Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Lion Named Cecil

The internet is buzzing to the hashtag #CeciltheLion, so the topic barely needs an introduction. Butchered by American dentist Walter Palmer, a father of two from Minnesota. the story is abhorrent and distressing, but also profoundly informative on our views on humanity and man's place within the animal kingdom.

The world wide web has galvanised itself as judge and jury and I suspect despite his apology Walter Palmer's days as a dentist are over. According to The Mail he has lied about the location of a bear he hunted and killed in the past, and further allegations continue to surface. He has apologised - but his apology further highlights the bizarre way we categorise animals in our attempt to understand our place in the world. Palmer said he didn't realise that the lion had a name or that he was breaking the law by killing an animal that had been coaxed away from the game reserve it lived on.

It's this response that has had such a profound impact on me.


What is it about a wild animal with a name?

Does naming a wild animal somehow grant it "pet" status, or assumed human control? Certainly naming suggests identification, some connection being made between man and beast. We name our pets carefully, and enjoy reading stories about wild animals we've named, in some way imposing characteristics and personality upon them with that name. Tarka the Otter, Fantastic Mr Fox, Shamu the Killer Whale - better known as Free Willy in the film - what they all have in common is their fundamental predator status, but once named and seemingly domesticated (in the case of Mr Fox in the fictional guise of a country gentleman) they are not only acceptable, not even just likeable but loveable.

This unsettles me. Can we only respect wild animals if we can relate to them? Do we need to like them and understand them to consider their right to life? Human personification is insulting in the extreme to a majestic animal like Cecil, our niche in earth's ecosytem is fragile at best, arrogant and destructive at worst and the barbaric, deliberate, unprovoked murder of another species member for an adrenalin surge is despicable.

What also saddens me is the hypocrisy surrounding the killing of a named animal. Every day we as a species face choices that impact on our planet and the myriad of creatures who share it with us. Just last week I discussed the problem of aggressive seagulls with a friend-  who rightly pointed out it is human action that precipitated the surge in the herring gull population. We now face tough decisions over possible culling, in an attempt to reverse this unpleasant trend. But what if someone writes a story on "Sammy the Seagull"? Would that make a cull less desirable? Why should it have an impact whatsoever?

Yet it most certainly would.


Should we name the Polar Bears, the Orang-utans, the Rhinos? Certainly it's a policy that has worked well in the conservation world, and who can blame them for capitalising on our innate need to connect when the animals themselves stand to benefit? Our local Zoo names all its animals, this is far more than an identification and logging process. But whilst all creatures exhibit unique personalities we should take care to avoid the anonymity trap - where a truly wild animal - one with no name - is somehow less worthwhile, less worthy of life than another.

The discussion at Westminster on revoking the hunting ban exposed my own hypocrisy. I do believe there are times when careful culling benefits animal populations, not only the human one. And I don't have a problem with pest control by farmers trying to protect their livestock. But fox hunting IS barbaric, and has little to do with farming, culling or animal husbandry, I would vote against any lifting of the ban. A fox shouldn't need to be called "Fantastic" to earn his right to live as nature intended - and it shouldn't have taken a lion named Cecil to point this out to me.


It is actually bizarrely ironic that a lion named for a racist, imperialist white man should now personify the argument of tolerance and freedom. I've only found one article on the web that picked up on this irony. It just goes to show that there is less in a name than we think, and those receiving it - be they human or animal - are beyond our easy classification.

How we treat other animals defines our humanity. Blessed with great intelligence as a species it would reflect better on us if we chose to use it occasionally. Animals - and people- don't need names to elicit respect. They don't earn their right to exist based on our patronising interest, their "value" is not dependent on the number of "Likes" they gain or hashtag shares they generate. I don't care what the lion was called or where he came from. He was brutally murdered for a human being's pleasure.

A name is a human invention superimposed on an animal we try to identify with, not their passport to freedom. Walter Palmer shouldn't apologise for killing Cecil - he should apologise for assuming his intellectual superiority, wealth and status granted him power to decide whether another animal lived or died, and for thinking a name made a difference.

