Why We Are All Walter Palmer
Written by Natalie Kyriacou, Director of My Green World.
The recent killing of Zimbabwe’s most beloved lion, Cecil, has triggered global outcry, with social media erupting in vehement condemnation of Walter Palmer, the dentist from Minnesota who admitted to killing Cecil on a hunting trip.
Last month, Cecil was lured out of Hwange National Park -a “free roam” zone under Zimbabwean law, meaning that hunting is prohibited – by Palmer and his two local accomplices. The trio strapped an animal carcass to a car that they had parked outside Hwange as bait to draw out Cecil. Once Cecil left the park, Palmer shot him with a crossbow. But Cecil didn’t die. Palmer stalked him for 40 hours, and then shot him again, this time with a rifle. Then Palmer, and his two local assistants, skinned Cecil’s corpse and cut off his head.
The Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said that both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.
This experience cost Palmer roughly $55,000 and all three men could be facing poaching charges.
This wasn’t the first time that Palmer had killed an animal for sport. An avid hunter, Palmer has a collection of trophies, and had previously lied to US authorities regarding a bear he had killed illegally in 2006.
The act of killing an animal for sport is repugnant in itself, though the fact that this lion was lured out of a protected zone, and is vulnerable to extinction makes the story much worse.
But Walter Palmer wanted a trophy. Maybe he was going to perch it on his mantle and boast to his friends about how he faced off with one of the world’s great beasts.
Hating Walter Palmer
It is easy to dislike people like Walter Palmer. A veritable masculinity crisis has driven a herd of rich white men, just like Palmer, to tote their over-inflated egos across the Atlantic to hunt innocent animals.
But does Palmer deserve to be the most hated man in America? After all, isn’t he merely the product of a society that systematically diminishes the role of animals in the world?
Palmer’s actions represent a much more insidious virus plaguing our society, where certain animals are elevated to positions worth protecting, while the rest suffer in silence.
As Peter Singer aptly says, “To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter of baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens who have spent their lives crammed into cages, or veal from calves who have been deprived of their mothers, their proper diet, and the freedom to lie down with their legs extended, is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.”
Walter Palmer’s actions are certainly to be expected in a society where innocent animals are mass produced for slaughter, where half the world’s species have disappeared in the last 40 years at the hand of humanity, and where animals can only be valued if they have a name and can be anthropomorphised.
Each of us, individually, and collectively, decided to sit back and allow atrocities like this to occur because we permitted, and encouraged the subordination of animals.
It’s easy to blame Walter Palmer. It’s easy to turn the mirror away from ourselves and hone in on Walter’s insufferable cruelty. Nobody likes to be told of their own hypocrisy.
But how can we vehemently and violently condemn a man (through death threats, social media and protests) when we have collectively played a role in fostering a landscape where cruelty is acceptable.
Yes, Cecil was a much loved lion. Yes, he had a name. Yes, his species has rapidly diminished to less than 30,000 in numbers. But Cecil isn’t the only animal who has suffered at the hands of humanity.
Over 20,000 species of animals are critically endangered. The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal, enduring unspeakable cruelty, and yet, most of us have never heard of this scaly species.
While our witch-hunt of Walter Palmer was occurring, thousands of animals were being trafficked across borders, hundreds of hunters were taking down less iconic species of animal, and millions of animals were being tortured in slaughterhouses.
Sure, hate Walter Palmer. But a witch-hunt isn’t going to do much except for ruin one man’s life. It’s time we turned the mirror back on ourselves and make an effort to reevaluate the role of animals in the world.
The death of Cecil is tragic, and unfortunately, it has taken his death to educate and empower masses of people to protest against trophy hunting and animal cruelty. But we need to do more. We need to ask ourselves how our individual, daily actions, are contributing to a society where animals are subordinated for the benefit and enjoyment of humanity. Each day, we make a vote, through our choices, purchases, and actions. Whether we are buying palm-oil laden food that is contributing to rainforest destruction in Indonesia, or sharing cute videos of captive wildlife that are triggering a wildlife trafficking epidemic. It’s time to make the right vote.
We all have a little bit of Walter Palmer in us. Society’s inherent and vulgar dysfunction is continuing to breed men like Walter Palmer. And that is something we need to accept and change before it is too late.
As Canadian Research Scientist, Ernest Small argues, we don’t need to “suppress” our empathy to animals like Cecil, but rather “moderate our prejudices with understanding for the value of all species, for the long-term welfare of humanity and our planet.”