Guest Post by SHRINIVAS DHARMADHIKARI
Last month’s killing of Cecil, the 13-year-old, rare black-maned lion by American dentist Walter Palmer, was met with global outrage and condemnation. However, this foolish bravado cannot just be treated as another sign of American (or white) exceptionalism (read sickness) because behind this is a much larger and thriving Trophy Industry.
A few facts will make the size and destructive power of this industry clear. Americans traveling to Africa make up more than 60 per cent of the foreign-participated lion trophy hunts carried out each year. This is according to John Jackson, president of the lobbying group Conservation Force. According to another scientist, Eric Jensen, a University of Warwick professor who studies public engagement in wildlife issues, the Trophy industry caters to the human need for dominance and control of nature and provides in addition a sense of masculinity having hunted a large animal.
No wonder the lion population, which was once estimated to be in the range of 200,000 in the entire African continent has now come down to around 30,000. It is true that Trophy industry is not the only culprit. However in Zimbabwe, of the 62 lions tagged, 24 have been shot and killed by sport hunters and only ten have died from other causes. This small piece of statistics shows the damage this industry is doing to the conservation of the majestic animal in Africa.
Like many other sector familiar to all, the Trophy industry is well organised with its PR arm not only defending by poaching alibi but sings its virtues of contributing to local economy and so on. It is different story that, research has proved that, only 3 % of the Trophy Industry profit flows back to local economy.
Interestingly one of the industry players, Safari Club International has a website which carries a record book that registers its members’ kill of lions and other big animals so that any one can track their kills and compare their rankings with other hunters. This record book contains list of over 2000 lions killed till date and in order to enhance its trophy value claims falsely on its website that “The African lion is one of the most challenging and dangerous hunts”. The reality on ground is otherwise. Retinues of locals and professionals accompany these brave hearts who set out for the “hunt”. Further, adult lions are not particularly afraid of humans, (or shall we say, are more trusting!) making it relatively easy to get close to one. How weird is this concept of bravery…
Once a Masai tribesman in his late forties told me of having killed six lions in his lifetime with bare hands and a machete, all in self defence during various encounters while traversing through the jungles and when an animal strayed into their camp. His stoic face could hardly suppress a tinge of regret.
Really, commodification has made bravery so accessible and affordable to anyone with money. What is more interesting is the fact that the product is available at different price points. A kill in fenced off property, for instance, is much cheaper, say at USD 20,000. But for a bigger thrill like killing the animal on its own turf, the going price is in the range of USD 75,000. And in order to secure supply lines, the mothers are isolated from their cubs to jumpstart ovulation.
The Trophy industry has been quite creative in spotting and exploiting other business opportunities in order to provide a wide menu to their demanding customers. According to the League Against Cruel Sports the white tourists have slaughtered over 9,000 bears, more than 2,500 highly endangered leopards and nearly 4,000 African elephants over the past 15 years. An estimated 15% of Canada and Alaska’s wolf population of 6,000-7,000 is killed annually. Many of these are shot from helicopters!
Once drones and droning becomes cheaper, a hunt from the comfort of one’s drawing room will be on offer. Amazon will then deliver the carcass at the doorstep and the “brave” hunter can stage his victory pose in his back yard. For a modest fee, an artist will photo shop an African backdrop. An innovation like this will make hunting in Africa a low end product and expand the market.
On the brighter side, Cecil’s hunt has created such a public uproar that the dentist had to close his practice and shift elsewhere. What is surprising is the fact that there was not even a whimper from the Indian animal loving fraternity. Neither SPCA nor PETA or any one individual registered a protest. Most often, these are the very people who come into their element when someone decides to do something about the burgeoning population of skeletal stray dogs in neighbourhoods for making a safe passage for the school children and for common people walking or riding bicycles. For a nation full of animal lovers including a Senior Cabinet Minister, is it ignorance, neglect or amnesia?
Pardon me for being cynical in suspecting the silence to be a conscious choice, because for GlobalEelite, which is the creed to which most vocal Indian Animal Lovers belong to, any criticism can sound like treason.
After all Cecil was only a poor Zimbabwean