A 55-year-old dentist from Minnesota has had a passion for years: he likes the trophies. He likes to kill. His picture decorates the blog, Trophy Hunt America, reminiscent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who loves to pose in similar positions. The photo shows Walter Palmer, our dentist, dressed in jeans and no shirt, showing off his muscles – and his strength, as he seems to have no problem lifting up a 175-pound heavy leopard with one hand. It almost looks like he is intimately hugging the huge cat. The prey is dead of course, and the weapon – the crossbow and arrows – is shown at the bottom of the photo, which was taken in Zimbabwe during the summer of 2010. Brent Sinclair, the “blogger” who posted this and other photos of Palmer, is the dentist’s friend and an organizer of trophy hunts for the rich dentist. Sinclair mentions that Palmer had a very busy hunting schedule in Zimbabwe, Nevada and California that summer.
“We hunted in Zimbabwe in July and part of August, taking a huge leopard with the skull measurement that will put it high in the SCI record of archery,” writes Sinclair. Safari Club International (SCI) is not nearly as similar to the Club Méditerranée as it may sound. SCI “is the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and promoting wildlife conservation worldwide,” reads the organization’s mission statement. SCI has 55,000 members, and since 2000 it has spent $140 million on protecting the freedom to hunt through policy advocacy, litigation and education for federal and state legislators. SCI claims that it is a political force in Washington DC and other world capitals.
Well, besides protecting guns, insuring the trophies against theft and damage, giving travel and health insurance to hunters, and providing emergency evacuation services as needed, SCI certainly, intentionally or not, inspires competition among its members, who vie to put down bigger and nicer trophies than their peers. In order to encourage family hunting, as they call it, the SCI gives away the World Hunting Award every year. You can see some of them here.
So this summer, when Walter Palmer – with the help of another professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst – chose to hunt in Zimbabwe again, he paid about $55,000 to get a chance to kill a majestic lion by name of Cecil. He and Bronkhorst lured Cecil from the protection of a national reserve in Zimbabwe and into an area where hunting was not forbidden. Once outside the wildlife sanctuary, Palmer shot the lion with his tremendous crossbow, then followed wounded animal for almost two days before he finally put the bullet into him. He could not lift Cecil up, so he just set near his head when he took the obligatory photo for SCI’s records. Then he cut lion’s head off and skinned him.
So, did Palmer spend a lot of money and travel incredibly far to kill a specimen of a rare and endangered wild animal just for the sake of a stuffed head and tanned skin in one of his million-dollar villas? For an award from the SCI? During the uproar about lion’s killing, we unfortunately discovered yet another dark side of the human species. As we learned from a Business Insider report, trophy hunting and the killing of rare species is a multibillion-dollar business.
I do not think that Palmer and SCI are part of this terrible business. Our dentist does not talk much and the contents of his entire collection of trophies are not known to the public. But we learned that he has apparently already killed 43 types of endangered animals. The list is already long, but according to some reports, Palmer wants more trophies.
Now, Cecil was special. He’s been watched and protected by a study group dedicated for protection of the wild life, and as such, his death inspired a particularly large outcry. His death upset people around the world. The authorities in Zimbabwe first wanted to interrogate Palmer, but the dentist’s (SCI?) lawyers fought back, and Palmer refused to go back to Zimbabwe, arguing that he was doing everything according to the law, while being misled by his guide. He even said that he did not know Cecil was such a famous lion! It’s hard to get into the mind of somebody who loves to kill rare animals as a hobby.
After Cecil’s death surfaced, Zimbabwe authorities brought up a second case of an American doctor who killed a lion in their country. This case occurred in April and involved Jan Seski, a gynecological oncologist from Pennsylvania. Hopefully not all doctors are like Palmer and Seski.
I also hope that not all of 55,000 members of CSI are active trophy hunters. With too many boots on the ground in Africa and parts of Asia, the animal world would be depleted much sooner than we think, according to studies.
So if trophy hunting for SCI members is not the vicious big business that transforms rare species into medicine, aphrodisiacs and decorations, what is it then?
I agree with blogger Cory Doctorow, who argues that killing of an lion is the most cowardly things that a person can do, as shown in this photo story. In his short post, Doctorow points out that trophy hunting is not sport but an outlet for sociopathy.
As Meg Brown demonstrates in her excellent piece for Salon,“the practice of trophy hunting originated as a way for humans to demonstrate power over large, dangerous animals, but now that modern high-powered weapons can subdue even the largest animals, the trophy hunter’s focus has shifted from animals that are dangerous to those that are rare. Like the ‘great white hunters’ on safaris of the past, today’s trophy hunters are corporate types who may spend tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands to kill a single animal. And the bigger and rarer and more beautiful the animal, the more a trophy hunter wants to kill it: An African lion hunt starts at around $39,000. For $60,000, power brokers can bag a bull elephant.”
There are 10,000 hunting preserves in the U.S. and Canada. For the last 40 years, they have been breeding trophy deer using special hormones, artificial insemination and other techniques borrowed from the cattle and the horse breeding industry. Apparently these home-bred American deer grow such big and heavy antlers that they can hardly lift their heads. They are appropriate for more lazy hunters who, without much travel or effort, hunt down these semi-synthetic trophies for a $20,000 to $40,000 price tag.
Palmer is a different type of a hunter. He spends thousands of dollars per hunt and dreams of killing the “Big Five” of African wildlife and the “Grand Slam” of North American sheep. Just as birders have a “life list” of bird species that they have seen or hope to see, trophy hunters keep lists of animals they plan to kill.
Photographer David Chancellor, who spent several months photographing trophy hunters in the United States and abroad, says that many trophy hunters do seem to genuinely love animals. They certainly know a great deal about the animals they kill, and they speak in tones of reverent awe when describing their beauty, says Chancellor. Many, if not most, trophy hunters have a favorite animal. It’s just that a trophy hunter’s favorite is very often the same animal they most want to kill.