Did you know that big cats and cubs are exploited and even abused at tourist attractions here in the U.S. and in dozens of countries around the world?
What can you do to make sure you don’t unwittingly participate in tourist activities that exploit big cats and other wild animals?
Easy ways YOU and your family can be responsible tourists:
• Never pay to touch or have your photo taken with a tiger or lion cub
• Don’t attend circuses, fairs, or attractions that feature wild animal shows
• Don’t purchase items made from wild animals, such as furs and rugs
• Don’t partake in local “delicacies” made from wild animals, such as tiger bone wine
• Only visit sanctuaries that are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (www.sanctuaryfederation.org).
Sign up here to be kept in the loop when your voice is needed to protect big cats and their cubs: Sign up for big cat alerts and as an added benefit you will be entered for a chance to win our Animal Lover’s Dream Vacation.
As an animal lover, if someone were to make you this offer, would you accept?
You can pet, play with and bottle feed this cub and we’ll take a picture of you so you can share it with your friends – BUT, it means one of the following will happen to this cub once he/she is too big for this anymore:
This cub will suffer the rest of his/her life in a cage without proper food or care.
This cub will be shipped off to a hunting ranch to be shot for a price.
This cub will be slaughtered for the exotic meat market.
This cub will be sold off at auction to the highest bidder, fate unknown.
This cub will be killed for parts and bones for the medicinal market.
We know you’d never say “yes” to any of these. You love animals. That’s why you want this experience. But,that’s exactly what you agree to when you say “yes” to this thrill-of-a-lifetime offer.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about tourist attractions in South Africa, Mexico, or the United States. Sadly, this is the fate for so many cubs bred for money-making ventures like these. An exhibitor in Oklahoma, that Big Cat Rescue sued, said he could make $27,000 each week offering animal interactions like this. It’s obvious, money is what drives the industry – and the breeding.
But someone is surely regulating this, right?
In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) feels there should be no contact with cubs under the age of eight weeks since that’s when they receive their first disease-preventing injections. They also feel there should be no contact with cubs over 12 weeks old since they can be dangerous even at that young age. But these are just guidelines, not regulations. If breeders/exhibitors were to follow these guidelines, it means a cub used for public contact would have a “shelf life” of only four weeks! What does this encourage? Rampant breeding and not following these guidelines. Where do they all go when they’re too old and can no longer be used for public contact? Refer to the list above.
Don’t inspectors make sure everything’s ok for these cubs?
In 2011 in the United States, there were only 105 USDA inspectors to monitor almost 8,000 facilities, ranging from slaughterhouses, pet stores, pet breeders and dealers, farm, laboratories and other animal-related businesses. That’s nearly one inspector for every 80 facilities! When traveling exhibitors often move these cubs all over the country to fairs, festivals, and malls, relying on inspectors to ensure quality of care for them is unrealistic. And even when cubs are being exhibited when they’re too young or too old, violators aren’t cited unless an inspector is there to personally see serious harm to the cub – screaming and squirming isn’t enough.
Doesn’t touching a tiger or lion help promote conservation since we’re losing them in the wild?
As more and more of these cub petting attractions spring up everywhere, guess what? Tigers and lions in the wild are endangered and becoming nearly extinct. In fact, touching a cub does nothing to conserve their cousins in the wild.
Tragically, it may be doing the opposite. If you can visit a facility to pet a tiger cub, then why protect them half a world away where you may never see them? Studies have shown that public interaction with captive wild animals has done very little to cause the public to donate to conservation in the wild. And there’s been no successful release of a captive-born tiger or lion to date. When a cub needs to be with its mother for at least two years to learn survival skills, this simply isn’t something humans can duplicate. So, the answer is “no,” touching a lion or tiger cub in no way helps save them in the wild.
What can we do?
Ask your member of Congress to champion the Big Cat Public Safety Act! This would put an end to the private possession and backyard breeding of big cats. Get the factsheet.
Contact the USDAby emailing them at: firstname.lastname@example.org . Let them know you want to see an end to physical contact with big cats, to prohibit public handling of young or immature big cats, and to stop the separation of cubs from their mothers before the species-typical age of weaning.
Never, ever give in to the temptation of public contact with a wild cat. It’s dangerous for you and sentences these big cats to life in a cage – or far worse.
Educate friends, family, and media about the reality of this cruel practice. So few know this is an insidious form of animal abuse, but now you do. Share it through social media channels too.
The next time you see a cub in your town or at some of the tourist attractions you visit while on vacation, we hope you’ll remember the truth and you’ll help raise awareness. When the demand ends, so will those who profit by supplying these experiences.
Together, let’s be their voice and assure no more cubs suffer an awful fate. (Article by Julie Hanan for One Green Planet)
Why Petting Cubs Leads to Abuse
Here our radio ad to educate parents about swimming with cubs:
Hear the highlights from this page:
The Truth About Tiger Cub Petting Displays in Malls
By Howard Baskin, JD, MBA, Advisory Board Chairman of Big Cat Rescue, Tampa, FL
Breeders who charge the public to pet and take photos with young tiger cubs tell venues and customers some or all of the following lies:
1) That the exhibitors are “rescuers” and operate “sanctuaries”
2) That the cubs have a good life while being used to make money:
a) they enjoy being carted around the country in a semi and repeatedly awakened and handled by dozens of people all day
b) that blowing in the cubs face “calms” them down
c) that dangling them by holding under their front arms and bouncing them up and down “resets” them
Cubs at the mall always = cub abuse
d) that close up photos with flash does not harm the cubs
3) that it is safe for the cubs and for humans, and legal, to allow contact with cubs from when they are only a few weeks old to when they are six months or more old.
4) that the exhibitor must keep constantly breeding and using the cubs to make money because that is the only way he can support the adult animals he keeps.
5) that the exhibitor is doing this to promote conservation in the wild.
