The most hated man in the world right now is a fiftysomething dentist from Minnesota called Walter Palmer.
His practice in Bloomington, Minneapolis, has been deluged with hate mail; people are calling for him to be tortured, just like at the dentists’, only without anaesthetic; even Newt Gingrich has stuck his oar in, demanding in a Tweet that this terrible Palmer man be sent to jail.
So what did Palmer do to deserve this opprobrium?
Did he collect aborted baby body parts for his amusement? Did he commit genocide? Did he start a world war?
No, something far, far worse than any of those. Palmer shot and killed a lion with a sweet name: Cecil.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m as saddened about the death of Cecil as any of my fellow environmentalists. I’ve seen lions on safari in Africa, lots of times. Lions are great, especially big, alpha males like Cecil.
What’s cool is the way basically they hang around preening themselves like they think they’re Donald Trump while the females in the pride do all the hunting, childcare and so on. Then, when it’s dinner time, they amble over and take the choice bits because, hey, they’re the daddy and that’s their prerogative. If you’re a man of a certain age, this life-model can look very seductive.
But I still don’t think, handsome and magnificent though he clearly was, Cecil would have earned half so much sympathy had he been called something evil like Scar or Headcrusher or Foulsmelloffelinebreathjustbeforeyoudie – or some Swahili variant thereof.
Hence, I suspect, that mildly hurt, defensive tone adopted by whoever it was acting as spokesman for Palmer when contacted by the Guardian yesterday:
“As far as I understand, Walter believes that he might have shot the lion that has been referred to as Cecil.”
Loose translation: “What is all this Cecil shit? Cecil is the kind of name your elderly gay uncle has. Whereas this is a lion, for chrissake. A wild animal. Not one of those humans – who actually do have names – who get devoured in their thousands by lions every year, but who never merit even a sentence in the newspapers.”
If that’s what he’s saying, I sort of sympathise. Yes, there’s something a bit low-down and mean about – as Palmer is alleged to have done – luring a lion from its hunting grounds with bait, botching its dispatch with a bow-and-arrow and then having to stalk the wounded creature for 40 hours before finally putting it out of its misery.
Yes, Palmer is probably only shedding crocodile tears when he protests through his spokesman that he is “quite upset” and implies that he had no idea that this particular lion he shot was such a living legend. (He does, after all, have form – having done probation after being caught in 2008 making a false statement to federal wildlife officials concerning the exact location of the slaying of a black bear during a guided hunt in Wisconsin. Also, he’s a trophy hunter, so of course he’s going to aim for biggest most impressive beast in the pride, not one of the lesser ones. Accident? Yeah right.)
All that said, by far his worst crime, in my view, is giving big game hunters a bad name that they don’t by and large deserve.
As James Kirkup argues here and as I’ve argued before now at Breitbart game hunters are the heroes and heroines of wildlife conservation in Africa, both because of the large sums of money they bring in to help park rangers fight what would otherwise be a losing battle against poachers and because they give local people a financial incentive to preserve the lions that eat their cattle and the elephants that trample their fences rather than treat them as a pest.
Walter Palmer’s penchant for killing trophy game may not be everyone’s idea of fun. But everyone is not paying tens of thousands of year to support Africa’s wildlife preservation industry, whereas Palmer is.