of their lives to study Cecil nine years is calling out with their own personal pain. The parents and children who watched and photographed the lions and other animals in the sanctuary are mourning.
In short, this hunter made a lot of children cry. How is that not a violation of human rights? Should a hunter who does not know the lion have more rights than hundreds or thousands of people who “know” and care about the animal? Granted, he spent $50,000 for his entertainment—yet, two continents are spending what may be millions in the aftermath.
Call for Action
Killing for trophies and entertainment is up for consideration by society in the USA and internationally. I hope noble men and women who happen to be hunters and guides will choose better ways on their own to fulfill needs for income and fun. To guide our future, I also hope our society votes for higher level animal and human rights that allow us to trust and care for each other better. We need to “get this one done” and focus more of our challenged energies and resources to create improved health and happiness of our citizens and protect our nation from terrorists. I hope you consider my recommendations and share your ideas for solutions with lawmakers and other leaders so we can make better decisions and behave better together.
Dr. David Dyson is caregiver for a dozen adopted and rescued animals. Professionally, he is author of Patriotism In Action and Professionalism Under Stress (with Col. Stretch Dunn, USA Ret). David serves as Founder and Director of Life Leaders America (a nonprofit organization presenting public seminars on best-self leadership, plus supporting education and public service). One of the initiatives is Life Leaders Ranch, which aspires to expand education and service primarily with horses for children, veterans making comebacks, and others who can flourish better from personal and interpersonal development connecting with animals. If interested, www.LifeLeaders.us/Ranch or LifeLeadersRanch@gmail.com.
National Geographic and others found through Google Search for “Cecil the Lion Photos.”