6) that the exhibitor is teaching people not to have exotic animals as pets
And the biggest lie of all:
7) that the cubs will have good homes after they get too big to be used to make money from petting
THE FACTS ARE
1) Breeders/Exhibitors are not sanctuaries.
Most sanctuaries are not accredited
True rescuers and sanctuaries do not breed. Breeding more tigers simply adds to the number of big cats that end up living in deplorable conditions or being destroyed to supply the illegal trade in tiger parts. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is the most highly respected body that defines what a true sanctuary is and sets standards of animal care and practices that sanctuaries must meet in order to be accredited. Facilities that breed or subject the animals to the stress of being carted around to exhibit definition are not sanctuaries. For more about the difference between real and “pseudo” sanctuaries, visit the GFAS website at http://www.sanctuaryfederation.org/gfas/for-public/truth-about-sanctuaries/
In addition to not being a sanctuary because they breed and do offsite exhibits, these people who claim to love animals so much typically operate facilities where the animal care, while it may comply with USDA’s minimal standards, is far below the standards set by GFAS as humane, and in many cases is deplorable.
2) Life on the road means being torn from mother, denied natural behaviors, and mistreated.
The cubs used for petting exhibits are torn from their mothers shortly after birth, causing emotional pain to both the cubs and the mothers. Imagine what that mother tiger experiences after enduring the long pregnancy and finally giving birth, filled with the instincts to nurture her cubs, and then having them snatched away. The breeders take them away and have people handle them so the cubs will “imprint” on the people instead of doing what is natural and imprinting on their mothers.
And what is life like during the months they are used to make money for their owners? Cubs this age want roam, explore, test their young muscles to develop coordination, and sleep for extended periods of time without interruption. Watch what happens during these exhibits. The cubs are repeatedly awakened so a customer can pet them instead of being allowed the sleep their young bodies need. When they try to wander they are repeatedly yanked back. And where are they when not on exhibit? They spend endless hours in small cages in trucks, hardly a suitable environment for inquisitive, active young cubs.
While used for petting by the public or held for photos with the public, the cubs squirm and try to get away. What do the exhibitors do to control them?
One technique used by exhibitors to get the cubs to stop squirming is blowing in the cub’s face. Contrary to what the exhibitors say, this does not “calm” the cub. The cub does not like this any more than you would. This blowing in the face is a way mother tigers discipline their cubs. It is a punishment. The cub becomes inactive temporarily not because the cub is calm. The cub becomes inactive hoping that not moving will cause the exhibitor to stop blowing in its face.
The other technique is to dangle the cub from under their front armpits and toss them up and down in the air. One notorious exhibitor tells customers this is to “reset” the cubs. Another tells customers that this is how the mother tiger holds the cubs, which is equally ridiculous. Being held under the arms and tossed up in the air is just another unnatural and unpleasant experience that causes the cub stress, making them temporarily stop doing the behavior that is natural, i.e. trying to squirm away from being held.
What happens when the cubs are sick? The video at www.TigerCubAbuse.com shows cubs with severe diarrhea kept on display. The keepers simply follow them around wiping diarrhea off the floor, and then use the same towel to wipe the cubs’ irritated rear ends as the poor cubs scream in pain.
How would you feel if you were their mother and knew this was the life they had been torn from you to endure?
3) Cubs are routinely used to make money both below and above the legal age.
Most big cats endure squalid conditions
While cub displays are inherently cruel for the reasons given in this fact sheet, USDA regulations do allow them, but only for a few weeks. USDA has ruled that there should be no public contact with the cubs until they are at least 8 weeks old because that is when they receive their first injections to prevent disease. USDA has ruled that there should be no public contact after the cubs are 12 weeks old because they are large enough to be dangerous. So, the only time it is “legal” to have the public pet cubs is when they are between the ages of 8 weeks and 12 weeks.
However, because enforcement resources are limited, exhibitors flagrantly violate these rules, putting the cubs and the public at risk. Videos at www.TigerCubAbuse.com and www.TigerCubAbuse2.com show exhibitors freely admitting on camera that the cubs are under 8 weeks old. The video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE8CXQLKfq0 shows people playing with 5 and 7 month old cubs at G.W. Exotic Animal Park, home base for Joe Schreibvogel and Beth Corley, who operate the most notorious mall exhibit road show. Twenty-three of this exhibitor’s cubs died in 2010.
4) Abusing cubs is not a necessary or justifiable way to make money to support adult cats.
The exhibitors often claim they have no choice, that they must breed and exploit cubs to make money to support their other animals. Joe Schreibvogel posts on Facebook “I don’t think none of us like to be forced to be in the entertainment of animals (sic).” But the truth is that true sanctuaries all over the country support their animals without abusing some in order to make money to feed the others. They do this by providing a great home for the animals that far exceeds the minimal legal requirements and then learning how to attract donors who appreciate the excellent home they are providing. Lacking the ability to do this is not an excuse for abusing tiger cubs to make money. People who are not capable of operating a real sanctuary simply should not own animals. No true animal lover could justify abusing some animals to provide financial support for others.
5) Paying to pet tigers does not support conservation in the wild.
Captive breeding causes more poaching
No money the public spends to pet or take photos with tiger cubs ever goes to support conservation in the wild. In fact, the opposite is true. There is a huge and growing market for tiger parts like the skins pictured here, and tiger “derivatives”, i.e. products made out of tiger parts like tiger bone wine. A dead tiger is worth up to $50,000 for its parts. Breeding what US Fish and Wildlife Service calls “generic” tigers like the ones used in the mall exhibits is not tracked. So there is no way to know how many U.S. born tigers are killed to have their parts illegally sold into this trade. And, the more that trade expands, the more incentive the poachers have to kill tigers in the wild.
6) Petting cubs sends the wrong message about exotic animals as pets.
Exhibitors often claim that they are teaching people that exotic animals should not be pets. But what example do they set as they handle the animals and let others do so? Saying that exotic animals do not make good pets while charging people to pet them is a little bit like someone telling people not to use heroin while having a needle sticking in their arm. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a message that works. The websites of these exhibitors frequently show photos or videos of the exhibitor handling, hugging or kissing adult tigers. This encourages other people to want to be “special” like the exhibitor.
