The Internet is ablaze with anger against Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who recently killed Cecil, a beloved African lion living in Zimbabwe. So it's a good time to recall some of the more high-profile hunters who get a thrill out of gunning down African wildlife, many of them endangered or threatened.
Palmer paid $50,000 for the privilege to kill an African lion. He lured Cecil out of a national park with food bait tied to the back of a truck, then shot him with a crossbow. Cecil survived the initial attack, but Palmer and his two guides tracked the mortally wounded lion for 40 hours, finally finishing him off with a gunshot. Little did Palmer know the animal he murdered was a local treasure who wore a radio collar so that Oxford researchers could study his movements.
The world's wildlife is threatened on so many fronts — overfishing, bycatch, climate change, pollution, water scarcity, soil erosion, deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, infrastructure development, mining, oil and gas development and habitat destruction to make room for human development. Perhaps the most explicitly despicable threat is trophy hunting: the selective killing of wild animals for the express purpose of bringing home a trophy (head, tail, horns, etc.).
“The threat of extinction is very real for African lions,” said Philip Muruthi, senior director of conservation science at the African Wildlife Foundation. Lions are extinct in North Africa, severely depleted across West and Central Africa and are now losing ground in their strongholds of East and Southern Africa. AWF has started a Justice for Cecil fundraiser to raise money to help more endangered lions survive.
The work isn't just about stopping trophy hunting, but also reducing conflict between humans and lions. By making livestock enclosures predator-proof, for example, lions won’t kill livestock and farmers won’t kill lions. In addition, creating local "lion guardian programs" and inspiring a lion conservation ethic within rural communities can help reduce lion mortalities. According to AWF:
Poaching is one of the most pervasive threats to wildlife around the world. Tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos, and many other lesser known species are heavily targeted for their skins, claws, tusks, horns, and other body parts for the illegal wildlife market where they are sold and traded. These horrific crimes are carried out on a grand scale; the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be a $20 billion a year industry, and is causing the drastic declines of wildlife populations across the continent. Africa’s total lion population has declined by 30 percent over the past two decades, and today less than 30,000 of the big cats remain.
Besides the now-infamous lion-murdering dentist, Walter Palmer, here are six other notorious trophy hunters who have been the focus of intense Internet backlash.
1. Melissa Bachman
Melissa Bachman is a trophy hunter from Minnesota and host of a hardcore hunting TV show "Winchester's Deadly Passion." Her show's webpage states: "Growing up in central Minnesota, surrounded by an avid hunting family filled with love and mentors galore, Melissa’s passion for hunting started at a young age. Ever since, she has pursued her many goals and taken numerous world-class animals along the way."
In 2013, she became the focus of an Internet backlash after she tweeted a photo of herself with a dead lion she had just killed in South Africa with the caption, “An incredible day hunting in South Africa! Stalked inside 60-yards on this beautiful male lion…what a hunt!” A Facebook page condemning Bachman has amassed more than 350,000 likes, while a page defending her has garnered 50,000 likes.
Click here for more pictures of Bachman smiling with her "trophies."
2. Kendall Jones
Last year, a teenage cheerleader from Texas named Kendall Jones sparked outrage after posting pictures of herself with dead lions, elephants, hippos and other animals on her Facebook page. The Daily Mail reported that Jones claimed her killing spree was "a testament to her hunting skills and dedication to game preservation."
"The first animal I ever shot was a White Rhino with a .416 Remington!!" Jones said on her Facebook page.
There are only 20,000 white rhinos left in the wild.
A Change.org petition that originated in South Africa seeking to ban Jones from hunting in Africa garnered more than 177,000 signatures.
Jones' claim that hunting actually helps conservation (by eliminating infirm or problematic individuals from the herd, for example), is shared by some scientists. But the images of her smiling with her trophies does little to sway the initial disgust many feel when seeing them. These images clearly glorify violence and sanction killing animals for sport.
Click here for more pictures of Jones with her "trophies."
3, 4. Eric and Donald Trump, Jr.
In 2011, Donald Trump's sons Eric and Donald Jr. went to Africa to kill wild animals. Their tour company, Hunting Legends, posted images of the pair smiling with their trophies: a leopard, bull, waterbuck, crocodile and even one holding a sawed off elephant's tail next to the animal's body.
PETA responded, saying, “Like all animals, elephants, buffalo and crocodiles deserve better than to be killed and hacked apart for two young millionaires’ grisly photo opportunity.”
Even Donald Sr. disapproved. He told Access Hollywood: "I’ve never liked it [hunting]. I’ve never liked that they like it … I’m going to talk to them about it. I’m not a fan of the whole situation.”
The killing-happy pair defended their actions in a joint statement:
"We are both avid outdoorsmen and were brought up hunting and fishing with our grandfather who taught us that nothing should ever be taken for granted or wasted. We have the utmost respect for nature and have always hunted in accordance with local laws and regulations. In addition, all meat was donated to local villagers who were incredibly grateful. We love traveling and being in the woods — at the end of the day, we are outdoorsmen at heart."
