Sunday, August 9, 2015

Silenced Roar

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This column is a guilt-ridden obligation. I’ve never written about outdoor sports, despite frequently hunting and fishing in Southern Maryland as a kid.  My best childhood memories include catching crabs, hooking yellow perch in the McIntosh Run and hunting squirrels and deer in the fall.  But awful circumstances have forced the subject upon me.  As a human being and former hunter, I’m upset and outraged.   

I owe my outdoor experiences to two uncles who were, and still are, avid sportsmen.  They do things the right way and ensured their apprentice would too.  I took hunter safety courses and adhered to strict gun storage and handling protocol.  My licenses were always current.  All hunting was done in season.  Bag limits were gospel.  Game was clearly identified before taking a shot.  No mammal, fish or crustacean was harvested against the rules – ever – and every kill was used.  Nature and its species were to be respected.  Taking animals from the wild wasn’t a right; it was a privilege.  That was the Native American way.  That’s how I was taught.  That’s how it should always be.

Most sportsmen share those values.  That’s why most are disgusted by the recent death of a 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe.  His name was Cecil.  He will roar no more.

In life, Cecil was a national treasure: a majestic, black-maned beast who was a resident of Hwange National Park and a collared participant in an Oxford University study.  In death, he has become a symbol of disturbing human arrogance and excess.

Walter Palmer, an American dentist, killed Cecil.  Palmer, an avid big game hunter, paid $50,000 for the “right” (money…the root of evil).  He and his local guides allegedly strapped a carcass to their vehicle, lured Cecil beyond the park’s boundaries and Palmer shot him with a crossbow.  The injured lion was tracked for the next 40 hours (ugh) until Palmer finally delivered the kill shot.  Cecil’s head was decapitated, his collar removed and his body skinned and left to rot.  

Regardless of whether this was a technically legal hunt, does it sound like sport or the behavior of a human with any regard for hunting ethics or basic morality?  To me it sounds like an act by a disturbed individual determined to seek and destroy beauty…just for fun.  And it wasn’t Palmer’s first offense.  In 2008, he pled guilty to lying to federal officials investigating a black bear kill.  An elephant hunt was next on his agenda.  Nice guy, eh? 

Palmer’s life is now unraveling.  He’s in hiding, his dental practice is shuttered and Zimbabwe has requested his extradition.  I suppose his existence resembles Cecil’s during those 40 hours when the wounded animal had an arrow – Palmer’s arrow - protruding from his body.  That’s how I like to think of it.

Palmer’s burden is excessive, yet I lack sympathy.  This problem – senseless trophy hunting and the harvesting of endangered game – needed a victim to mourn and a perpetrator to vilify.  Cecil and Palmer have assumed the roles.  The truth is there are a lot of Cecils and Palmers.  In fact, while I wrote this piece, The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force reported another lion – I’ll call him Simba - was killed. 

If I’m blessed with grandchildren, it’s a virtual certainty that their world will be devoid of wild rhinos, a species brutalized for its prized horn.  Only four white rhinos remain on earth; the lone male is surrounded 24/7 by armed guards.  Elephants face a similarly bleak outlook; the amazing creatures could be extinct in Africa by the 2020s.  The future for big cats and many fish stocks isn’t marketably better.  And what of our precious blue crab?

What are we doing?  Aren’t we better than this? 

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  Perhaps Cecil’s martyrdom will invigorate conservationalists, spur political action and change the world’s Walter Palmers.  Until then, whatever greatness resides in our capabilities will remain elusive.  What else am I supposed to say?  Feign optimism is all I can muster.  RIP Cecil.  RIP Simba.  RIP et al.     

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