The way to encourage people not to want exotic animals as pets is to set an example by never having physical contact with them. This is what true sanctuaries, people who truly care about the animals, do. Meantime, exhibitors like Joe Schreibvogel actively support of private ownership of exotic animals as pets. He has conducted a fundraiser for an organization devoted to, “fighting for the rights of everyday people….to keep, house and maintain exotic animals”. Schreibvogel’s 2010 fund raising event was attended by people who brought their pet primates. He created an “association” whose website has a page offering baby white tigers for sale. Many of the followers on the “Joe Exotic” Facebook page are obviously exotic pet owners. The G.W. Exotic website actively rails against the steady trend of laws banning private ownership to protect the public and stop abuse of the animals.
Private ownership of exotic animals results in widespread abuse as cute young animals mature and end up being kept in deplorable conditions. While some exhibitors claim they are teaching people not to get exotic animals as pets, others actively promote the trade. But all of them, by their behavior, encourage people to own exotic animals in order to be one of the “special” people who can have contact with these animals.
7) The cubs are destined for a horrible existence after they are too big to use to make money.
Big cats are often kept in concrete & steel jail cells
This is the single biggest reason not to permit cub displays. If asked, exhibitors tell venues and patrons that the cubs will end up in some wonderful home, either at their facilities or elsewhere. Current USDA rules allow an owner to keep a tiger in a concrete floored, chain link jail cell not much bigger than a parking space, often with nothing to do but walk in circles or stare out. Enforcement of the rules that do exist is limited because it would be economically unfeasible to have enough inspectors to adequately monitor the thousands of tigers owned by people licensed by USDA to exhibit animals. These are animals built to live in the wild, roaming and hunting. They are very intelligent and they experience a broad range of emotions.
We treat criminals in prison far better than the way most owners end up treating captive tigers, whose only crime was being bred by a breeder/exhibitor to make money. Attached are photos that are not exceptions. They are typical of the conditions in which the cubs that are bred by private owners will end up.
8) There is potential for disease and liability.
A May 2011 statement from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) recommends that the public be prohibited from direct contact with tigers due to the risk of illness to humans stating” …ringworm in 23 persons and multiple animal species was traced to a Microsporum canis infection in a hand-reared zoo tiger cub.” Zoonotic diseases — those that jump to humans — account for three quarters of all emerging infectious threats, the Center for Disease Control says. Five of the six diseases the agency regards as top threats to national security are zoonotic. The Journal of Internal Medicine this month estimated that 50 million people worldwide have been infected with zoonotic diseases since 2000 and as many as 78,000 have died.
Cub petting has been an evil practice for far too long
PUBLIC IMAGE ISSUE FOR VENUES
Changes in values in our society do not happen suddenly. It took decades of educating and changing people’s minds before women finally got the right to vote, something we take for granted today. A similar progression occurred in the area of civil rights. The same shift is taking place at an accelerating rate with respect to our society’s view of private ownership of big cats.
Compelling evidence of this is found in the trend in state laws. Just since 2005, nine more states have banned private ownership of big cats, generally recognizing that such ownership is dangerous to people and results in the animals being kept in deplorable conditions.
The public doesn’t see how most big cats are kept
Many people innocently support the abuse by patronizing the cub displays. The cubs are adorable, and the exhibitors are skilled at telling their lies. But, increasingly numbers of people are aware of the issues presented in this fact sheet, or on their own simply see the displays and find them repellant. As the number of people of people who find such displays objectionable grows, venues like malls increasingly make a negative impression on patrons in a way they cannot necessarily measure. Venues like Petsmart stores, Alton Square Mall in Alton, IL, and Metro North Mall in Kansas City, MO have led by banning exotic animal displays.
As more and more people become aware of what happens “behind the scenes” and actively object to the cub displays, more and more venues will ban the displays. In the meantime, venues who allow the displays make a negative impression on many customers who care about animals while many tiny cubs are condemned to lifelong misery.
As a venue, you can make a wonderful contribution to society by helping stop this abuse, while at the same time sending a very positive branding image to the many customers who love animals and do not want to see them being abused when they come to shop.
We hope the information in this fact sheet is useful. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Susan Bass, Director of Public Relations at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida at 813-431-2720 or Susan.Bass@BigCatRescue.org. Venues that these exhibitors lie to in making their pitch to be allowed to display have a critical choice. They can be part of the problem, encouraging this abuse by permitting it, or part of the solution. We hope you will send a positive public relations image to your many animal loving patrons and help save these innocent tigers from abuse by banning such exhibits in your venue.
See more video of the horrible conditions where big cats are kept
This video talks to Big Cat Experts Around the Globe About How Petting Cubs Kills Tigers in the Wild
See a cub man handled for paying guests to get their picture at the mall
Note that the handler stands on the cub to subdue him
How Can You Tell if a Tiger Cub is Too Young or Too Old?
It’s almost impossible for regulatory agents to determine if a cub being used on display is truly within the legal age range of 8 weeks to 12 weeks. This photo composite shows tiger cubs at different ages and in relation to people to give you an idea of what is likely to be a legal size petting / photo op cub and what is not. Note that we do not believe cubs should be used for petting or photo props at any age. Cubs belong with their mothers and in the wild.
Click on the image to see it larger.
