Lion lovers may roar, but they don’t scare Uncle Bob

There has been one hell of an international uproar after American dentist Walter Palmer paid $50,000 to shoot and kill Cecil, a “beloved” Zimbabwean lion, in Hwange National Park.

In quick order, a global petition calling for justice for Cecil closed on nearly 400,000 signatures.

As would have been expected, quite a few folk were very upset. They were angry that the world has not shown as much sympathy for Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people as it has for Cecil.

It revived jokes about how, if Africans want people in the West to be as bothered about their lot as they are about lions, elephants, and rhinos that are being poached to extinction in the African wild, they need to go and live in national parks.

One can see where those arguments come from, but they are wrong and I for one don’t have much sympathy for them.

The one that I thought had some merit was the argument that Cecil was not the only lion killed for a trophy by some rich hunter.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that tourists in search of trophies kill 600 lions in Africa every year, with American hunters shooting 380 of them.

The campaign to obtain justice (not exactly a good choice of word) for lions therefore should be for all 600 of them, and not just Cecil — and that involves a bigger effort to end trophy hunting.

Otherwise, if someone decides that they love their cat or dog and spend their fortune on it, it is disingenuous to argue that they should not, and that their money would be better spent feeding your child – and they are morally inferior or inhuman for not giving it to you.

It is a selfish view where we humans, having appropriated primacy in the order of nature, want to take all its benefits and gifts for ourselves alone.

That view is what has led to the destruction of the environment, to such an extent that within decades many societies in East Africa alone will have no fuel wood, will have to walk 10 kilometres farther out to find water, and will be living on land that they have wasted so much, it cannot support their livelihoods.

But perhaps the bigger problem is that it is a cop out from having to deal with the root of our problems. Some of the governments that sell licences to hunters — in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa — are usually elected with majorities.

Having elected them, often because the opposition was led by someone from the “wrong” ethnic group or race, too many of the voters expect the rest of the world to help punish them when they become rogue and get in bed with poachers, steal taxpayers’ money, or beat them up.

Lions and elephants don’t elect our corrupt politicians. We do. They should therefore not pay the price for our actions.

And if Zimbabwe’s tormented people expect that the world’s big cat lovers will help remove Robert Mugabe’s boot from their necks, instead of weeping over the killing of an elderly lion, they will wait for a very long time.

Getting rid of Uncle Bob, that is a cross no one can carry for them.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail and Guardian Africa ( Twitter@cobbo3