A sign in Yosemite Park asks: "If everyone took something, what would be left?" This week, an American dentist took it upon himself to lure a famed lion out of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and shoot him with a bow and arrow, subsequently beheading him. It is believed that he paid about $54,000 USD for the privilege of killing the animal, illegally moving it out of park grounds.
In a world with a population of 7 billion people and growing -- the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs believes that number will swell to 9.5 billion by 2050 -- how can one man grant himself so much power? And how can we let him? Walter James Palmer has a track record of killing wild and beautiful animals. For nothing more than sport. He has traveled the globe, shooting leopards in Zimbabwe and the endangered Nevada Bighorn, as well as the white rhino.
According to the National Park Service in March 2015, there are only 600 Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep in Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. This is up from 100 sheep in 2000. In a misguided attempt to fund conservation, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep auctions off yearly permits to shoot Desert Bighorn Sheep. Their brochure, entitled "Introduction to Sheep Hunting on a Budget," explains how prospective hunters can go about securing one of the nearly 2,000 yearly permits. The FNAW inflates their estimate of sheep populations, stating that there are 8,560 California bighorns. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates it as much lower (around 500 in 2012). In Washington state, 43 permits are issued, permitting the hunting of any of the state's merely $1,780 estimated sheep. The permits cost $1,202 for nonresidents, not including the lottery fee.
There is something woefully misguided about monetizing the lives of endangered species. What gives an American dentist with a penchant for senseless destruction the right to wipe out a National Park's only famous lion? The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that we are losing species at about 1,000 to 10,000 times the "background rate," or the normal rate of extinction over the natural course of evolution.
The lion that Walter James Palmer killed was not part of an endangered population. But he was named Cecil. And to those familiar with the park, he was one of a kind, considered the most famous creature in the Park. There was only one of him, and Walter James Palmer decided that he had a right to kill him.