Tiger Cubs Ages 2 Weeks to 12 Weeks
The American Zoological Association is the accrediting body for zoos, like the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries is the accrediting body for sanctuaries. Only 10 % of the facilities in the U.S. that are housing wild animals are accredited. GFAS does not condone unescorted public visitation or contact with the captive wild animals and the AZA also states the following (emphasis added): http://www.aza.org/Education/detail.aspx?id=2451
V. Conservation Education Message
As noted in the AZA Accreditation Standards, if animal demonstrations are part of an institution’s programs, an educational and conservation message must be an integral component. The Program Animal Policy should address the specific messages related to the use of program animals, as well as the need to be cautious about hidden or conflicting messages (e.g., “petting” an animal while stating verbally that it makes a poor pet). This section may include or reference the AZA Conservation Messages. Although education value and messages should be part of the general collection planning process, this aspect is so critical to the use of program animals that it deserves additional attention. In addition, it is highly recommended to encourage the use of biofacts in addition to or in place of the live animals. Whenever possible, evaluation of the effectiveness of presenting program animals should be built into education programs. http://www.aza.org/animal-contact-policy/
At a 2002 meeting of the Tiger Species Survival Plan members it was decided that, “A second concern is the relationship between the Tiger SSP and the private sector, where many tigers (mostly of unknown origin) are kept. During the 2002 Tiger SSP master plan meeting in Portland there was a discussion of the appropriateness of handling tigers in public places by AZA zoos. There was complete consensus of all members in attendance that such actions place the viewing public at risk of injury or death, that there is no education message of value being delivered, that such actions promote private ownership and a false sense of safe handling of exotic big cats, and that the animal itself loses its dignity as an ambassador from the wild. As a result, the committee resolved such actions were inappropriate for AZA-accredited zoos, and that the AZA accreditation committee should make compliance of this restriction part of its accreditation process. This opinion statement was conveyed to the executive committee of the Felid TAG for comments and action.”
Mammals: Small Carnivores
In general, due to the potential for bites, small carnivores should be used in contact areas only with extreme caution. Due to the risk of bites, small felids are generally not used in direct contact. If they are, care must be taken that such animals are negative for infection with Toxoplasma gondii. All carnivores should be tested for and be free of zoonotic species of roundworms such asBaylascaris sp. Small carnivores (e.g., raccoons and skunks) obtained from the wild may present a greater risk of rabies and their use should be avoided in contact areas.
Click the image to get the 8 x 10 poster image to post at your school, civic center, on your car, or anywhere else you can reach people who want to save tigers.
Nikita was found chained to the wall in a crack house during a drug bust in Tennessee. Because she had been confined to a concrete floor, she had huge swellings on her elbows that took months to heal. She was so thin that you could carry her under one arm. She would only eat white rabbits, so she had a plethora of nutritional issues to deal with as well.
The authorities took her to the Nashville Zoo at Grasmere, but she had been declawed and could not live with the zoo’s other lions. They had to find a new home for her, so we received the call. Big Cat Rescue agreed to take Nikita in, as well as three other Bobcats who all arrived on 11/30/01.
Nikita has flourished under our care. She has grown into a tall, lanky, healthy lioness. She’s extremely playful and loves to roll on her back and grab her paws or try to do somersaults whenever she has visitors stopping by to talk with her. Though we wish she had the freedom she deserves, we’re so happy that she survived her earlier ordeals to enjoy the blissful days we try to provide for her here.
LION VS Big Yellow Ball = Lion Wins! Watch our goofy lioness Nikita take on her new yellow boomer ball! Enrichment is an important part of our cats lives at the sanctuary they will never be free and wild, so we have to keep their minds stimulated with new toys and enrichment, ensuring the best quality life in captivity. http://bigcatrescue.org/lion-vs-big-yellow-ball/
Dallas – Once used to haul big cats across the country, an empty trailer has been transformed into a billboard announcing an end to the circus acts its former occupants once appeared in. Bill Cunningham—Dallas native and owner of Fun Time Shows, Inc., the largest Shrine circus producer in the country—will join PETA in front of the trailer for a news conference to announce that he’ll no longer produce shows featuring elephants, tigers, lions, or other wild animals. Cunningham, a Shriner for his entire adult life, will call on his fellow Shriners to end all wild-animal acts. Members of the media will be invited to tour the trailer to see the cages that were used to confine tigers as they zigzagged across the country, jumping through fiery hoops and attempting to avoid the tamer’s whip.
When: Tuesday, September 1, 12 p.m.
Where: Robert E. Lee Park, 3333 Turtle Creek Blvd. The trailer will be parked near the entrance to Arlington Hall at Lee Park on Lee Parkway between N. Hall and Rawlins streets, Dallas.
Cunningham produces circus shows in 100 cities every year. The Shrine circus in Garland, Texas, which performs from September 11 to 13, will be the first of his shows to be free of wild animals.
“The Shrine circus creates lasting memories for millions of American families each year, so we are proud to be an agent of change by helping the Shrine circus evolve to be in alignment with the standards of today’s modern families. For our company, those standards mean producing appropriate forms of circus entertainment for today’s audiences, which includes no longer exhibiting wild animals,” says Cunningham. “We decided the best thing we could do is lead by example. There are so many wonderfully talented acts for us to wow our fans with it just makes no sense to hold on to stubborn held beliefs. Today is a new day, and we intend to uphold a standard of never having anything in our shows that would cause a mother not to want to bring her family to the circus.”
“This move means that hundreds of Shrine circuses will never again feature wild animals who are denied all semblance of a natural life in the circus, kept chained and caged, and electro-shocked and beaten into performing,” says PETA Foundation Deputy Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. “As more people object to the use of animals in circuses, PETA is calling on Shrine circuses nationwide to follow this example of positive change.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—has gathered extensive video and photographic evidence showing circus trainers and handlers as they jab elephants, including babies, with bullhooks (weapons that resemble a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on one end). Circuses keep elephants, tigers, and other animals on the road for up to 50 weeks a year, and when they aren’t being used in performances, they’re usually shackled in chains or locked away inside cramped cages.
A hypothetical conversation that may occur in the future:
“Hi Dad. What type of animal is that?”
“Well son. That is a male lion. He was one of the most majestic and beautiful creatures ever to roam the earth. They called him the “King of the Jungle” and you could hear his roar from a mile away. People would travel from all over the world just to see him roam the African Plains. He was one of the most beautiful animals that ever existed.”
“Can we go see one?”
