The media, both olden and social kinds have been full of Cecil the Lion these last few weeks or so. If you’re reading from the future or happened to have missed it this unnamed British broadcasting service (let’s see how they like it?) article about a planned Cecil the lion statue sums up the story so far. The tl;dr version of the story is an American dentist paid to hunt a Lion in Zimbabwe, killed it (with a bow and arrow no less), turns out it was a bit of a celebrity lion and now there are question marks over the legality of this specific hunt, although hunting is still permitted in Zimbabwe and obviously, many other parts of the world. Cue Internet outrage, off-the-shelf celebrity disgust and wildlife charities, companies and even countries falling over themselves to get some good PR with some token effort or initiative. For the meantime however, I’ve canned my outrage for the following jaded and cynical reasons, ‘curated’ into a numbered list for ease of reference.
- It’ll be cycled out of the news soon. At the time of writing, some news desks are still shuffling out copy, like the above statue article, but momentum is waning and no doubt there’s a big news story round the corner that will literally make this yesterday’s news. When the moral outrage slowly shuffles off the bottom of Twitter feeds, hunters can go back to legally and illegally hunting various species around the world and we can safely buy the non-organic chicken breasts the next time Sainsbury’s runs out of the organic stuff with the tiniest of guilt pangs. Of course, there’s ever so slim a chance that this incident could do for lions what the whale conservation movement so successfully achieved for cetaceans but that was a decades long movement not a flash in the pan thing. Don’t believe me? Various flavours of rhinos have been shuffling off the face of the planet for the last 50 years or so with this century being a particularly depressing one for some of them and they’re still being legally hunted.
- Hunting isn’t Black and White. It’s very easy to be morally outraged when the animal in question and the hunter have a face and a name and even better still when the whole narrative fits into neat dichotomies such as America vs. Africa, White vs. Black and Rich vs. Poor. I think hunting as a personal pursuit is particularly stupid but then again as with the above rhino hunting blog post by my former colleague Emma, a pricey hunting license can instantly raise a lot of money for conservation that would otherwise take much longer and much more effort to raise.It’s also very easy to demonise a hunter as a hater of nature but many of them are the opposite. They just feel the need to take a trophy rather than a postcard as a souvenir and of course, they do pour an amount into research and conservation that we normal folk don’t or couldn’t if we wanted to but still it’s easier to think in terms of black and white. The grey is kind of annoying and difficult to write a headline about so for the meantime let’s direct our anger at a single individual singled out by a statistical artifact.
- The Supermarket Hunter. I’m also uneasy about, but absolutely fine with the industrial hunting that takes place to line the aisles of our British Supermarkets and fill the menus of our fanciest restaurants with all kinds of exotic meats we absolutely don’t need to take, import and eat. Of course, conservationists have been lobbying for years to halt various fishing and harvesting practices for species that have far less PR than the king of the beasts does but if it was that much of a problem you wouldn’t be able to buy them from the shops would you? Of course, we all check the confusing myriad of logos and labels (hard to do doing the online shop though) as well as country of origin to check that everything we buy is an ethically and environmentally sound purchase. It makes it that much easier to throw the kids’ leftovers or the odd bit of meat we forget to eat before the best before date in the bin.
- A Wider Responsibility. It’s easy to send a Tweet or like a Facebook post, probably whilst sitting in front of at least three other screens in our comfortable surroundings and our natural response (after having a cup of tea) is to build a statue or sign a petition but will this lead to an actual change? After all it’s not really OUR problem in any case, we don’t have lions in my neighborhood so there’s a limit to what we can do. The temporary swiveling of the spotlight might improve the plight of lions in Zimbabwe temporarily and the ripples may extend to lions and perhaps other African animals in all places but I sincerely doubt we’ll see major changes and funding to conservation research and effort across the board. Conservationist and wildlife biologist Sarah Durant has been bugging Ebay for weeks now about the no-questions-asked sale of big cat parts, and at the time of writing Cecil’s legacy doesn’t seem to have reached their marketing department yet. And this is big cats we’re talking about. Nobody gives a flying lemur about shrimps right? Or beetles, sponges, rodents, etc.
- Outrage Spill. Actually doing something about this situation takes time and effort so instead let’s just spread the outrage around a bit to make it look like we’re doing something. Living lions are clearly hard to protect so why not start protecting the long deceased ones instead as this ‘timely’ Guardian article about disgusting taxidermy attempts. Although, to be fair, Philip Hoare is a huge wildlife advocate so I think this articles was either a poorly timed commission or easily phoned in copy.
- Can the media ever have an impact? Aside from the news, other forms of media can help with a rallying call and to raise awareness. The feature length documentary is a very powerful tool but so often they come out well after it’s safe to have a strong opinion that flies in the face of the Big Bad in whatever form it happens to take. Black Fish and The Cove are two very powerful documentaries that came out years after it was trendy to be saving whales (although that’s not a completely solved problem) and year on year since release the Age of Stupid looks more and more like reality TV except we don’t have plans anywhere near as sophisticated as The Global Archive depicted in that film.
So there we have it? There’s nothing to do except expel some hot air until the next controversy we can all minimally invest in comes around. I’ve written a blog post about it, that’s probably more than what you’ve done so I can feel a little bit better about myself tonight and that’s all this has really been about isn’t it?