17 comments:

  1. For me it is about killing for sport, which isn't hunting. My boys saw this on the internet and wanted to know why anyone would want to kill an animal if it wasn't for food. Money makes lots of people feel superior

    ReplyDelete
  2. I feel like everything else is irrelevant other than the fact that an animal was killed for sport. It's just awful and there was absolutely no good reason for doing it!

    ReplyDelete
  3. A great post that I really enjoyed reading. I'm what people may call a fluffy bunny hugger. I have a huge affection for all creatures yet I do a lot of anthropomorphism. If a hedgehog wanders into my garden he suddenly becomes a Henry or I say hello to Mt Sparrow etc I used to work in conservation and when the rangers spoke of culling rabbits, I struggled with that. This is a whole new level, this trophy hunting is vile. You're right though people do this, distance themselves yet when there is a name they feel connected. I just wish humans had more respect for animals, they seem to get such a tough deal from us humans.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I heard about this story before I heard about the name and for me it's absolutely irrelevant whether the animal has a name or not, killing for sport and not for survival or food is abhorrent. The dentist sounds like the most revolting ignorant idiot and I hope he loses his practice. What a jerk he is, and what a worry that there are plenty more people out there like him.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A really great, interesting post. I agree with the others that regardless an animal was killed for sport for no good reason and its despicable.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have avoided reading anything about this as it completely turns my stomach. Trophy and sport hunting are despicable. You don't need to name an animal to make the killing wrong. Hunting for food is natural, although it can be argued that we no longer need to necessarily do that, it is however the way the world works and has done since the beginning of time. Killing for fun, is just as bad as killing another person.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Killing for sport is so hard to get your head around #PoCoLo

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree, I thought his 'I didn't realise he was called Cecil and a local attraction' apology was ridiculous and missed the point. I don't believe it is just in respect of animals that this problem exists though. It is also why so few people know or care about, for example, the horrific human atrocities in DAR or what happened in Darfur. Those people are nameless, incomprehensible, and people do not connect to that. We feel upset for specific stories we hear, people with names, lives we are told about; but terrible loss of human life is often largely ignored when the people are distant and unnamed. It was what Eichmann said about how people could have allowed the Final Solution, accepted it, participated in it. Probably the quote is slightly wrong, but it was along the lines of: 'one human life is a tragedy, but 100,000 is just a statistic.' He was right. People tend to struggle to connect to things if they are too big, too incomprehensible, and not personalised. It is true with harm to animals, and it is also true with harm to people. #PoCoLo

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have to admit the killing of the Lion has really riled me, but like you I am a hypocrite when it comes to the issue. I am on the fence with fox hunting, im not a farmer so I don't suffer with the impact they have on my livestock but neither would I want to hunt one. I am a huge fan of fishing, I don't think it is a cruel sport but does it hurt a fish, probably. x

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sport, to me, does not equal killing and whomever invented that needs their head examined! A great post and so very, very sad. thank you for linking to #PoCoLo x

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think it was horrible he was killed for absolutely no reason...I would feel this way whether he had a name or not, it's made me feel sick :(

    ReplyDelete
  12. It seems such a needless thing: to kill an animal for pleasure. An endangered one too. What a horrible man! I hope he gives a lot of money to wildlife charities because he clearly has money to burn.

    ReplyDelete
  13. So very true and so well put, Emma! I totally agree, we should have respect for life. Full stop. If we start categorising animals and justifying their kill in this way, we will soon do it with people too. Oh, this person isn't related to anyone and he/she isn't famous? Oh, that's okay then, I can go ahead and kill them!!xx

    ReplyDelete
  14. i hate hearing of things like this especially when its all in the aid of sport not need or living

    ReplyDelete
  15. Killing animals for food is ok in my book but not killing them for sport - its disgusting and this should have never happened

    ReplyDelete
  16. You are right, all animals matter - whether they have been named or not. I am vegetarian, so obvs animal rights are a big thing for me. Conversly I have no issue with people who hunt for food. They in my mind have every right to eat meat, more so than those who don't like to think beyond the pre-packaged stuff they buy in the supermarket! But hunting for sport is just sick.

    ReplyDelete

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, I really value your responses.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...