“I’m really sorry son. Unfortunately, the last lion became extinct around 2030.”
“Well, there were a lot of people out there that really loved the lion and fought a gallant battle to protect him and ensure that he would be around for your generation. Unfortunately, there were others out there that didn’t really care what happened to the lion and were more interested in killing one so they could stuff and mount his head on a wall and make a rug out of his coat. Then there were poachers that killed them solely for greed. Between the hunters and the poachers, the loss of habitat, and failure of the governments to act early enough to save them, they really never had a chance.”
“But that’s not fair Dad. I never had a chance to see one. What about some of these other animals, Dad? The elephant, the rhino, the hippo, the leopard, the tiger, the cheetah? What about them? Can we see them?”
“I’m sorry son. They are gone too. You see, this earth and the people, animals , plants, forests, insects…everything are all part of this thing they call an ecosystem. As designed, it is perfectly in balance, but it is very fragile. If one animal becomes extinct, then it sets off a chain of events that impacts every animal above and below him. Unfortunately, some people never grasped an understanding of this until it was too late. Now most of the great creatures you see today can only be seen in a handful of zoos. I’m really sorry son. Let’s go home.”
Is there anyone that looks forward to this conversation? Somewhere down the line, someone will be having that tough conversation and that will be a sad day in this world…unless we do something about this.
The recent tragedy of Cecil the Lion has become a touchstone in the lives of many worldwide; with the reactions ranging from the extremes of “Death to the doctor!” to “He didn’t do anything wrong”. However, the majority have an opinion that falls within these two extremes. And while I have no problems professing my love of animals and have my own opinions, I also recognize that emotional outbursts and name calling – while providing a temporary feeling of satisfaction – does not bring long-term change.
What does bring change is a cohesive, unified front toward a united cause; a consistent story supported by facts, and the patience and persistence to see it through. Unfortunately, Cecil’s story risks following the path of similar tragedies. Initially, there is public outrage and the story becomes a catalyst for change. Then, as weeks and months go by; new tragedies arise and replace the old tragedies. Soon the story fades into distant memories. People may still be dissatisfied or unhappy with the occurrence and the perhaps lack of perceived justice in this world, but the emotional element fades away and people more or less, just accept and live with the circumstances and go about their lives. And I also normally find myself in this group. But the daily reminders of Cecil on my computer screensaver tell me that this time it will be different and I will make a difference. And I ask that you too don’t let this story fade into memory without making a difference. This story needs to remain on the forefront of everyone’s mind.
The reality of Cecil is that regardless of the outrage, and regardless of opinion, and regardless of facts and emotion, 98% of people with an opinion on Cecil probably will not change that opinion. People that believe there is nothing wrong with hunting for sport are unlikely to swear off hunting; and those that are against hunting are unlikely to become hunters. Animal lovers refer to hunters as murderers and killers, and tell us that male hunters were born with certain unusually small body parts. And I won’t repeat what words are used to describe female hunters.
On the flip side, hunters name call animal lovers as weak, hypocritical because they demand justice for Cecil but not for other animals, or tell them they should focus their energy and anger on “more important issues”. Or as classic rocker Ted Nugent noted, these people are just ‘stupid’; because after all, who can argue with that? Why I agree that some people on both sides probably meet the scientific definition of “stupid”, the majority are not stupid. Rather, their opinions are based upon their backgrounds, their education, inherent beliefs, what they read and what they have heard. Unfortunately, so much of the static flying around the internet, the airwaves, etc. is based upon misunderstandings, exaggerations, lies, and emotion; and are simply propaganda to convince others to take their side.
So, where are the facts on Cecil, and where is the fiction? First, we need to eliminate the white noise; that is, those comments that are designed to mask, confuse or distract from the real truth. The purpose of this narrative is to help weed out the propaganda, the outright lies, and bring the reader back to the real issue; which is:
Should Trophy Hunting Be Banned?
“This story would have not even made the news if Cecil wasn’t given such a cute name.” No question. Giving someone or something a name personalizes the story. Ask any good prosecuting attorney why they continue to repeat a victim’s name to the jury – particularly a murder victim that cannot speak for his or herself. The jury connects emotionally with a “Jim” or a “John” more than they would if the person was simply referred to as the “the victim”. This humanization naturally does the same for animals and “Cecil” has become a beloved lion rather than just one of hundreds of lions that are hunted down for “fun” each year.
That said, Cecil was not named because someone thought it would be cute. Cecil was named by the Oxford University researchers that have been studying lions in Hwange National Park these past nine years; and he was named after Cecil Rhodes (i.e. The Rhodes Scholar”). Sure, they could have named him Lion #269 and they could have named Jericho Lion #273. However, it generally is easier to remember a name over a number; and the naming of animals is a practice that has been used by researchers for generations.
I can only assume that some people have tried to make this an issue because they believe the animal lover sector is simply outraged only by the death of this particular lion. Yes, they are outraged by the senseless death of Cecil. However, Cecil is the symbol of the outrage many have had over trophy hunting for years – an activity that appears to contribute nothing to society and only serves as a selfish act to stroke the ego of the “mighty” hunter….mighty being in quotes because four-wheel drives, high beam spotlights, high powered rifles, spotters, baiting techniques and canned animal shoots are not exactly terms that suggest a fair fight or what I would deem worthy of the word “mighty”.
I’m sure the hunter brags to his friends back home as to how ferocious the animal was when he was shot. However, in Cecil’s case he was not being ferocious. He was just walking along, not harming anyone and simply following the bait. He was shot, suffered in misery for 40 hours before they finally shot him to death. He was not ferocious…he was not threatening…he was just living the life of a magnificent male lion. But because he was one of the more popular lions in the park, a lion that from most accounts, appears to enjoy the attention and was very social able with the park visitors, the outrage and anger quickly moved into social media and went viral to the point that it became a story. However, whether he had a name or not, this point has no relevance whatsoever to the issue of trophy hunting – right or wrong.
