Sunday, August 2, 2015

The lion-killing dentist versus the boy who loved to read: the worst and the best of human nature

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. 


  1. Are you sure that "desiderative" is not your word of the week? And what do you call it if someone has a violent desire to write violenty? Redunscripturient?

    As for the two stories of the week, I've always abhorred trophy hunting. Hunting to eat is fine (but not endangered species). Hunting for 'trophies' is the most juvenile and immature of "manly sports." The boy who so badly wants to read that he'll read junk mail? 'Nuff said. Bravissimo!

  2. Desiderative is a lovely word, too, isn't it? Couldn't resist throwing that one in - the desire to do anything, attached to a verb to denote that which is desired. (Or summat like that.)

    And although I was a competition target shooter at one point, it was purely metal plates or wood and paper targets -- some of them moving. The satisfaction and skill involved in achieving a high score was more than enough.

  3. Zoe, I have shot a lot of lions, hundreds of elephants, and a number of leopards. I particularly like to shoot cheetahs and once shot two at a time, very rare. I know Stan and Michael share my joy in shooting animals since I have seen their trophies here on MIE. Everyone I know who has shot a lion wants to go back as often as possible to do it again, because it is such a thrilling experience. Even for people who grew up near the animals and have been shooting them their whole lives. That's the thing about shooting with a camera. You can do it a hundred times a day. Shoot the very same animal over and over again. And the thrill doesn't fade.
    I ate game my father hunted when I was a child. Tomorrow, by coincidence, you will see here photos of things I caught, killed and ate. What I cannot fathom is the inner working of a heart that wants to kill to feed only its own ego. What is that about? I think they should sentence the dentist to spend the rest of his life taking care of the teeth of poor people free of charge.

    1. What a fitting sentence, Annamaria. And having once worked as a photographer (rtd) I can utterly agree that the thrill of getting that perfectly framed, exposed and focused shot never faded in 25 years.

  4. Well I think enough has been said about Cecil and the Eejit and lots of animal rights activists are very angry. Do I think it right that the man is now being hunted? No. That makes us as bad as them. Something good has to come out of this. Certainly the EU is now going to have to resist a tsunami of pressure to ban the importation of hunting trophies. Previously the Germans and the Brits have resisted such a ban. Meanwhile, foxhunting with dogs is illegal in the UK. The Scots gvt are keeping the ban, the Westminster Gvt is voting to repeal it. The SNP (despite their promise not to vote in affairs that have no concern north of the border) have said they will vote against the repeal - even though it has nothing to do with them....

    1. I can't help it, Caro. I must insert my favorite Oscar Wilde quip; Fox hunting--the insufferable in pursuit of the inedible.

    2. Does this mean, Caro, that one can no longer spend all day out with one's ghillie on the Scottish moorlands, stalking the elusive haggis, and -- having successfully bagged one of the wee beasties -- mount its tusks and hooves above one's fireplace? How very disappointing ... :)

    3. I thought it was the 'unspeakable' who were in pursuit, Annamaria? But I think I like your version better.

      In this case I think the Wilde quote "there is no sin except stupidity" is quite apt, too.

    4. Busted! I got the quote wrong. Oscar's exact wording: "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable."

  5. If someone really wants to hurt that dentist, they should post enlargements of his own teeth...looks like chiclets on parade, which I guess fits the big picture.

    Love that kid and how about the mail carrier...who's braved confronting true wild animals of any number of legs every day without having lost his humanity.

    1. I've always believed in karmic consequences, Jeff.

      Both the kid and the mail carrier are wonderful, aren't they?

  6. I have to admit that I have a difficult time understanding trophy hunting. I have friends who hunt for food--they get a license, shoot a deer, and then butcher, freeze and eat the entire animal, and I have no problem with that kind of hunting. People who hunt to live off (or close to) the land, or because they enjoy the meat---all of those make sense to me. People who kill for the sport of killing, however, fall into another class entirely.

    Big game animals are so wonderful, and so rare...I'd love to see and photograph one in its natural environment. I wish the "big game hunters" would swap their bows for cameras.

    Fortunately, I saw this second story also, and it lifted me the way it did you. I wish we had a way of finding other children in this boy's situation, so we could get them books too!

    1. Hi Susan

      I agree. I wish there was some way to convince them. Perhaps by using those unwilling as the 'bait' to tempt those big game animals out of hiding? I wonder how the dentist would have felt if *he* had been the one tied to the back of the vehicle?

      And I'd love to donate my books to kids, but I fear they're not entirely suitable. Fortunately, there's another Zoë Sharp out there, who does indeed write children's books. Perhaps we ought to do a swap ...

    2. WHOAA! Hold the phone! There's TWO Zoë Sharps in the world??? How does the planet keep spinning? Why doesn't the universe implode? That's like two particles existing in the same place at the same time. It... it... it's just WRONG!

  7. i am a very peaceable person ..... but I will have no sorrow to read that dentist Palmer has been disposed of!!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  8. I love the story of the postal carrier and the boy. That was the best thing I read in the internet today. Thanks for posting.

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