One the most glaring weaknesses of the Internet is how mob psychology can focus on symptoms rather than solutions. We see yet another glaring example of this with the virtual fury unleashed on the Minnesota dentist accused of illegally killing a popular lion in Zimbabwe.
By now almost everyone is familiar with the story: Walter Palmer paid $50,000 to hunt a lion, alleged participated in luring the lion out of a protected game park onto private land, botched the kill with a bow or crossbow, killed the lion some forty hours later with a rifle, and attempted to destroy the tracking tag on the body.
As result of the furor on the Internet, Palmer has been forced to close his practice, take down his website, and go into hiding because of death threats. Over 150,000 people have written the White House demanding he be extradited to Zimbabwe. What’s significant, though, is that all this happened prior to Palmer being charged with a crime. He has committed no crime under US law and it is only with the last few days that Zimbabwe has begun formal extradition proceedings. What happened to the presumption of innocence that underpins our system of jurisprudence?
The larger issue, however, is that Walter Palmer is a distraction that in the long run doesn’t really matter. His reputation and means of livelihood have been taken away and he will be forced into a lengthy legal battle over extradition with the possibility of incarceration in a country not known for its commitment to human rights. He will soon be forgotten.
But here’s the problem ignored by the Internet mob: according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 600 lions are killed legally by trophy hunters each year, equating to roughly 2% of the dwindling lion population of about 30,000, an unsustainable rate. The International Fund for Animal Welfare reported that during the period 1999 to 2008, 64% of the “trophies” from those kills were brought home by Americans.
How could we fix this? The US Fish and Wildlife Service currently lists African lions as “threatened” which allows the trade in lion trophies to continue. Changing that designation to “endangered” would ban any such importation. The Service proposed such a change in October but to date nothing has been done.
In the great scheme of life, destroying one hunter who happened to get caught doesn’t do much other than draw temporary attention to the problem. It probably won't be much of a deterrent to other trophy hunters. If you’re serious about stopping the trophy trade, take action. Write your elected representatives and push for a change in the US Fish and Wildlife designation and a ban on the trophy trade. It’s a bit more work than posting a snarky comment on Facebook but it’s how you make a difference.