“Cecil supporters are hypocrites because they are outraged over Cecil, but not other lions or other animals.” This argument assumes that Cecil supporters don’t have similar opinions or beliefs about these other animals; and that simply is not true. As I have continued to emphasize, Cecil is the embodiment of the cause. He is not the first animal that was subject to a senseless death and unfortunately, he will not be the last. However, Cecil has brought an issue to the forefront that many have been arguing for years. Now that this has garnered national and worldwide attention and is now stirring a true debate that threatens the livelihood of these hunting clubs and the trophy hunters, they are scrambling to distract and raise points that are meaningless to the issue.
“Cecil supporters are hypocrites because they don’t have a problem with eating other animals.” There is no absolute answer here that everyone will agree; and we could debate this ad nauseam. Those that are vegans can exempt themselves from this conversation because they can rightfully argue that they are not responsible for the killing of any animals. For the rest of the population that do partake in eating meat, poultry and / or fish for sustenance, and for those that hunt for purposes of putting food on the table, this is vastly different from hunting for sport. True to the core animal lovers may disagree with a practice of eating anything, but those attempting to bring this argument into the conversation do so for no other reason than to move the subject off topic and force people to take the side of either” “no animal should be killed” or “the killing of all animals is okay”. Those are arguments that can be debated in different venues. But, the simple question we are addressing in Cecil is whether it is right for an animal to be killed for sport? Period.
This isn’t that big of an issue, or there are more serious issues facing our world.” No doubt that there are a lot of serious issues facing our world these days; however, your prioritization of important issues is not necessarily the same is my prioritization. It doesn’t mean you are wrong and it doesn’t mean that I am right, but again, this is an argument simply used to confuse, convolute and distract people from the real issue – which again is trophy hunting.
Or, when posed a similar question as to why he supports so many animal rights issues, Captain Paul Watson (if you are not familiar with him, you should be) states that the ecological law of interdependence states that we cannot live on this planet without the other species – therefore saving animals is also saving people. Besides, people who demand that I should not be concerned with helping animals and should be helping people are usually not doing anything themselves to help people.”
“Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemmingway both hunted wild animals and they were known conservationists. “ First of all, just because Roosevelt was one of the great Presidents of the United States and Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest writers of our time, does not mean that they were right on this issue. More importantly, the world is quite different than it was 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, there were in excess of 300,000 lions in Africa. Today there are 20,000 to 30,000. That is a 90% drop over a 100-year period. There were also no four wheel drive vehicles or high powered rifles back then — and other technological advancements and conveniences we have today that basically eliminates the “man versus beast” mentality of kill or be killed. The advantages man has today doesn’t even make this a sport anymore.
For those that believe it is okay to trophy hunt today because it was accepted back then, need I remind them that slavery was also an accepted practice by most 150 years ago. I think it is safe to say the majority of the population has a very different opinion today – although human trafficking in this world has also reached crisis level . But not- withstanding the ethical or moral issues of hunting for the “thrill of hunting”, the primary reason this argument is not valid is that we have lost 90% of the lion population from 100 years ago.
The whole idea of evolution is that we are supposed to evolve into higher beings. There is a reason that we no longer live in caves, that we no longer rely on fire as the only means for heating. The hunting of animals in prehistoric times was a necessity because it was either kill and eat, or don’t kill and die. It was a matter of survival. Today, trophy hunting is definitely not about survival, and our evolution advancement should be far enough along that we recognize this ecological interdependence and the importance of animals in our world….not to hunt, but the importance in their contribution to the ecosystem. And this does not even begin to address the other contributions animals provide to us. Watch a nature program on television and note your sense of calmness and wholeness with the world around you. Compare that to a “shoot ‘em up movie.” How do you feel after watching that?
“Trophy hunters are conservationists because…Part I.” This brings us to the crux of this discussion and the primary defensive that the trophy hunters defer too…believing that this will immediately put the question to rest. But to be fair, let’s address this question. If trophy hunting is truly an act of conservation and “you must kill an animal to save an animal”, then perhaps this is a legitimate justification for trophy hunting.
The argument is primarily two-fold: (1) hunters weed out the weak, ensuring that only the strongest and healthiest contribute to the gene pool, and thereby improving the overall health of the species; and (2) the fees paid for trophy hunting is invested back into the infrastructure of the local communities; thus it contributes to conservation and saves the animals.
So, the argument goes that by establishing an economic value for a lion, a tiger, a bear, an elephant, or a rhino, that ensures survival of the species. In other words, if the economic value of a lion is $50,000, only a handful of people will have the financial means of which to kill the lion, and so very few lions are killed. However, if the lion has no economic value, then killing him or her will not be restricted only to those with financial means, and more will therefore be killed. I don’t believe this argument truly supports itself; and would suggest even further that establishing an economic value has had an opposite effect and has a direct impact on the dramatic increase in poaching of these beautiful animals.
The Dallas Safari Club just auctioned off a hunting permit for a black Rhino for $350,000. Guess what the economic value of a black rhino is now? $350,000. And guess what economic value the black rhino has to poachers? $350,000. And do you think a poacher now has a greater incentive to poach black rhinos now that they know hunters will pay $350,000 for a black rhino. Of course they will. The answer is painfully obvious.
But going back to the conservation argument, in answer to the first point, this might be true if the hunters truly targeted the weak and the old; but they don’t. They seek the biggest, the largest, and the most formidable of beasts. What hunter seeks out the weakest animal, mounts the creature on the wall, and then brags to his friends: “Yes, this animal only had three legs, was starving, and on death’s door when I shot him. See how I helped preserve this species. Aren’t you proud of me?”
No, the hunter is looking for the animal with the largest tusks, the largest antlers, the largest mane, the largest animal. I am not bringing the topic of deer hunting into this discussion because deer are not a threatened species and I view this as a very different subject matter. But to use as an example, has a deer hunter ever bragged about how small that two-point buck was? No, but does he brag about a 14-point buck? Of course he does. Those that can afford it (and many who can’t) buy the biggest house, the biggest car, the most expensive diamond. Not because we need it, but because it strokes our egos and makes us believe we are something bigger than we are. Same goes for hunting. The Sierra Club and similar hunting organizations give out awards for killing the largest animal, not the smallest animal.
