The Insidiousness of Trophy Hunting

Greggory Moore | Moore Lowdown
The Insidiousness of Trophy Hunting

image by: Lord Mountbatten

For most of us, killing—however indirectly—is a normal part of our existence. But killing for food is a world apart from killing for sport, and there is no place for the latter in a healthy world.

Even vegans kill. They rip living organisms from the ground and consume them, every day contributing to the slaughter of innocent spinach and kale plants so that their human bodies might survive.

Who can blame them? It's a biological fact of life that all living creatures must consume to live, and food that fuels all of us above microscopic size must be organic in nature. For humans, that means choosing either to kill or to subsist only on fruit, nuts, milk, and whatever other substances we can scrounge up while leaving all other living organisms intact.

Few of us regard the fruitarian lifestyle as the only viable ethical choice. By one rationale or another the rest of us justify our killing. For most people in the world, our chosen rationale leaves room for the killing of at least some animals. It's a practice that predates our ability to rationalize. Homo sapiens sapiens evolved from a line of omnivores. Meat-eating is deep in the species.

Justifying or condemning meat-eating is beyond the scope of this article. But killing for food is of a different kind than getting off on thrill of the kill and souvenirs of sadistic adventure. It's called trophy hunting, and the recent killing of a single lion in Zimbabwe has invigorated debate about whether such practices should be sanctioned by the one animal on the planet capable of codifying ethics and morality.

You probably know the story. Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist who prides himself on his bow-hunting skills, paid two Zimbabwean men $50,000 to take him on a hunt. They lured a radio-collared lion named Cecil from Hwange National Park, a protected animal sanctuary, at which point Palmer shot Cecil through the head with a crossbow. Cecil did not die from the arrow embedded in his flesh, and after two days Palmer shot Cecil to death. Cecil's skinned and beheaded body was left to rot on the savannah, where authorities discovered it days later.

Because Cecil was a major tourist attraction at Hwange, outcry was swift. Palmer's co-conspirators were arrested by Zimbabwe police for poaching, and the Zimbabwean government has called for the U.S. to extradite Palmer so that he may also stand trial for an offense that carries the possibility of 10 years in prison.

Palmer, who is suffering strong backlash here at home—including protests at this Minnesota dental office sufficient to keep it closed for over a month—released a statement expressing regret for the killing. "I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt," he says. "[…] I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."

Contrary to his intent, Palmer's words clearly show that he remains completely in the dark about the backlash. For him, the issues are only the popularity of this particular lion and the legality of his actions, while he restates his "love" for trophy hunting, an activity he feels can be "practice[d] responsibly."

Speaking as a meat-eater, I would try to make Palmer—and all trophy hunters—understand why so many of us are so sickened by the activity they love by delineating the difference between killing for food and killing for sport. For example, I am deeply troubled by the killing of whales, but I am not without sympathy for the desire of Inuit peoples to continue their traditional whale-hunting, a practice even Greenpeace, which has vehemently campaigned against whale-hunting for decades, views as "sustainable, traditional hunting and fishing" and therefore "respects the rights" of indigenous communities engage in such practices. While I might make my own subjective arguments against killing any creature that, like whales, clearly evince feelings and independence of mind, I recognize that Inuit hunts directly relate to survival and not sport.

I would also explain to Palmer the distinction some of us make between killing and suffering. Personally, I neither consume red meat nor purchase leather products, but I am far less troubled by the consumption of free-range cattle than of those industrially farmed and slaughtered. As someone who values quality of life far above quantity, for me the minimization of suffering is central. And so while Palmer may see the crossbow as a more honorable means of dispatch than the gun, I regard instantaneous death by a gunshot to the head as far less inhumane than wounding an animal with an arrow and letting it stagger around leaking blood for the next 40 hours.

Lastly, I would point out to Palmer the insidiousness of using other living creatures as props for our pleasure. In A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn passes along the words of Bartolomé de las Casas, an eyewitness to the treatment of indigenous peoples of the Caribbean at the hands of the conquistadores, who "thought nothing of knifing Indians by the tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades."

The link between such brutality against our fellow humans and the trophy hunting of animals is the perpetrator's belief that it is permissible to maim and kill the animal in front of us—human or otherwise—for mere sport. So it was that (as Las Casas reports) one day a pair of conquistadores walking down a beach beheaded two boys they encountered, and so it was that Walter Palmer beheaded Cecil: because it fit their ideas of fun.

Fun is an insufficient reason to kill, never mind to do so cruelly. While most of us may feel justified to kill in the name of nourishment, none should feel justified to engage in trophy hunting. Intentional, needless cruelty is the basest of human behaviors, and the more thoroughly we root it out of society, the healthier our society will be.

About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly,, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:

Introducing Stitches!

Your Path to Meaningful Connections in the World of Health and Medicine
Connect, Collaborate, and Engage!

Coming Soon - Stitches, the innovative chat app from the creators of HWN. Join meaningful conversations on health and medical topics. Share text, images, and videos seamlessly. Connect directly within HWN's topic pages and articles.

Be the first to know when Stitches starts accepting users

The Latest from Moore Lowdown

Want to Reduce World Hunger? Eat Less Meat (Especially Beef)
Want to Reduce World Hunger? Eat Less Meat (Especially Beef)

America is one of the world leaders in per capita meat consumption—which means we’re also one of the most inefficient users of land and other resources when it comes to feeding people.

Can One Simple Change Double Organ Donation?
Can One Simple Change Double Organ Donation?

Die in the USA, and your organs go to waste unless you’ve opted in to the organ donation problem. But it doesn’t have to be this way—and in many countries, it isn’t.

Dedicated Bus Lanes: The Easiest Way to Improve Public Transit
Dedicated Bus Lanes: The Easiest Way to Improve Public Transit

The buses are there. The roadways are there. All that’s needed to make bus travel better⎯and therefore more viable⎯is the will to give them their own lane once in a while.

Stay Connected

Health Cloud