There are two sides, and usually more, to every story. Getting people to see or to hear all sides of the story is challenging. Consider the story of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s most celebrated lion.
Cecil was 13 years old and the star of Hwange National Park. He was fitted with a tracking collar, was studied by researchers and often sat out sunning in view of park visitors.
Cecil is skinned out now and headed for a Minnesota dentist’s trophy wall. The dentist, a passionate trophy hunter, shot him with a bow and arrow after paying somewhere around $50,000 for a trophy hunt.
One of the storylines is that the hunter and his guides lured Cecil beyond park boundaries, where hunting is prohibited, and shot him on a private preserve. Another is that Cecil wandered out on his own and the hunter shot him unaware that he was collared and from the national park. Which story is true likely will not be determined until the dust settles.
Cecil’s sad demise hit social media like an atomic bomb. There were hundreds of thousands of messages and comments of outrage. There were demands for an end to trophy hunting. Some airlines, Air Canada among them, announced that they would no longer allow big game animal trophies on their airplanes.
There were threats on the lives of the dentist and his family. The Zimbabwean government has called for the dentist to be extradited to face trial.
Tom Bronkhorst, local safari operator and the professional hunter who guided the Minnesota dentist, was charged with failing to prevent an illegal hunt. He is in a court next month facing up to 15 years in prison.
It seemed that the entire world was infuriated at what was called the cruel and insane practice of killing animals for trophies.
Not exactly. And that’s the other side of this story.
Wildlife experts, conservation groups and African governments generally support trophy hunting. They say that when animals within government preserves become too numerous they are sold to private game preserves.
Private game preserves pay a lot more money for the animals than they would fetch for food or other purposes. In turn, the private preserves bring in large amounts of money from trophy hunters and other tourism enterprises, which is a help to the overall economy.
In some places, lions and other animals are poisoned or trapped because of the threat they pose to humans, livestock and crops. Locals tend to leave the animals alone if they are realizing the economic benefits of trophy hunting.
Governments in Namibia and South Africa spoke out against calls for a ban on trophy hunting.
“This will be the end of conservation in Namibia,” Pohamba Shifeta, Namibia’s environment and tourism minister was quoted as saying. If there was no trophy hunting, there would be no money for conservation.
South Africa’s environment ministry said trophy hunting helps to pay for its conservation efforts.
Bronkhorst called the charges against him frivolous and added: “If we do not use wildlife sustainably, there will be no wildlife.”
Hunting has been an effective conservation tool, not only in Africa but in North America, when the money it generates is put back into wildlife management and conservation programs.
Critics say the money often is diverted to other programs or into corrupt pockets.
They might be right. Corruption exists wherever money is to be made. But that’s a different problem and a different story.
I’ve been a hunter all my life but never a hunter for trophies. However, I’ll reserve judgment on whether it is a good or bad thing until I hear more facts.
The Internet and social media have allowed our society to form instant opinions based on incomplete and unchecked information. Critical thinking is a requirement of making intelligent decisions. And critical thinking involves looking at all sides of the story.
Fortunately the Cecil story is only about trophy hunting and not a topic in which instant outrage and condemnation leads to people pushing buttons that launch intercontinental missiles.