July 31, 2015 by T. Gregory Argall
This has been a bad week to be a death-hobbyist from Minnesota.
If you don’t know what I mean, then where is this rock of yours and how long have you been living under it?
You see, a few weeks ago there was this dentist in Minnesota who decided to go on one of his usual vacations, the kind he’d been on before. He went to Zimbabwe and hired some local guides to coax a lion off of protected land and onto some adjacent land where his hunting permit still didn’t apply but there was less chance of being caught. You know, just a normal vacation.
Then he shot the lion with an arrow, wounding him. The lion fled and 40 hours later Dr. Dental McKillkill and his guides caught up to it and killed him. They skinned the lion, cut off his head for a trophy, then discovered that he had been tagged with a GPS tracking collar.
It turned out they had killed Cecil the lion, a local favourite and subject of study by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit from Oxford University. Cecil was somewhat famous due to the uniqueness of his darkhaired mane. When Cecil’s remains were found this past week, news quickly spread. Soon after lion’s killer was identified he swiftly transitioned from being just another dentist to being the Most Hated Man On The Internet, or at least the Most Hated Man In America, which pragmatically amounts to the same thing.
The dentist had to shut down his practice due to the sheer volume of hatred and backlash directed his way. He has essentially gone into hiding, along with his family.
As a result of his actions, his children will likely become the target of bullies and harassment as well. Cecil’s cubs, on the other hand, will likely be killed by the dominant male lion taking Cecil’s place.
Love for Cecil and hatred for the dentist have become the leading topics this week on both news media and social media, overshadowing even whatever stupid things Donald Trump has said about anything.
The swiftness and severity of the backlash is frightening. As soon as a name was applied to the act, the name was vilified. People on social media were publicly declaring their desire to kill, skin, and decapitate the dentist. Which, even in these circumstances, seems a bit extreme. Like fire-bombing-an-occupied-abortion-clinic-to-protect-the-sanctity-of-life extreme. Death threats are rarely a good way to show how much you care about living creatures. (Unless your point is that you don’t care for them at all, in which case, it’s the perfect way to show it.)
Anger at the dentist’s hunt quickly morphed in to anger at the concept of hunting in general. Normally in this sort of situation you would expect other hunters to denounce the dental hunter for the blatant illegality of his actions, but they mostly remained silent, likely to avoid becoming targets themselves just by speaking up.
I have seen comments (but no confirmation, as yet) that the dentist was once named in a sexual harassment lawsuit and, separately, that he has a sexual assault conviction on his record. These two allegations may or may not be true. I don’t know. But the way they were presented as comments on social media, felt like just an excuse to throw more kindling on the fire around the stake to which he is tied.
“He is this particular type of asshole and that makes us angry, but we feel like we should be even angrier, which we would be if he was also this other type of asshole, so yeah, he probably is, so let’s be angrier.”
The dentist has said that he didn’t intend to break any laws and that he is perfectly willing to throw his guides under the metaphorical bus, since that’s what he paid them for. I may be paraphrasing.
But this isn’t his first hunt. This isn’t even his first illegal hunt. Previously, he shot and killed a black bear in Wisconsin and then lied to the authorities about the location of the kill because he had violated the terms of his permit.
And he is by no means the first hunter to break the law, so why this sudden and venomous internet reviling of hunters now, when a month ago no consistent opinions on the topic were expressed on the web?
I think it’s because this lion had a name. It wasn’t just another anonymous animal. He killed Cecil the lion.
On the same night that we were lighting cybercandles for an internet vigil to mourn Cecil and hate the dentist, it was discovered that five elephants had been killed by poachers in Kenya, their tusks ripped from their corpses.
Barely a blip on the internet.
If the elephants had been named Babar, Irving, Skittles, Rosebud, and Dave then the poachers would have already been caught, lynched, and stuffed by now.
Things matter even if you haven’t given them cute names.
Try to be nice to each other.