There have been two stories in the news over the last week that have caught my attention above all others.
The first is that of Cecil, a thirteen-year-old lion living in the safety of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. He was one of the most famous lions for wildlife tourists visiting the country – recognizable because of his distinctive black mane – and supposedly protected. He had been tagged with a GPS collar as part of a conservation study begun by Oxford University in 1999, making it possible to trace his movements.
Earlier this month, Cecil was lured out of the national park using bait. As soon as he was in an unprotected area he was shot by a hunter armed with a bow and arrow, which seriously injured the lion but did not kill him. His pursuers then tracked the wounded animal for forty hours before finally shooting him with a rifle and killing him. After being posed for photos, Cecil was skinned and beheaded.
The culprit has been named as Walter James Palmer, a rich dentist from Minnesota, who frequently made bow-hunting trips in the US and abroad.
According to the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force charity, Johnny Rodrigues, it is alleged that Palmer paid $50,000 for the privilege of killing a lion with bow and arrow.
Palmer claimed he’d been shooting bows and arrows since he was five and was “capable of skewering a playing card from 100 yards with his compound bow” according to a 2009 interview with the New York Times. Sad that despite such ‘skill’ he failed to make this kill a clean one at the very least.
Palmer himself is unrepentant about the killing of Cecil, claiming “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt.” He added. “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”
Mr Rodrigues alleges that Palmer worked with his guides to lure Cecil from the national park by strapping a “dead animal to their vehicle.” And when they found the dead lion was wearing a tracking collar they “unsuccessfully tried to hide” it.
Apparently, this is not the first time Palmer has sailed close to the wind. He was fined $3,000 and received probation for lying to a federal agent about where he shot a black bear in Wisconsin in 2006.
Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators’ Association of Zimbabwe has called for Palmer to be prosecuted for his actions, and even of him being extradited to Zimbabwe – over 137,000 people have signed a petition to the White House asking for this to happen.
Two Zimbabwean men – a local landowner and a professional hunter – face charges in connection with Cecil’s death. Neither had hunting permits, making their actions illegal. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison. According to police spokeswoman Charity Charamba, “We arrested two people and are now looking for Palmer in connection with the same case.”
I have nothing against hunting IF it serves a purpose other than showing off. Yes, man is a hunter by instinct, but usually in order to put food on the table rather than a stuffed and mounted head above the mantelpiece. It could be argued that anyone who is not vegetarian cannot protest about the killing of animals in any form, but trophy hunting is a far cry from feeding one’s family.
Yes, in the past people have gone on vast hunt-and-kill sprees, slaughtering species to the point of extinction. Former US president Theodore Roosevelt went on safari for the best part of a year after his term in office. According to the Theodore Roosevelt Association, the trip was funded as a scientific expedition by the august Smithsonian. During it, Roosevelt trapped or shot over 11,000 animals, including white rhinos.
|Theodore Roosevelt with bagged rhino|
But nobody can argue that they are unaware of the importance of conservation in today’s environment. It is estimated that two-thirds of all lion hunting trophies from Africa end up in America. Numbers of lions have fallen from 200,000 a hundred years ago to around 23,000 today, and they are now extinct in twenty-six countries. It’s a sad testament to human nature that some people have such wealth, are so jaded by every vice and depravity the world has to offer, that the only way they can get their kicks is by destroying something rare and beautiful.
Charlie Fox, no stranger to violent death in her own world, would take a very dim view, I feel.
Contrast this, then, with the second story to catch my eye – that of 12-year-old Mathew Flores from Utah. He approached his local mailman, Ron Lynch, to ask if he had any spare junk mail. You know – those fliers and advertising leaflets that we tend to shake out of magazines before we buy them and leave behind on the shelf, or shove straight into the fireplace, recycling box or waste bin when they land through our door.
Mystified, Lynch asked the youngster why he wanted the junk mail and claims the answer broke his heart. “He told me his wish is to have books to read. I told him the library had many, but he said they don't have a car, and couldn't afford the bus.”
Lynch was so touched by this that he put a plea out on Facebook, asking people for help.
‘Let's get this 12 year old some books,’ he wrote. ‘Let's help him. I was given many books as a child, and it's time to help someone else! Please share and let's get him tons of reading material!
‘Most kids his age want electronics. It's great to see his desire, and you should have seen him beam when I said I could help!
‘He's counting on me, so I'm counting on you!’
The request went viral, and hundreds of people from around the world sent Mathew books, so that he now has an entire bookshelf full. He told his local newspaper that he plans to share them with other children, and promises to read every one.
Ron Lynch, the mailman who started off the whole thing, posted an update saying: ‘Friends... I'm stunned and humbled by what happened.
‘I deserve little credit. It's all of you who cared enough to do something about it that are the true heroes of this story.
‘Mathew is thrilled and we're all overwhelmed. Bless you all, and thank you all so much!’
An incredibly heartwarming story for any writer to hear. It kinda restores my faith in human nature … just a little.
This week’s Word of the Week is scripturient, meaning a violent desire to write*, from the Latin scripturiens, present participle of scripturire, to desire to write, desiderative of Latin scribere, from which we get scribe.
*as opposed to a desire to write violently, which makes one a crime/thriller author.