Those of you who have travelled with us will know that a Tropical Ice safari is much more than a drive around the parks looking at animals. It is a sincere learning experience, where we discuss important wildlife conservation issues, and we lay before our visitors the positives and the negatives. We are very aware of the fact that we currently stand at a dubious crossroads where natural wildlife is concerned. We are losing it faster than anyone had ever expected. The next two decades could see the complete disappearance of species such as elephant and lion from the natural wilderness.
HOW COULD PEOPLE DO SUCH A THING?
A few months ago an American dentist shot a collared lion on the edge of a national park in Zimbabwe. The world was incensed, the story was covered by every leading international newspaper, and the vacuous 24-hour TV news channels ran with the story for days. The villain became a pariah within his community, he was shamed, his business was temporarily closed. He hid his face for weeks.
More recently a German trophy hunter shot a large tusked bull elephant in Zimbabwe, what is being called “one of Africa’s biggest elephants”. The media is once again frantic and as I write there is a reward on offer for the hunter’s identity. This hunter paid US$60,000.00 for his prize. Whether he will receive permission to transport the tusks home to Germany remains to be seen.
As with the recent lion shooting, the media and the internet are presently in a frenzy over this elephant killing. The clarion cry seems to be: “How could people do such a thing?”
I find myself questioning this public response, and whether such a reaction is ultimately healthy for the future of the lion and the elephant. In order for the plight of wildlife on our planet to receive mass media and general public attention it appears necessary for there to be a high degree of anthropomorphism. I may be proved wrong but I doubt if the recently killed elephant will have the media “legs” that the earlier lion had. The public hasn’t yet been given the necessary connection – this elephant doesn’t have a human name. Bill, Bruce, or Gerald the elephant would undoubtedly grab public attention and monopolize the news channels just as Cecil the lion did.
Have we reached a point where in order to provoke a mass public and media response to the future of endangered species, we must first coat the animal in question with a Disney-like veneer in order to make it presentable? I fear we have. There are perhaps fewer than 25,000 wild lions left on our planet, but while the world was seething over the demise of Cecil, the Maasai of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania continued to think nothing of poisoning lions to protect their increasing numbers of cattle. This, along with loss of habitat owing to human expansion, is one of the main reasons why we may have reached the beginning of the “end game” for the species.
Is the lion or lioness which died yesterday, having suffered an agonizing death from poison or a spear wound on the edge of the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti, less special than Cecil because it had yet to be “humanized” with a name and a presence? Why is this lion, and the many others being butchered throughout Africa, not receiving the same media and internet attention that Cecil did? Are we too PC to take on the Maasai, who are still perceived internationally as the beautiful people, the faultless custodians of the African plains?
Is there a difference between what the Maasai are doing and what the American dentist did? I believe the former is a far greater threat to the existence of the lion.
Elephant numbers have dropped by 62% over the last decade. We are currently losing approximately 100 elephants a day. There are about 400,000 left in the world. Elephants reproduce by 5% per year and they are being killed off by 7% per year. Their future does not look bright.
Let’s not forget that media and internet fervor is growing by the hour as we search for the identity of the German hunter who shot the lone elephant bull. There is currently a unanimous public and media need to humiliate the man, to make him pay for his crime.
Are we not missing the woods for the trees? Elephants are being wiped out by ivory-seeking poachers all over Africa for the need to enhance the tables, mantle-pieces, arms and necks of the burgeoning middle-class Chinese. Terrorist groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda/Southern Sudan, and Al Shabaab in Somalia, are financing their criminal activities by slaughtering elephants to sell to the Chinese.
But is enough being said by the media and internet about this? Are we crying out for justice against the Maasai and the Chinese? I think not.
Could it be that the reality of what really is threatening lions and elephants is too big for us to emotionally connect with? These poisoned lions, and the daily toll of 100 poached elephants have yet to be personalized in the news, they haven’t been adequately “humanized”. Like American school shootings, we have become “numbed” to the roots of the real problem. For the elephant the China factor is too big for us to concern ourselves (someone else can sort that out!); similarly for the lion, human population expansion into their natural habitat (the Maasai factor) is a stretch too far for us to get our minds round.
So, while we miss the bigger picture, we’ll focus instead on these western hunters who spend thousands of dollars to prove that they are able to kill innocent, unsuspecting animals, but who in the grand scheme of things pose no threat to the demise of the species in question. This, we can really get our teeth into and feel good about on Facebook.
After all, one of them dared to shoot a lion called Cecil.
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