Cecil and Cecile: Humaneness, but Not for the Human

(Photo Illustration: NRO)

Cecil the lion gave the Left a great gift: The death of the African apex predator at the hands of Dr. Walter Palmer, an American dentist, has driven the North American apex predator — Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood — off the front page for a moment. Not all harvesting is equal in the eyes of the American chattering class.

Palmer is, if the press accounts of his activities are accurate, an incompetent and unethical hunter — not really a hunter at all, but a poacher. Hunting predators over bait is not sporting; in many places, crossbow hunting is disallowed or restricted to persons with disabilities that prevent them from operating ordinary archery equipment; luring park animals partly accustomed to human interactions into hunting areas is despicable. Palmer had previously pleaded guilty to charges relating to the poaching of a black bear.

As a lion hunter, Palmer’s ethical violations were compounded by incompetence: Palmer’s first shot wounded the lion but failed to kill it. At that point, it was incumbent upon him to immediately pursue the lion and kill him. Palmer took nearly two days to do so. Of course stalking a wounded lion in the bush is a dicey proposition — that’s why they call it dangerous game.

Hunting African game is an unpredictable business: Cape buffalo hunters who have put down a dozen of the beasts with one rifle shot each occasionally will encounter a specimen that survives the first shot, and a second, and a third. . . . There are cases in which a dozen properly placed shots fail to fell the animal. But those hunters, if they are competent and ethical, pursue the quarry until it is down — and Cape buffalo, despite their herbivorous habits, are generally held to be considerably more dangerous than lions. On the subject of Cape buffalo, the famous African hunter Robert Ruark offered one of my all-time favorite observations. You can point a rifle at a Cape buffalo, and he “looks at you like you owe him money.” Anybody with sufficiently deep pockets can go on a hunt, but that doesn’t make him a hunter.

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There probably isn’t a U.S. law under which to charge Dr. Palmer. The African lion is not listed as an endangered species, though perhaps it should be. But the federal code is vast, and the Justice Department is creative. Perhaps Cecil’s civil rights were violated. There is talk of extraditing Palmer to Zimbabwe, but there isn’t really a Zimbabwean law under which to charge him, either, inasmuch as there is no law, properly understood, in Zimbabwe, only the whimsy of dictator Robert Mugabe, who has been running Zimbabwe since I was carrying a Star Wars lunchbox to the second grade.

#related#But of course we are not going to be talking about that. American public discourse is a mile wide and an inch deep, and it operates almost exclusively in generalities, the broader the better. For the moment, the conversation, such as it is, is dominated by the infantile cry: “Lions nice! Hunters bad!” We might take this moment to remind ourselves that Zimbabwe is a psychotic state with failed institutions and that the Mugabe style is, unhappily, not restricted to Mugabe or to Zimbabwe. We might consider that there are ethical and unethical modes of big-game hunting, and we might, if we were so inclined, meditate on the fact that hunters have for generations played a critical role in the conservation of wildlife and habitat. If we were feeling philosophical, we might even think for a moment about the fact that those who would ban hunting out of awe for nature and the natural order in fact pervert that order by denying man’s unique role in it, and wonder whether a man who has never killed his own breakfast, even if it’s only a perch, can really understand that.

Instead, we’re treated to the spectacle of Twitter mobs composed of people who have never thought about the condition of lions, or the condition of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, emoting with great satisfaction for a minute and a half until they move on to the next thing. Pretty lion, mean dentist. Mean, mean dentist.

But Cecile Richards’s butchery, those dishes full of tiny hands and feet and hearts and brains, the blasé negotiations about price, “I want a Lamborghini” and all the rest of that? Oh, there’s context, don’t you know.

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