Saturday, January 30, 2016

After the murder of Cecil, the lion.

Thursday, 14 January 2016 | Hiranmay Karlekar | in Oped
Recent US restrictions on the import of lions as trophies are not enough. African nations must ban hunting as a sport and take proactive steps to prevent poaching
Cecil, a majestic African lion, was lured out of Zimbabwe's Hwange Game Sanctuary and killed illegally with a bow and arrow by a trophy-hunting American dentist, Walter Palmer, in July last year. The outrage led to loud protest not only against Palmer's savage action but against big game hunting as such. The outrage outcry, however, does seem to have produced some result. One of South Africa's national newspapers, Saturday Times, reported on January 9 that from January 22, the United States' Endangered Species Act will officially include lions, which means that the import of lion trophies to the US will be severely restricted.
According to the Saturday Times report, the step follows US Fish and Wildlife Services classification of lions in southern and eastern Africa as threatened, and in central and western regions as endangered, species. The organisation, according to the report, believes that the population of lions has declined by at least 50 per cent over the last three decades. The data in its possession shows that the number of Asiatic lions, and the lions of western and central Africa genetically linked to them, comes to over 1,400, of whom 900 are found in Africa and 523 in India. While this sub-species meets the requirement for being classified as endangered, another sub-species, found in southern and eastern Africa, numbering perhaps between 17,000 and 19,000, qualifies to be dubbed as threatened, species.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Services, more than 5,600 lions have been killed and imported by American hunters over the past decade. This makes for an average of 560 every year. A marked decline in the killing of lions should follow the imposition of restrictions on the import of lions into the US as trophies. Also, the move will serve to counter the glorification of hunting — not only of lions but all other animals and birds — that murder for trophies serves to promote.
As important, the imposition of restriction is tantamount to another disapproval of hunting which will serve to further stigmatise a murderous exercise which passes for sport. It will, however, not be enough in itself for saving the lion. Significant results will follow only when African nations where they are found, ban their hunting, make preventive action on the ground against poaching more effective, and countries outside Africa criminalise the action and not just make the import of lion trophies difficult.
Meanwhile, animal lovers the world over must step up their campaign against hunting which was glorified as an activity requiring courage and skill in the use of weapons at a time when it was essential for procuring food and fending off attacks by wild animals when humans were vulnerable to these. Both grounds for glorifying hunting disappeared as agriculture became the main provider of food and invention of increasingly sophisticated firearms enabled the cowardly killing of animals from a safe distance. Hunting and the glorification of hunters, however, continued because the former had by now become an industry, akin to tourism, involving transportation, arrangement of accommodation and the provision of services providing employment — for example of armies of “beaters” driving wild animals toward hunters by scaring them by beating drums or firing in the air.
Poaching for animal body parts — like rhino horns for their alleged power as an aphrodisiac — has contributed to poaching, which is but another form of hunting. Human-animal conflicts, caused by rampant expansion of human habitations into areas where animals earlier roamed freely, have also contributed to justifying animal slaughter. It is a messy picture. It will take much time and effort to convince people that hunting for fun and excitement or for trading in animal body parts, should be regarded as nothing short of murder. Equally, mindless expansion of human habitation needs to be stopped as, besides promoting human-animal conflicts, it is, in the long term, endangering human existence by undermining the environment. But it has to be made for the survival of both humans and animals.

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