There’s recently been one heck of a commotion over the demise of a lion called Cecil and even as a card-carrying herbivore with an endless reservoir of compassion for furry mammals, I found all the brouhaha rather tiresome.
Cecil was a resident of a wildlife reserve in Zimbabwe and famed for his spectacular black mane, if not his faintly ridiculous name. The media got itself into a frenzy over the fact that an American dentist had paid money to shoot Cecil. Allegations flew: Cecil had been lured out of the protected wildlife reserve, where unpermitted hunting safari organisers had arranged for the dentist to shoot the lion in cold blood in the dead of night. Poor Cecil, we were told, was an easy target. Blinding lights had confused the lion. The bloodthirsty dentist had shot Cecil with an arrow. Consequently, the wounded animal had dragged the arrow around all night while the hunters slept in luxury accommodation. The final act came the next day, when they tracked down the bleeding lion, finished the job, and cut off its head for a trophy.
Should this anger us? Of course. If even only some of the allegations are true, it’s an outrage. But when our world is full of obscenely cruel acts perpetrated by humans on animals, isn’t reserving our compassion for one carnivorous beast in the brutal ecosystem of the African plains a bit precious? And what about the human-on-human brutality that’s a fact of life in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, where people are routinely treated with less respect than Cecil was accorded during his life on the wildlife reserve?
It was particularly galling watching the parade of loud Americans protesting outside the dentist’s surgery, some of whom probably went straight from placard-waving to the KFC drive-through, with less than a thought for the inherent contradiction in their stance.
Chickens aren’t protected, or rare, and neither are any of the farm animals we slaughter in the millions and never give a single thought to. The same is true of the many so-called pests, made up of species which just happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and almost always because they’ve been moved by humans from their natural environment to one which they weren’t designed for.
But most of the ruckus over Cecil wasn’t over the environmental impact of hunting lions - it was over the perceived injustice of killing a beautiful lion with a big black mane, and directed at one American citizen who legally got his rocks off by hunting, a so-called sport that’s big in America, and big (and growing) in New Zealand.
There’s an inherent - and obvious - contradiction in that. Is a lion intrinsically more worthy than a ferret or a cow? Why is one animal deserving of a life and not another? Surely, all animals (including human animals) have pretty much the same hardwired needs and desires. Shear off the frivolities, and we all want to be free to live our lives the way evolution has designed us to do. Cats, pigeons and hedgehogs all enjoy a similar experience in life: finding and eating food that sustains their lives, having sensory enjoyment of the world around them, and finding satisfaction through the bonds of family.
Ironically, the first time I thought about vegetarianism (although I didn’t know the word back then) was through my exposure to 1960s Japanese cartoon series, Kimba The White Lion. Kimba’s big idea was for all the animals to join together and help each other, stop eating each other, and plant, grow and eat vegetables instead. Hardly a real-world scenario, and I doubt that Cecil would have shared Kimba’s pacifist ideology. But humans don’t need or benefit from the wholesale slaughter and eating of animals. And we will need as much compassion as we can muster to get through the rest of this volatile, violent decade. We can start now by expressing that compassion to our brothers and sisters of the animal kingdom. (GARY STEEL)
Gary Steel is an Auckland-based journalist who runs online vegetarian resource
www.doctorfeelgood.co.nz He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org