August 15, 2015

WHEN THE HUNTER GETS HUNTED

Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)
Cecil the Lion (Wikipedia)
In June 2015, a lion was found dead on the outskirts of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe; while it is common even for the 'King of the Jungle' to sometimes fall prey to competitors including other lions, packs of hyenas and wild dogs, the carcass revealed another gruesome story. The lion had been mercilessly shot, then skinned, beheaded and its majestic head with that distinct blackish mane had been taken as a trophy, clearly suggesting that the culprit was that disgusting creature we know as 'Man'. Unfortunately for the hunter - a Minnesota based dentist Walter Palmer, the beast he had shot down was no ordinary lion, it was the magnificent Cecil, the most famous attraction of the Hwange National Park, a favorite with the tourists which was being studied by researchers at the Oxford University to understand big cat behavior for some years now. As the news of the lion's brutal death spread and gory details regarding the hunt emerged, netizens across the world condemned the heinous act with many flooding Walter's social media pages with thousands of 'hate' messages. In fact, the fight was taken right up to the doctor's doorsteps as protesters left placards and flowers in memory of the slain animal outside his clinic. The hunter's weak apology and assurance to co-operate with the investigating agencies found no takers with a 1,00,000 strong petition urging the US authorities to extradite the 'poacher' to Zimbabwe to face the law.

All along, the dentist has maintained that he had followed the due process and relied on local hunting experts in bringing down the big cat. In fact, in several African nations, it is legal to kill even the most endangered animals if the necessary permissions have been obtained from the concerned authorities. In most of these countries, there is a stringent screening process to evaluate the animal before the nod is given to hunt it. With Cecil being still in his prime and jointly leading a pride, it did not meet this 'criteria' for elimination for sure. In fact, it is being alleged that Parker and his accomplice - professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst lured the beast out of the park limits where it was hunted with an arrow on the property of one Honest Ndlovu. The poor creature was tracked down 40 hours later and then shot dead with a rifle. It now emerges that both Bronkhorst and Ndlovu did not have the necessary permits for lions. The Zimbabwean authorities have started proceedings against the two whereas a demand has been made to extradite the dentist to atone his sins.

The murder of Cecil has put the spot light on legal hunting with many across the world appealing to governments in various African nations to ban it altogether. As per reports, hundreds of lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, rhinos and antelopes fall prey to hunters each year. At a time when many of these species are staring at the brink of extinction, the death of even a few individuals could deliver a serious blow towards conservationist efforts. Then again, there is this other side of the story. Legal hunting ends up generating millions of dollars in revenue for these African nations and this money is apparently used in wildlife conservation as well as improving the lives of the local populace. This was precisely the reason that the move by some major airlines to ban the transfer of animal trophies was condemned by officials in South Africa and Nigeria. Here is where the support from the more developed nations or the United Nations in terms of monetary funds to more poorer African nations could help and the reliance on this 'ghastly' practice could be reduced over a period of time.

The biggest positive to emerge out of the whole episode is the massive outpouring of grief by thousands of people across the world who used social media as a tool to voice their opinion in favor of wildlife conservation. With the ever increasing human population and technological advancement putting an unprecedented pressure on the environment, the future of many species looks gloomy. Habitat destruction, hunting, poaching, introduction of invasive species and pollution is threatening to wipe off a large number of animals from the face of the Earth which could seriously damage the ecology and threaten our own existence. At this time, the unity displayed by people all around shows that there are many who still care for the wildlife. It is sad that Cecil has perished; ironically though, his death has furthered the cause of wildlife conservation.