Lions, Liars and Masters of the Universe: 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

8 thoughts on “Lions, Liars and Masters of the Universe: Shrinivas Dharmadhikari”

  1. [“the Trophy industry is well organised with its PR arm not only defending by poaching alibi…” – please correct sentence and then remove this comment.]

    [Two more: “GlobalEelite”; “to which most vocal Indian Animal Lovers belong to” – remove “to” at end.]

    Those who speak up for Cecil the lion are rational people. My experience tells me that India’s self-appointed dog lovers are nine parts eighths loony.


  2. Aristotle should have said that man is a social, political, sadistic animal, who, for his pleasure ,hunts other animals. Commercialisation is not only destroying ecology, society, and economy, but it has entered the innocent lives of wild animals and reducing their numbers.


  3. “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,” and comments about dog lovers being loonies – I dont know about SPCA and PETA but v many animal lovers work v hard to ‘do something’ about stray dogs – i.e sterilise, which is about the only thing which works, and befriend/feed so that the dogs are less likely to fear and bite humans. And they face everything from hate speech to vicious hate campaigns to wanton cruelty to their animal-wards, to violence in this process. Such harassment is almost never from poorer communities which are more vulnerable to dog bites – it is usually the privileged who run RWAs which organise this harassment, and which I am convinced from experience, is related to prejudices to marginalised human beings, including the poor, slum dwellers, women, minorities, people from the NE or Africans etc… This violence and harassment is part of the project of ‘cleansing’ communities of ‘Other’ lives (both human and non human).


  4. Dog lovers keep pet dogs and care for them. The fake kind of whom I spoke say, often violently, that dogs have the absolute right not to allow “safe passage for the school children and for common people walking or riding bicycles.” I say again that while rational people have spoken up for Cecil the lion, the loonies couldn’t be bothered.


  5. Two paragraphs from (January 2005)

    It happens that about a week back I wrote an article about stray
    dogs. In it I cited the WHO’s estimate that in 1998, somewhere
    around 30,000 people had died of rabies in India. Just one year.
    There is nothing to suggest that 1998 was an exceptional year: there
    have always been deaths from rabies and it looks like there always
    will be. Deaths in India caused by the recent tsunami are estimated
    at 9,500 while another 500 people are missing. We pay little attention
    to the 30,000 because they are spread out across 365 days and all
    over the country, and we are panicked by a third of that number
    because all is over in a matter of hours and is restricted to a part
    of our coast-line and a small group of distant islands which we own.

    And what of the 30,000 or so deaths each year from rabies? Rabies is
    not carried by storms or on the surface of the ocean. In India,
    rabies is enzootic in the canine population, and nearly every human
    death from rabies is caused by the saliva of rabid dogs. Can this not
    be remedied by human action? It has not been remedied so far because
    of the powerful people who are concerned more with animals’ rights
    than with those of other humans who do not have veterinary surgeons
    within driving distance, who cannot afford vaccine and immune
    globulin or are miles away from them. These powerful people include,
    of course, those at the top of the administration. Why should they
    care when they are rarely if ever exposed to stray dogs? Small-pox was
    another matter entirely, you see.


  6. Kavita, while I agree with you that dog lovers should not be described as “loony”, (and the author of the post has not done that), I think Shrinivas has touched on an important dilemma that we face today in India – the need to reject Brahminized forms of espousal of “animal rights” including attacks not just on beef-eating but also on animal sacrifice by Muslims and Hindus alike; while at the same time, trying to hold on to a larger ecological perspective that rejects industrialized animal farming and the notion that humans have prior legitimate right to the planet as well as the right to kill and/or eat any form of non-human life.
    I think what happens is that we manage to express only one of these views at any one time, depending on the challenge posed to us.
    If we look at stray dogs in neighbourhoods in this context, we would have to recognize that
    a) not all those who feed dogs are taking the responsibility to immunize them, nor is there any indication that the dog has been immunized, so nobody can take the risk of not taking those anti-rabies injections if bitten.
    b) that these dogs do not attack people only because of fear or in response to something that they do, but also because they are suspicious of anybody they perceive as strangers in the neighbourhood (who could be passers by or residents that the dogs are not familiar with).
    c) It is not true that poorer communities do not face this danger – I personally know at least two people who work in middle class homes as domestic servants whose child in one case and husband in another, were bitten in their own neighbourhoods with no provocation on their part, and they had to go through the whole process of getting anti-rabies injections. In the second case, a few dogs were being fed by a woman as the man passed them, and one of the dogs just turned round and bit him, perhaps guarding the food, or what, I can only guess. Of course, unlike entitled RWAs, poorerer communities dont know how to make a fuss about it, that’s the only difference.
    This is a wider problem than you think. On JNU campus, blind students have long tried to bring to the attention of the authorities the fact that they are often bitten by the large numbers of stray dogs on campus, because they stumble into the dogs or their canes brush against them. A couple of years ago, blind students went on a fast even, on this issue. And it is not only blind students who face this, other people on campus have been bitten too, including a 4 year old child once.
    We need to think about more organized and sustainable ways of how humans and non-humans can live together, even just in small pockets, because at the moment the debate (and the concrete conditions) in India at least, are utterly polarized.


    1. Nivi, I said poorer communities faced a greater danger of dog bites,not the opposite. My point is that ‘doing something’ cannot mean culling, which is proved to be ineffective as well as cruel. There are innumerable persons who quietly and thanklessly organise sterilization. I am aware of and empathise with the issue raised by blind students as well as others. I fully agree that there is a need to go beyond the polarised debates. One needs a whole range of humane solutions to be visualised and implemented simultaneously and urgently, including not only sterilisation there are those who have written and campaigned on this, will try and find links and share when possible… For the moment, here is a serious piece on the rabies epidemic, which examines various facets of the problem and the inadequate solutions being undertaken, and in which a vet concerned with the problem observes “unless the Animal Birth Control program is undertaken on a serious note, as has been done in polio control, it won’t change rabies control. He says that he doesn’t blame the stray dogs for all the problems, however, and reiterates that 54 per cent of rabies is due to irresponsible pet ownership.”


  7. This is a useful recent article on the subject of stray dogs and the problem of dog bites and rabies:

    Also can see ‘Violent Encounters: ‘Stray’ Dogs In Indian Cities; Anuradha Ramanujan’ in Cosmopolitan Animals, Edited by Kaori Nagai, Karen Jones, Donna Landry, Monica Mattfeld, Caroline Rooney, Charlotte Sleigh, Palgrave Macmillan 2015


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