Friday, July 31, 2015

Why Wasn't I Surprised That The Guy Who Killed Cecil The Lion Was A Dentist?

It's been a while since I noticed the DDS on the ends of the names of people who have trophy bears in the Anchorage Airport. 

These are only two bears representing two dentists over a 40 year period so let's not jump to conclusions about dentists. Yet.  .  .
Not all the stuffed bears at the airport had their shooters identified, but a couple that did were hunting or fishing guides.

Dr. Walter Palmer of Minnesota, is reported to have said of the death of Cecil:
“I hired several professional guides, and they secured all proper permits,” read a statement from Palmer to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.”
He added: “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."
Let's remember that most of us know almost nothing about Dr. Palmer and we're filling in the details to fit our own belief systems.  I think we all have a tendency to believe what we want to believe - those of us reading the stories and Dr. Palmer himself..  He wanted a lion and the guys he contacted said they'd get him one.  How carefully did he look into their credentials?  How would an American hunter even check Zimbabwean credentials?  As for the rest of us, many are blasting some version of the evil hunter killing innocent animals.   Others are praising the good hunters and singling Palmer out as the bad apple that gives all hunters a bad rep.

While I'm not likely to let this guy off easily, the real issue to me is: what is it that causes grown men, with a good education to want to go out and kill animals, not for food, but for trophies?  (And a follow up question that I won't explore here, is how this sort of killing connected to killing human beings?)   My representative in Congress is known for his wall full of animal heads and hides. He even missed a key subcommittee vote because he was on safari in South Africa.  I had a student once who explained how hunting was a bonding experience between him and his dad.  I get that, and I'm glad my dad and I bonded over other things, like hiking, books, art, baseball, and movies, rather than killing animals.

Some defend hunting as part of their cultural tradition and point out how hunters help protect the environment where animals live.  I think there's merit to those arguments, up to a point.  There are lots of traditions that modern societies no longer openly practice - like slavery, like beating kids as punishment, like cock and dog fighting,  like burning witches, like exorcising demons, or child labor and child marriage.

I look at that picture of Dr. Eberle and wonder what he was thinking at the time.  I too like to shoot animals, but with my camera rather than a gun.  That allows me a connection with the animal, but allows the animal to go on living and for others to enjoy seeing them too.   What causes grown men to want to kill big animals and display them?  Is it some sort of feelings of inadequacy, of lack of power?  Is it part of the DNA  they inherited from ancestors who hunted for survival?

A New Zealand study, done to help a government agency prepare to manage hunting on public estates, looked at lots of previous studies to try to determine motivations and satisfactions of hunters. 
Decker and Connelly (1989) proposed three categories of motivations; achievement oriented, affiliation oriented, and appreciation oriented.
  • -Achievement oriented hunters are motivated by the attainment of a particular goal,  which may be harvesting an animal for meat, a trophy or a display of skill.
  • -Affiliation oriented hunters participate in hunting with the primary purpose of fostering personal relationships with friends, family or hunting companions.
  • -Appreciation oriented hunters are motivated by a desire to be outdoors, escape everyday stress or to relax.
The study goes on to list a much wider range of specifics, that tend to fall into these categories.  It doesn't seem to get into deeper psychological reasons such as the need to demonstrate power (maybe getting a trophy is the proxy for this) or where these needs come from.  Why some people (mostly men) have such a need to kill animals and others do not.  There's lots to ponder here. 

I'd also note that the Alaska Dental Association strongly opposed the use of dental aides to perform basic dental work in rural Alaska.  Most, I'm sure, believed that dentists would give better care and that aides lacked the extensive training necessary to make critical decisions.  They didn't seem to weigh the benefits of many, many more kids and adults getting very simple basic dental care and education that local aides could provide in an area where few dentists lived.    I think their belief was genuine, but colored by their own conscious or unconscious self interests.  As are most all of our beliefs. One such interest was simply the same as all professional licensing - limiting the amount of competition.  Also dentists could fly out to rural Alaska and see patients and also go hunting and fishing on the side.  That is true of many urban, non-Native Alaskans who provide professional services in rural Alaska.  And my saying it shouldn't cause people to question the motives of people who do such work.  But we should be aware of how such side benefits might bias one's beliefs about what's right and wrong, good and bad.

When it comes to endangered species, there are bigger issues  - like resource extraction that destroys habitat, like overpopulation that impinges on wild habitat for housing and food.  And climate change which is changing the landscape world wide.  We should be concerned with individual abuses such as luring a well known collared lion out of a refuge to be shot.  But the bigger environmental trends are much more impactful and threatening to all living things, including humans.  These are the least immediately visible and seemingly the hardest to fight.  But there are ways and many people are pursuing them.  One just has to look, and the internet makes that easy. 


