Last month, Albuquerque was full of appreciation parades. But on Sunday night, May 31, the tide turned. In the “parade” that passed up and down Central Avenue, half a block behind my apartment, for 3 1/2 hours, no one was chanting “thank you.”
It was loud, terrifying and surreal. I kept thinking about the police officers, who just two weeks ago were hearing “thank you” for their continued service during the COVID-19 pandemic, and were now hearing (derogatory statements). I felt astounded at how easily and quickly someone can go from a hero to a villain, and I thought about what it takes for changes to occur when a heinous act is committed on a person, or an animal … and how much does it matter who the victim is or the witness, or the villain.
In 2015, the Safari Club International suspended the membership of Walter Palmer. Noted as having killed 43 large and exotic animals, including a rhinoceros, a buffalo and a polar bear, the club overlooked Palmer’s illegal kill of a black bear in Wisconsin in 2008. He’d killed the bear 40 miles outside of the legal hunting area, drug it back to the legal side to report the kill, then lied to federal agents about it. He was fined $3,000 and given one year of probation. And then, he killed Cecil.
The black-maned lion at the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe was well known and loved by park officials, tourists and zoologist Andrew Loveridge, who’d been observing Cecil and his family for more than 10 years. Palmer paid for a “canned hunt,” (defined as the killing of an animal in an enclosure to obtain a trophy) to come to Zimbabwe and kill a lion.
He and his guide lured Cecil with an elephant carcass off park grounds to a nearby farm where Palmer shot him with an arrow, and then followed him for more than 10 hours while he slowly died. To have shot him with a firearm would have kicked Palmer out of the “I took down a large animal with an arrow” book, so he let Cecil suffer instead.
Upon collecting the body, Palmer and his guide discovered the radio collar around Cecil’s nick, removed it and hung it in a tree. Palmer never apologized for killing Cecil, only that he didn’t know it was him when he shot him. He went into hiding after returning to the U.S., and again when Loveridge’s book, “Lion Hearted,” came out in 2018.
His dental practice in Minnesota gets 1.5 stars on Yelp, and only 13 comments are listed (the rest were removed as “inappropriate.”) They range from “acts as if he could care less about you” “big mistake” and “a new low.”
Laws and practices regarding hunting, endangered species protection, poaching and prosecution, however, are slow to change. Most of the roadblocks revolve around money, governmental power and ego. Changes did ensue however regarding the transport of “trophies” (AKA severed heads, etc.) on commercial airlines. To date, 45 airlines worldwide have banned those shipments. South African Airlines, UPS and FedEx are current exceptions.
As the chaos continued on that warm summer night outside my home, I glanced at a book I am painfully working my way through, “The Lost Dogs,” by Jim Gorant. Dog fighting has been outlawed in all 50 states since 1976, but the 2007 discovery of NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation, Bad Newz Kennels, in Sussex County, Va., brought the issue to light in a way it had never been before.
Rising up from a street kid in Newport News to fame and fortune in the NFL, Vick was a hero to many. But dogfighting is a felony, and Vick served nearly two years in prison. In a CBS interview after his release, Vick stated, “I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t stop it. I’m a living example of what not to do.”
Vick became an unlikely hero whose notoriety (like Cecil’s but with a different demographic) allowed him to become a powerful voice against animal cruelty. He made public service announcements with HSUS, and began talking to kids in schools about growing up in the streets, and the horrors of dog fighting.
The blood sport continues, as does illegal hunting and poaching. Laws, like people’s hearts, are hard to change. As for Michael Vick, he says he knows there are some who will never forgive him, but he doesn’t hold it against them.
“Holding grudges only brings bad karma … that’s energy you could spend on something positive.” Good words, then and now.