Why are elephant tusks on average, much smaller than they were 20 years ago? Simple… because in seeking to kill the biggest and strongest, it is the weak that remain to populate the gene pool. This will continue to perpetuate a downward decline in these majestic animals. Is there any question that there is absolutely no support for this argument?
Now for the conservation part. On the surface, this sounds logical. After all, if the $50,000 spent to kill Cecil truly went to the local economy; or if hunters paid an average of $40,0000 per lion for the estimated 600 male lions that are killed each year, that would generate $24 million in annual revenue. That would indeed contribute much to the local economies, to hire more park rangers, to spend on conservation education to the locals, etc.
The problem with this argument is that it assumes that this $40,000 or $50,000 actually makes it to the local communities. It does not and therefore, contributes very little to conservation. The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservations reports that only 3% of revenue from trophy hunting ever makes it to the communities affected by hunting. The rest goes to national governments, foreign-based outfitters, and dare I say, in the pockets of many corrupt politicians and others (Many of these African countries don’t exactly have great track records in responsible and honest government) . So, using these figures, Cecil’s life was basically worth about $1,500.
The fallacy of this argument is that it assumes trophy hunting as the only solution and the only financial means to hire park rangers and to help support the national parks and other protected areas. But, studies show that hunting only contributes one-tenth of 1% to the Gross Domestic Product of these African countries. Compare this to ecotourism (i.e. photo safaris) that contributes an estimated 12% to GDP. I agree that you can’t simply ban trophy hunting without making a commitment to ecotourism. There is no question that although a very small percentage, at least some of the licensing and permitting fees do indeed support the conservation program. However, if you could replace an activity that contributes one-tenth of 1% to the local economy, with one that contributes 12% to the local economy, why would you not do that?
According to recent research, the average lion is deemed to have an economic value (there is that word again) of $50,000 per year for the ecotourism industry. But, that is $50,000 for a live lion, not a dead one – and therefore, meaningless to poachers, unless the poachers convert to kidnappers and begin operating their own Poacher’s National Park and begin catering to this same photo op crowd.
So, a lion that lives an average of 13 years will generate, on average, $650,000 in revenue to the economy over their lifetime. Cecil was 13 when he was killed, so, over the course of his life, he generated $650,000 to Zimbabwe’s economy. He was killed for $50,000. But, by all accounts, he was a very healthy lion and could have lived for another five or six years, which would have yielded another $250,000 to $300,000 in revenue for the country. So, there is your “economic value” comparison.
And despite the lopsided comparison of $50,000 to hunt versus $650,000 to photograph, the true comparison is even more lopsided. Studies show that lion cubs have a mortality rate of nearly 80% during their first two years. And there is no question that there are numerous reasons for this: starvation, poaching, elephant and buffalo attacks, hyenas and nomadic lions seeking new prides. So, hunting is not the sole reason for the decimation of the lion population.
As most people probably understand, and as cruel as it seems – when establishing himself as the leader of a pride, the male lion will typically kill the cubs sired by his predecessor; thereby having the opportunity to sire new cubs with his pride. Cecil and Jericho as a team stood a very good chance of defending their pride against other nomadic lions. However, with the loss of Cecil, the odds are against Jericho to defend his territory are sadly, slim…or at least the odds are against him. That said, Jericho will risk his life to defend his territory, and the female lions will fight to their death to defend the cubs.
Cecil and Jericho actually protected two separate prides, including a total of 12 cubs and multiple lionesses. So beyond Cecil; the tragic and senseless killing of Cecil has not only ended his life, it has put to great risk Jericho, the female lions and all 12 cubs. As Professor David Macdonald, founder of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit as Oxford University so succinctly put it, “The death of one lion is not just the death of one lion, it is a cascade.”
So, we aren’t talking about the loss of a single lion and the loss of his economic contribution. We are talking about $650,000 per lion, multiplied by five… six…eight… twenty. If any of these twelve cubs are subsequently killed because Jericho cannot protect them by himself, then they produce no offspring; and their offspring produce no offspring. And if any of the female lions are killed while defending the cubs, they produce no more offspring either So, is it the loss of one lion (Cecil), the loss of his entire pride or it is even beyond that?
Are we talking about one lion or a hundred lions? Are we talking about $650,000 in lost lifetime revenue for one lion, or $65 million in lost revenue for 100 lions? I say that Dr. Palmer needs to pull out his checkbook. He needs to add a few more zeros to that $50,000 “murder for hire” check.
A hundred years ago, there were over 300,000 lions roaming the African plains. Today there are as few as 22,000 to 30,000. While trophy hunting is only one of several causes attributable to the reduction of the lion population, Cecil’s death is directly attributable to trophy hunting and the 600 lions killed every year can be directly blamed on trophy hunting. So, over a ten-year period, that is 6,000 lions; and how many additional cubs or lionesses were killed because the males were not there to protect them? Even if the number of lions killed by poachers, starvation and other natural phenomena remained, take trophy hunting out of the mix and how many lions would we have today. Well, we know at minimum, 6,000 – because that is the number killed on average the past 10 years by trophy hunters. But of course, the number would be much larger.
Although I am certainly not touting violence as the answer, I have an alternative solution that may be a bit on the macabre, but maybe it should be addressed. Given that park rangers have been given the order of “shoot to kill” any poacher, an extreme solution might be to deputize animal trophy hunters and instead of shooting the animals, they can shoot the poachers. Now, that is a story they could tell their friends and it would be much more dramatic and entertaining than a story of killing a defenseless animal. Because killing poachers is not deemed illegal, the hunters would not have to worry about facing murder charges, and perhaps they would pass a law legalizing the taxidermy and mounting of a poacher. What a story to tell their friends! to see a poacher’s head mounted above the hunter’s fireplace. It certainly would be a good conversation piece, and you eliminate or substantially reduce two of the threats to the survival of lions and species: hunters and poachers. Maybe not the best answer…but maybe it is. If these hunters really want to test their resolve and prove their manhood, then going after poachers that can equally match on firepower, that sounds like a true test to me. I will then be the first to say “Yes, you are truly a real man.” Anyone know what the economic value of a poacher is?