  1. Okay, I'll bite. I'm up earlier than normal today as Gene and I are taking a trip to our island property on the south coast.

    But hunting? I can talk about. I'm one of the those who grew up in a gun-loving, ammo-loading, game-meat hunting, ACLU household in Alaska. But then I saw Bambi when I was 8 or 9 and I never joined my brothers and father in the hunt. I think that movie made me gay. (I jest.)

    What is Cecil-killing all about? You might as well ask why do men dive out of planes, race cars from red lights at intersections, drink far too much, chase after unprotected sex, or just be generally stupid. I'll jump in and say, we're built for risk and many of us take the bait, wired as we are. That. or god made us that way. Even the great gender debates of our century are about this recognition of discovered innate difference. Why is it so?

    So I answer that big question be going small. Seriously, the one time I went hunting (no, didn't shoot anything or anyone) I spent time with male friends doing something quite ancient and really damn fun, if I'd be honest about it (and I am). I treated it as kinda like writer-research. And I found out, having a weapon in my hands that I KNEW could end the life of another being was powerfull. Penis substitution? Nah, I have a penis and know what to do with it. A gun, however, is another kind of stick.

    It's magical. It brings a sense of Shiva-like destroyer of worlds that pull me to memories of building incredibliy complex model cities in dirt, as boys, only to spend 10 minutes absolutely delighting in its total anhililation that same afternoon, using set charges of firecrackers to blow it up on timed relays. Such fun!

    It's power to create and start again. Destruction and rebirth as imagined by a boy become the man. Our dentist trophy-hunter, perhaps? It taps in to what I can only describe as good-old-boy, Roman arena blood-lust. I own that. I think a lot of we humans can (okay, maybe more guys). There is something primal about the hunt. Of being set on balls-to-the-wall high alert, senses trip-wire readied to see, to smell, to hear, to feel the environment around you. Talk to guys who've been hunting 'game' and those in war, and the reported feelings are scary-similar.

    Why does ISIS have such success recruiting young men? Why big-game hunters? Why sports car racing? None of these things have anything in common with the other -- except thrill and the discovery of it by some of us. And some of us are junkies.

    There's more. But I want to leave this quick sketch with this point: Hunting was a necessity in our species past; it helped us to get here today. We can condemn it now as we can grow food, raise our meat for slaughter. We have domesticated the very thing that once was daily life-and-death. Our ancestors didn't have the luxury of discussing the merits of 30.06 versus compound bow. They lived if they got their meat or starved if they didn't.

    And we don't think that's in us somewhere?, that the stuff that drives us to seek pleasure in sex, some how does not exist in the drive for food?

    This dentist just makes too much money. He needs to take up sky-diving.


  2. He has earned the disdain that so many feel for him. He has cheated before, killing a bear 50 miles from where he was suppose to hunt legally, then lied, was busted, paid a $3000 fine and served a year's probation. He caught fishing without a license, got fined, and a couple of yrs ago, was a sexual predator to one of his female employees trying to touch her breasts and genitals, she filed a complaint and he fired her, then paid her over $130,000 for settlement. This man is a liar and predator, a serial murderer of animals, kills for the thrill. a man with no moral compass. He is a liar, tried to destroy the radio collar rather than be the responsible hunter who follows the rules and when supposedly realizing then that this was a lion he lured out of the safe zone was wearing a collar, he didn't stop and call authorities and report the incident, he continued to sever the lion's head and left the country with it. He has nothing coming.

    Dr. Jane Goodall: “I was shocked and outraged to hear the story of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s much loved lion. Not only is it incomprehensible to me that anyone would want to kill an endangered animal (fewer than 20,000 wild lions in Africa today) but to lure Cecil from the safety of a national park and then to shoot him with a crossbow...? I have no words to express my repugnance. He was not even killed outright, but suffered for hours before finally being shot with a bullet. And his magnificent head severed from his wounded body. And this behaviour is described as a “sport." Only one good thing comes out of this – thousands of people have read the story and have also been shocked. Their eyes opened to the dark side of human nature. Surely they will now be more prepared to fight for the protection of wild animals and the wild places where they live. Therein lies the hope.”

  3. Interesting pair of comments. One looks inward and one outward. Thanks Jacob for expanding on the question of why. And thanks Anon for filling in more details, which I now see at ADN online. I doubted that Palmer was some innocent victim of unscrupulous guides, but had no data when I first posted this, so I focused on the idea of how we fill in the details ourselves, hoping to make it clear that my dentist theme was my way of filling in based on the stuffed bears I've seen.


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