Most anti-hunting sentiment is due to a combination of:
- romanticisation of charismatic megafauna
- thinly-disguised bashing of rich people
- generalised online misanthropy
The reaction to the killing of Cecil the Lion is no exception, and is similar to past reactions when Ian Gibson was trampled to death by an elephant ( ), Rebecca Francis killed a giraffe ( ) and Kendall Jones posted pictures of herself smiling beside dead African game ( ).
Perhaps there was some slight increase in outrage due to the hunt being illegal and Cecil being famous, but really how many non-Zimbabweans had heard of Cecil before his killing, and why does legal hunting also upset people?
Let us look at some of the reasons typically given to justify outrage at this kind of hunting and hunter: conservation, animal cruelty and sportsmanship.
Cecil was a member of the species Panthera leo, the African Lion, which is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species ( ).
That might sound worrying, but Gadus morhua (Atlantic Cod) is also Vulnerable ( ) and most people have no problems with eating it. Ditto with lots of other species of seafood ( ).
Furthermore, hunting for sport can in many cases actually be *good* for threatened species.
Hunters spend a lot of money, which stimulates local economies, and encourages locals to conserve wildlife so hunters can come and shoot animals.
Indeed, the legalisation of white rhino hunting in South Africa was responsible for the population exploding from less than 100 to more than 11,000 ( ). Elephants in Zimbabwe have also benefited from hunting.
The vast majority of those against hunting for sport happily eat meat, and factory farming is far more cruel ( ) - it's just that you don't see or imagine it, so it's out of sight, out of mind.
If it's alright for countless animals to suffer their entire lives just to give you some momentary pleasure from their meat, what is the suffering of a few animals to give a hunter his own pleasure?
What is the moral difference between the pleasure of eating meat (which is not necessary for human survival) and the pleasure of hunting which makes the former acceptable but not the latter?
This is a somewhat more interesting objection.
This objection to hunting goes along the lines of it being "unfair" for people armed with modern weaponry and other technology (and usually with support staff) to go up against animals only equipped with teeth and claws.
And thus it is not a sport.
One might question what fair play might involve.
Should the hunter arm himself with a rifle without scopes and/or night vision devices?
Should the hunter not camouflage himself?
Should the hunter arm himself with a spear - no firearms?
Should the hunter only use his bare hands?
Yet, hunted animals are physically stronger, probably faster and definitely better equipped with natural weapons than humans.
Just what should hunters do to give animals a sporting chance?
Similarly, is it sporting for athletes from developed countries,
- benefiting from nutrition and sport science
- who can afford to train full-time
- train at high altitudes to increase their red blood cell count
- using the latest aerodynamic bodysuits ( ) and
- who have expensive personal trainers and coaches
to go up against athletes from developing countries who
- have day jobs
- train barefoot on dirt tracks
- are malnourished and
- compete in simple jerseys?
Really, all this fuss about hunters being unsporting is moot since we don't get upset when people are unsporting in other areas.
Did Lance Armstrong get death threats for being unsporting and doping?
Indeed, it seems to me that the only ones getting death threats in those instances were the ones who contributed to Armstrong's fall from grace ( ). So people were upset at those seeking to maintain the purity of the sport (such as it is) more than Armstrong, who broke the rules.
In other words, what upsets people isn't really that hunters are unsporting.
Romanticisation of charismatic megafauna
Rebecca Francis, who posed for a photo with a dead giraffe and got a barrage of death threats after Ricky Gervais condemned her ( ), noted that
the animals I have taken with a bow include: a 10 1/2 ft. brown bear, black bear, shiras moose, alaskan moose, dall sheep, stone sheep, desert bighorn ram, rocky mountain bighorn ram, mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, mountain goat, antelope, arapawa ram, kudu, zebra, black wildebeest, giraffe, springbuck, blesbuck, lynx, badger, and squirrel
Yet, it seems that what got the most attention was the giraffe, which is telling.
Gervais's tweet is also revealing:
What must've happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?
At least some of the hate, then, comes from the animal being "beautiful".
Thinly-disguised bashing of rich people
The rich are one of the seemingly few groups that it is okay to hate nowadays, and it is clear from the subtext of many of the comments that this sentiment is present.
One clear example is the journalist Piers Morgan who said that,
I will sell tickets for $50,000 to anyone who wants to come with me and track down fat, greedy, selfish, murderous businessmen like Dr Palmer in their natural habit.
Nevermind that Palmer is not fat. Nor is he a businessman. And there doesn't seem to be any evidence that he is greedy, selfish or murderous (by definition you can't "murder" an animal).
He is a hunter, so he must be a corporate fatcat!
Similarly, the ban on fox hunting in England is at least as much about class as protecting foxes from cruelty ( ).
Generalised online misanthropy
By now if you're not living under a rock you must have heard about at least one Internet witch hunt.
The glee expressed by many people as they fantasise about torturing Walter Palmer is really disturbing. For example:
Truly. I'd put a cross bow bolt through Walter Palmer then track him from 40 hrs, shoot him, behead him, skin him and sleep peacefully.
Even if they don't want to kill him, they certainly want him ruined.
Sharon Osbourne tweeted of her hope that he “loses his home, his practice & his money” (before noting: “He has already lost his soul”).
As a New York Times article observed,
Perhaps she had now come to understand that her shaming wasn’t really about her at all. Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval, and that is what led to her undoing. Her tormentors were instantly congratulated as they took Sacco down, bit by bit, and so they continued to do so. Their motivation was much the same as Sacco’s own — a bid for the attention of strangers — as she milled about Heathrow, hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see
Basically, people are just looking for targets to bash and hate, especially in the Internet age where hating on people is something of a performance art.
To some constituencies, Walter Palmer is a hero.
By shooting Cecil the Lion he saved the lives of about 250 antelope Cecil would've eaten over his life.
As well as any cubs Cecil would've killed if he'd taken over a pride ( ).
Meanwhile, humans die all the time but this rarely attracts attention ( ).