As the internet continued to swirl over the controversial hunt of a beloved African lion named Cecil, the actions by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer are hardly unusual.
Palmer reportedly paid roughly $55,000 to undertake the hunt, which he believed was fully permitted and legal. Similar trophy hunting kills an estimated 600 lions per year, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. With just 30,000 African lions in existence, that amounts to 2 percent of the population.
Jane Smart, global director of the organization’s biodiversity group, told the Washington Post the real number is probably a little higher as the report is a few years old. A separate 2011 report found that Americans were driving the majority of African lion hunts. The report said Americans accounted for 64 percent of all African lion hunts between 1999 and 2008, and the number of imports doubled over that time period.
The Safari Club International, in which Palmer belongs and tracks big game trophy hunts, hailed a ruling last year when the US Fish and Wildlife declined to name lions as an endangered species. The club has documented 2,000 lion kills.
Smart said the killing of lions plays a role in conservation by raising the value of these animals. But hunting lions is actually not that difficult as hunts often require local guides and lions are not all that scared of humans so it’s relatively easy to get close to them.
“What is clear is that overall the trophy hunting must be carefully regulated, otherwise it casts the whole trophy hunting industry into ill-repute,” Smart told the Washington Post. “There is a payback for communities if we can do it in a regulated way. However unpleasant people find this, this can be a good conservation technique.”
For several weeks after Cecil’s death it was unclear exactly who paid to shoot the beloved 13-year-old lion. After Palmer had been outed by local hunting groups, a spokesperson confirmed him as the shooter. Since then, Palmer has faced death threats and was forced to shut down his dental practice. The president People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals even said he should be tried and hanged.
“Hunting is a coward’s pastime,” said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk in the statement. “If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.”
In related news, South African Airlines has lifted its ban on transporting the remains of trophy hunts involving lions, rhinos, tigers and elephants.
“We have decided to lift the embargo after extensive engagements with the DEA and the commitment we received that the compliance and inspection areas will be strengthened to ensure that the risk of shipment of illicit goods and falsification of permits and documentation is eliminated,” the statement read.