Thursday, July 30, 2015

The lion and the dentist

Oh, the sad saga of Cecil the lion and Walter Palmer the dentist has utterly taken over the interwebz. Death threats rain like gumdrops from the sky and the dentist has gone into hiding and the End Times are well nigh upon us until next week, until the interwebz find another end-all, be-all issue to work itself up into a frenzy over.

The interwebz mob is way overboard, as usual. I have absolutely nothing against hunting. I did quite a bit of it myself in my younger years, although I haven't done so in years. I still delight in gifts of wild game from friends and relatives. I have zero interest in trophy hunting myself, but when it's done ethically, as part of a rigorous conservation plan, even the culling of individual animals from a population of endangered species can be a good thing for that species as a whole--certainly greater benefit than feel-good bumper stickers or online petitions. I have experience with exotics. There are species effectively extinct in the wild that survive only because exotic game farmers and ranchers are able to legally treat them as livestock and breed them for profit (through these domestic--not domesticated--populations, re-introduction into their native ranges are possible). That said, I have very little sympathy for Walter Palmer, the dentist from Minnesota.

Palmer has shown a history of disregard for hunting laws, as evidenced by his black bear incident. At the core of it, that's poaching, and I have low tolerance for poachers. He did not "accidentally" shoot that bear illegally and then "accidentally" try to pass it off as a legal kill from a different location. "But that's just one time! You can't judge him on one mistake," some argue. In my experience, people are not caught poaching the first time they do it. That's just merely the first time they got caught. Most are never caught.

There are significant laws regulating big-game hunts in Africa. The process for engaging in a big-game hunt, or vetting licensed guides, is not some arcane mystery. Although some people don't like the fact, big-game hunting is an industry the world over where the game populations are managed to grow and expand the genetic and biodiversity. Legal hunts are expensive. They can also be time-consuming, depending on the species a hunter wants to take. There's paperwork, waiting lists, etc. For someone with a sense of entitlement, to whom game laws do not apply (see bear above), waiting and following the rules are a needless hassle. Why not just talk to a guy who knows a guy who can get you a lion for $50K in just a couple of months? "And they'll cut through all that red tape?" the would-be hunter asks with only feigned interest. "Sure. They do it all the time." At this point, Palmer does not ask any more questions, does absolutely no checking on the credentials of his "hunting guides," because he does not want to confirm what he already knows in his gut: These guys are not legal, not permitted. But they can get him a lion, and that's what he wants. He cut corners. He turned a blind eye. Maintaining willful ignorance about them gives him plausible deniability. If caught, he'll merely claim he was a victim of unethical scammers, and had NO IDEA they weren't on the up-and-up. That's why Palmer's initial statement blamed everyone else for the lion's death while still insisting he acted properly and his kill was legal.

Here's the thing: Palmer pulled the trigger, or in this case, let fly the arrow. HE is responsible. Every responsible hunter knows they are ultimately responsible for every shot they make. You do not blame your shot on anyone else. It is the hunter's responsibility to make sure the permits are in order. It is the hunter's responsibility to ensure he's hunting on properly leased land. The hunter is responsible for his or her actions, regardless of whether they are solo or part of a group or guided hunt. When Dick Cheney shot his friend in the face on a South Texas dove hunting expedition, Cheney and his handlers immediately blamed the friend for moving into Cheney's line of fire, even though the first thing anyone learning firearms/hunting is taught is that when you pull the trigger, you are responsible. I have a big issue with people ducking responsibility. I'm having to deal with this with my children now, that regardless of what transgression was committed and who committed it for what purpose, "it wasn't my fault" is the refrain promptly followed by often elaborate explanations on why it's actually their brother or sister's fault. You're not a special snowflake. If you botch something, own up to it and take responsibility. Clean up your own mess. Better yet, don't screw up in the first place.

Cheney, obviously, was never taught this lesson as a child. Nor was Palmer, and it's a hard, cruel learning curve he's now experiencing.

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