If you have not heard yet, an American dentist named Walter Palmer shot and killed a beloved male lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe. Not only did he kill an animal in cold blood, but he and a couple other poachers lured the lion out of a national park, so he could shoot it. After he shot Cecil with a crossbow, Cecil staggered on, clinging to life for 40 hours with a crossbow bolt pierced through his body, before eventually dying. Thinking about Cecil’s demise, I can’t help but remember this scene from The Lion King:
Hunting vs Trophy Hunting vs Photography
Now, let me be clear, I have nothing against hunting or fishing. The majority of recreational hunters and fishermen are out for a good time with their families, and they will eat whatever they catch. However, this is not on the same level. This is trophy hunting. This is not about eating. This is about killing and bragging. These hunters pay hundreds of thousands to murder exotic animals. Yes, I said, “murder”.
Walter Palmer with one of his trophy kills.
As a wildlife photographer, I also like to shoot animals, but I don’t use a gun. Whether I’m on land or underwater, I always have my camera on hand, and sometimes, I venture into the habitat of dangerous animals to take photographs. With a gun, you can easily shoot a lion or rhino, even if you’re far away and can’t see the whole animal. On the other hand, if you’re photographing a lion or rhino, you need to get much closer to see the animal, AND you need a clear shot. Now, THAT’S dangerous. Yet, it’s also sustainable. If you take a picture of an animal, rather than kill it, other people will get the chance to appreciate it as well.
The Headless Crocodile
Walter is not the only murderous trophy hunter out there. There are plenty of other people who slaughter defenseless predators for nothing more than sport. In this case, Walter was exposed, and the whole world could see his true colors. In most cases, the hunter gets away without anyone ever knowing his/her identity.
In fact, I have had my own experience with faceless trophy hunters. When I was living in Cairns in northeast Australia, I wanted to find and photograph wild saltwater crocodiles. However, in Cairns, crocs are fairly rare due to extensive hunting in the past and croc-control measures in the present. Unperturbed, I asked around until I learned about a local crocodile that had been living in Trinity Inlet for 15 years. Unlike most saltwater crocs, this one was neither aggressive nor territorial and could easily be approached in a small boat.
Excited, I prepared to rent a small boat to putter around the mangroves and photograph this local croc, only to learn that the croc was dead. Weeks earlier, trophy hunters had killed and beheaded the “friendly” croc. Just as Walter’s greed had denied nature-enthusiasts the chance to see and photograph Cecil, these faceless hunters had denied me (and hundreds of other people) the chance to see and photograph the crocodile.
The headless crocodile in Cairns.
The Shark Killer
Trophy kills are not limited to the land, however. On the ocean, trophy-hunting fishermen catch and kill sharks and other large marine predators purely for sport. The most infamous of these marine trophy-hunters is Mark the Shark, who has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of sharks in south Florida. If you look at his website or Instagram feed, you will see the many sharks he has killed and hauled out on dry land. Coupled with photos of scantily clad women, his shark photos appeal to his “manly” fanbase.
Mark the Shark with two of his trophy kills.
Yet, as a scuba diver, I see no glory in hunting sharks from the safety of a boat. I have ventured into the sharks’ element. I have been face-to-face with bull sharks and diving in known habitat for great white sharks. In this situation, the sharks have an advantage, and I am merely a visitor. If I want to photograph them, I need to get close. And, since I’m underwater and don’t have a telephoto lens, I need to get VERY close. These shark hunters, on the other hand, don’t. They bring the sharks into THEIR element, where the shark has no chance of fighting back. If you want to catch sharks, that is fine, but unless you intend to eat them (which is generally not the case with sharks), you should release them back into the ocean.
Conclusion: Trophy-Hunters Aren’t Courageous or Manly
Overall, trophy-hunters believe they are hot stuff because they can conquer dangerous and/or predatory animals. They are not. Hiding behind the barrel of a gun or the reel of a fishing rod won’t make you a hero. If you’re defending yourself against a wild animal, that’s one thing, but killing a defenseless animal “just for sport” is another. You are denying millions of people (both now and in the future) the opportunity to view and appreciate wildlife and experience the natural world.
Editor and owner of EpochCatcher