5. Bob Parsons
As Gawker reported in March 2011:
"What kind of a guy goes on a safari in Zimbabwe to shoot 'problem elephants,' then makes a graphic video about it, set to a dramatic Animal Planet-style soundtrack? Bob Parsons: former Marine, self-made millionaire, GoDaddy CEO."
The incident sparked widespread outrage over the Internet, to which Parson responded: "I kind of figured that this might happen. So be it, I'm not ashamed of what I did."
"I think if you had all the facts and you knew exactly what was going on and the difference it makes in these people's lives there," he told ABC News Radio, "you'd feel completely different."
Said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a famed elephant zoologist and the founder of Save The Elephants, following Parsons' highly publicized elephant kill, "It's a very sad, tragic thing when elephants have to be shot. I find the glorification totally out of place."
6. Rebecca Francis
In April, Rebecca Francis, who hosted the NBC television show "Eye of the Hunter," received death threats after she posted a photo of herself lying next to a giraffe she had just killed in Africa. Comedian and animal activist Ricky Gervais responded with the tweet, "What must've happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?"
Francis claimed the giraffe was past breeding years and close to death. “I chose to honor his life by providing others with his uses and I do not regret it for one second," she said. "Once he was down there were people waiting to take his meat. They also took his tail to make jewelry, his bones to make other things, and did not waste a single part of him. I am grateful to be a part of something so good.”
Trophy Hunting: Is It Good or Bad for Conservation?
While the images of rich, privileged — and usually white — Americans going to Africa to kill wild animals, many of them endangered, may be sickening to most people, the trophy hunting issue isn't so black and white.
Jonathan S. Adams, a conservation biologist, former program director of the Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Knowledge and Communities Program and author of the book The Myth of Wild Africa: Conservation Without Illusion, unpacks the complexities of trophy hunting and how it may overlap with species conservation:
The pictures of smiling hunters with their trophies, and the very idea of rich Texans paying handsomely to kill rare animals for sport are proof enough for many people that safari hunting is at best an anachronism and at worst an abhorrence that must be stopped. Conservation is about saving animals. Hunting is about killing them.…
The debate we should be having is not whether trophy hunting is moral or immoral, but whether it can be justified on scientific and conservation grounds, who ultimately benefits from it, and what kind of conservation it can support. But that is not how the debate plays out in the Western media, and, in some cases, within African governments themselves. Organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and others have sophisticated lobbying and fundraising efforts and they now wield enormous influence. Unfortunately, that influence often rests on painting Africa, Africans, and hunters with such a broad brush that it obscures rather than clarifies the fundamental questions.…
This is not a question of mustering scientific evidence about sustainability; it is as much, or more, about perception and emotion, and hunters have been strangely slow to understand the terms of fight they are now in. The way in which hunters respond to the deeply felt belief among a growing number of people that killing wild creatures for sport is always and in every circumstance wrong may determine whether is has a future, regardless of scientific evidence regarding sustainability. Hunters need to accept this as a legitimate concern; the failure to do so is what leads to the in-your-face trophy shots. Hunters need to demonstrate high ethical standards, clear connections to broader conservation, and local empowerment. Even then, hunters and conservationist need to recognize that what works in one place will not necessarily work in another.
Last year, Dr. Jason G. Goldman, a cognitive scientist and animal behavior researcher, wrote an article in Conservation Magazine that attempted to answer the question, "Can trophy hunting actually help conservation?" At the time, the Dallas Safari Club had just earned the dubious distinction of being the first organization outside of Namibia to auction off a permit to hunt and kill an endangered black rhino. He writes:
I don’t understand the desire to kill a magnificent animal for sport, even if the individual is an older non-breeding male. The sale of the right to kill an animal for a trophy surely reflects the value that animal lives hold in at least some corners of our society: that killing an animal for fun isn’t wrong, as long as you can afford it. It is right to worry about the sort of message that sends. But if an endangered species as charismatic as the black rhinoceros is under such extreme threat from poaching, then perhaps the message that the species needs saving has a larger problem to address than the relatively limited loss of animals to wealthy hunters. The real tragedy here is that the one rhino that will be killed as a result of Saturday’s auction has received a disproportionate amount of media attention compared to the hundreds of rhinos lost to poaching each year, which remain largely invisible. And while there remains at least a possibility that sanctioned trophy hunts can benefit the black rhino as they have for the white rhino, there is only one possible consequence of continued poaching. It’s one that conservationists and hunters alike will lament.
Goldman is right: In the larger scope of things, wealthy hunters kill a very small number of Africa's wild animals. Poachers, on the other hand, operate on another level of killing entirely: An elephant is slaughtered every 15 minutes for its ivory. Over 40,000 elephants are killed every year, many of them leaving orphans who are too young to survive without their mothers. So where's the Internet outrage for them?