Walter Palmer received international infamy almost overnight. His Yelp! page was bombarded with clever, snarky reviews. People picketed in front of his business and home. Celebrities tweeted about him. Walter Palmer quickly became one of the world's most hated men because he lured Cecil, a protected lion that was a part of a long-term study at Oxford University, outside of a Zimbabwe national park so that he could kill him. According to CBC, although his helpers (a pro hunter and a farmer) face poaching charges in Zimbabwe, Walter Palmer claims that as far as he knew, the hunt was legal, issuing a half-hearted, #sorrynotsorry apology:
"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt [...] Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."
A master of deflective language, Walter Palmer either misses the point or just does not want to acknowledge it. He regrets earning the ire of anti-hunting community, but he does not regret trophy hunting. He does not regret spending hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to hunt several rare and exotic animals. He does not regret participating in a system that is exploitative to not only the animals, but to the developing world and the planet as a whole. Walter Palmer doesn't even fully understand why everyone else is so outraged by what he did.
Sure, Walter is an awful, despicable, disgusting person, but there are thousands of people like him. Almost exactly a year ago, Kendall Jones was in Walter's place: another rich and privileged American who felt she had the right to end the lives of many of Africa's beautiful and endangered species because she had spent hundreds of thousands on hunting licenses. She literally had a license to kill, and was even more self-righteous than Walter about it, calling herself a "conservationist."
Walter may be right that people are especially enraged by Cecil's death because he had a name, because he was a "known" lion. People are also upset because of the questionable tactics used to lure Cecil through legal loopholes (which apparently only work for the rich and non-African). But mostly, the trophy hunting of endangered species just rubs people the wrong way. Kendall, who participated in legal "canned" hunting on game reserves, got just as much hate as Walter. No one likes the cowards who kill for the thrill and try to label it as a "sport." This is what Walter doesn't understand.
But there's also something that I don't understand. Why are people so furious at exotic trophy hunters like Walter and Kendall, but not at those who hunt bears or deer? And why are so many of Walter's haters people who eat meat? It could be because many of these gorgeous African animals are near extinction, but the same could happen to our own wildlife if we do not take conservation seriously. It could also be because Cecil wasn't raised for food, but at least to me, all animals have value, and I wouldn't want to see any of them meet Cecil's fate. There is no good reason to hunt, and "because it's legal" doesn't cut it. There is also no good reason to eat meat, because it is so harmful to the planet and to our own bodies. I know that some people who support hunting and meat consumption like to argue by asking what to do if they were starving on a deserted, vegetationless island, but none of us are in that situation.
I'm not saying that I think people should stop hating trophy hunters. I'm saying that the passionate animal lovers and sarcastic Yelp! reviewers should introspect and ask themselves whether their daily actions are aligned with their inner morality, and realize that they can have an even bigger impact for the animal rights movement by being more selective about what they eat. By not eating flesh, they can have more of an effect than they ever can by trolling someone's business pages or social media, because animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction. I love all animals, and I wouldn't hurt a lion, a deer, a cow, or a pig. I'm anti-hunting, and the way that I feel about animal rights in cases like Walter's has translated into my everyday dietary choices. By not eating meat, the average person saves the lives of over a hundred animals a year and votes against animal abuse with their dollar, as animal abuse is and always will be intrinsic to the meat industry. I hope that Walter Palmer can help induce more people to consider vegetarianism as an option.
I also hope that the Walter Palmer case will jolt African countries into creating more stringent anti-poaching laws. Africa's wildlife is unique and precious, and it would be a great loss to our earth as a whole if these creatures were "taken," as Walter puts it. Africa has been exploited for centuries, but the continent shouldn't be for sale any longer. There are some things that shouldn't be bought. I hope I can see a day when all game reserves become protected parks, and hunting of all endangered species becomes illegal, no matter how much money someone has. It would be a great start if Zimbabwe could adopt a shoot-on-site policy against poachers, like Maharashtra. There is already a petition circling the net asking Mugabe to stop issuing hunting permits for endangered animals. I signed it.
Walter Palmer has done a lot of terrible things in his life, but if he can make those of us in a blind rage right now think twice about our diets and influence law makers to create stricter policies, then even though Cecil may be gone, all is not lost.
(Note: This post also appears on my personal blog.)