“Trophy hunters are conservationists because”…(Part 2) a by- product of trophy hunting is an additional food source for the local communities. I can’t speak universally on this issue and I will give the benefit of the doubt that in many cases, this is probably true. However, as it relates to Cecil, this definitely did not happen. No, his carcass was left abandoned in a field for the buzzards and hyenas, and providing sustenance for the locals was the furthest consideration from their minds.
And regardless of the circumstances, I seriously doubt that these trophy hunters truly are thinking about their proud humanitarian efforts of contributing a food source while at the same time, killing these magnificent creatures.
SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?
Should Doctor Palmer be extradited and face poaching charges? Those who defend him say no, because he relied upon a 3rd party to arrange the expedition and did not know Cecil was illegally killed. And of course, he expresses regrets because he “took” the lion. If you believe that killing a beautiful creature like Cecil make you a real man, then at least be man enough to tell like it is. You killed him, you murdered him….you didn’t “take” him. Be proud of your action!
Aside from that, does anyone believe he is really sorry? (more on that below.) No, he is only sorry because his face was plastered in newspapers and social media across the world and he became public enemy # 1. He is only sorry because he was caught. This is a man who has already been fined for illegally killing a black bear outside of an established hunting zone; and paid $127,500 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit out of court. So, he is not exactly a poster child for ethical behavior, and therefore, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.
He should be extradited and should face charges because he was complicit in the illegal killing. You have to ask yourself the question, “If he didn’t think they had done anything wrong, then why did they try to destroy the radio collar?” According to Lion Aid, it is not illegal to kill a collared lion. So, why destroy the collar? And why didn’t the law abiding Dr. Palmer seek out Zimbabwe officials or U.S. officials to let them know these other hunters were trying to destroy the collar? After all, he was there. Shouldn’t the act of destroying the collar raise a question in his mind that perhaps something illegal had occurred.
No, rather than having a concern for this suspicious act, after killing Cecil, he then asked the Zimbabwean hunter accompanying him if they could find him an elephant larger than 63 pounds (the weight of one tusk) to shoot…which apparently is a very large elephant. When they told him they could not find one that large, he left the country and flew back home. So, this is how sorry he was about “taking” Cecil. As soon as he killed a collared lion, he immediately was seeking the next kill. And notice that he was not asking for them to find the smallest elephant; so to my earlier point about weeding out the weak.
So yes, he should be extradited and he should be charged and he should face these charges, because everyone should be held accountable for their actions. But as much as I would like to see him punished, I no longer focus my anger and energy on this little man…and anyone else desiring to see a change and a ban on the hunting of lions and other threatened species should not spend any more time or energy on this little man either.
No, I have said Cecil is our touchstone and he can be the agent of change toward trophy hunting. So, utilize your energy to support The CECIL Act – or the “Conserving Ecosytems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies” Act that would extend restrictions on the import and export of animals that are being considered for inclusion under the Endangered Species Act. Write your congressional representative and ask them to support this. Ask them to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to upgrade the lion to a “threatened” species. Continue to pressure the transportation companies to ban the shipping of animal trophies.
The challenge of course is that the majority of individuals that trophy hunt are those with significant wealth and therefore, can hire the lobbyists to influence the politicians. They can hold campaign contributions as a penalty or reward for voting for or against certain legislation that would curtail or help their trophy hunting industry. The good news is that the number of people desiring to shut this industry down far, far exceed those that want to keep it afloat.
Whether that reason is the love of animals, the love of lions, the Occupy Wall Street crowd that hates the one percenters, those that don’t like the wealthy white elite, whatever the reason. Or perhaps you would like your children or your grandchildren to have an opportunity to see a lion in the wild and not just in the zoo or in an old National Geographic video, you will do something to make a difference.
And to the trophy hunters that still believe that big game hunting is conservation and helps to save these species, I have a couple of additional, alternative solutions that perhaps you might consider. As an avid photographer, I can assure you that $50,000 will buy you the absolute best, top of the line photography equipment you can by. Develop that talent; and not only could you display hundreds of the magnificent photographs of these animals in your home, you could make multiple prints and donate to the various wildlife organizations, and you could even sell prints and use this as an alternative revenue source. Hunting wild animals really only truly provides you one opportunity to brag of your greatness. Photography offers three: (1) touting your photographic skills, (2) touting your contribution to nature and conservancy through donation of your photography and (3) touting yet another way to make money.
Or, you could simply donate the money and benefit from a generous tax write-off. I’m sure all of these African parks would gladly accept a $50,000 check and think what that would do to help wildlife. Or for those that criticize animal lovers that there are much more important issues and crisis are facing today. Maybe you are right. So why don’t you contribute that $50,000 to those causes that you believe animal rights groups should be spending their time and energy on.
And finally for those trophy hunters that tout they do more for conservation than those non hunters? Well, as a non-hunter, I am proud to announce that I saved a lion today. In fact, I saved a lion yesterday. I saved a lion last week, and I saved 365 lions last year. Why? Because I did not shoot a lion today, I did not shot a lion yesterday, and I will never shoot a lion. Give me a better example of conservation than that.
Glenn Williams is an avid amateur wildlife and nature photographer, and has a love for animals, particularly the big cats. He is extremely passionate as to the plight and threat to our wildlife, and devotes much of his time to conservation and awareness of threatened and endangered species. When he is not at home, he can be found traveling with his artist wife throughout North America, seeking new adventures and photo opportunities and inspiration for his next article.