Curtain Raiser

Behind the Killing of a Big Cat, Colltalers

It was as swift and definitive as the killing itself was not. And it showed just as effectively how the global media at times accurately reflects the bipolar aspects of our short attention span. And seemingly endless ability for changing the subject.
When news broke that Cecil, a supposedly protected lion in Zimbabwe, felled to an American amateur hunter’s high-powered bow, coverage of the universal grief that followed it immediately interrupted all the other news of the day.
Almost gone from the headlines was ISIL’s murderous campaign, Turkish air raids of Kurds in Iraq and Syria, change in Taliban leadership with Mullah Mohammed Omar’s death, the Palestinian toddler killed by Israeli settlers, and that’s just skimming through the usually bloody but limited and biased coverage of the Middle Eastern cauldron.
In the U.S., outrage provoked by the beloved feline’s killing has also managed to wipe from front covers the extremely rare indictment of a white police officer in the death of yet another unarmed black male. And divert speculation about the suspicions death of Sandra Bland, a black professional who hung herself in jail, following her arrest for a traffic violation.
Cecil’s death sent in fact such a powerful shockwave around the world that many decried it, on the assumption that people care more about animals than the preventable killing of innocent humans singled out for their race or social status.
But even if there’s some truth to that – after all, advocates say, animals would never be accused of a crime against humans -, such misperception is less about a supposed ranking of species with, you guessed it, us on top, than with the seemingly insurmountable precariousness of sustaining momentum for discussing race relations in the U.S. now or ever.
Specially when combined with the leeway law enforcement agents enjoy to make life and death decisions, shortcomings of their psychological training, centuries of racial injustice and, of course, the gun issue, arguably another non starter.
Two other issues, both converged under the general bracket of cruelty against animals, got bonus mileage on the back of Cecil’s headless carcass, and we’re not corroborating threats to the Minnesota dentist by the ever agreeable Internet trolls.
One, the rapid expanding endangered species list, of which lions are now part, unlike say a few decades ago. Which is true to most species. Not coincidentally, the compilation includes some of the most majestic animals that have ever graced this planet. Besides lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, whales, rhinos, gorillas, monkeys, dolphins, do we have to go any further?
We’re quickly approaching the time when a reversed list, with species not on the road to extinction, will make more sense. Although all life’s worth saving, knowing that hundreds of thousands are disappearing one by one do us no favors: if we fail to show empathy for the plight of a formidable creature such as a lion, what hope is there for, say, a tiny ant?
The other issue sits like a fat but still gentle cow in the middle of the room but is not as easily identified with animal rights as the senseless killing of them by deep-pocket hobbyists: why we separate animals we call pets from those we call food.
It’s a passionate issue, with some misplaced radicalism that derails both sides’ arguments and belittles its implications, not unlike the right of some to worship an invisible entity, which is legal, without forcing it onto others, which is not.
The preaching that goes with the rationale of eating or not animal meat is one of the reasons that the above mentioned solidarity to Cecil’s fate was at odds with the personal eating habits of those exercising their empathetic muscles.
Again, what’s missing on this discussion – whether eating meat is or is not sanctioned by an ethical way of living – are facts, in this case, deeply linked and cause of much of Earth’s environmental depleting and increasing natural resources scarcity.
It’s a fact, for instance, that the industry sustaining our beef eating habit costs more to the environment than the pollution caused by our motor vehicles, discounted, one assumes, all parallel economies that feed off the oily veins of civilization.
It’s also a fact that meat is not a all-inclusive nutritional component for our bodies’ sustenance, requiring an array of complementary aliments to fulfill a balanced diet requirements. A long-term meat-only regime won’t keep us alive.
And finally, it’s an almost proved fact too that certain illnesses are linked to meat, despite copious research pointing to the contrary. That’s not a contradiction, just an acknowledgement that the same meat industry, being so invested in preserving the misperception that we absolutely need meat to survive, pays handsomely for that kind of study. Hence the ‘almost.’
The news cycle is bound to turn a corner, however. And soon enough, we’ll feel that the subject’s changed too fast, before any actionable measure in defense of endangered species, and lions in particular as it goes, has been enacted and enforced.
But many are not fully at mercy of what multimillion dollar enterprises, which just happen to be in the news business, may decide that’s important, and how many hours to dedicate to it. Long ago, headline-driven news stopped being relevant.
Except of course, when it’s not. In the case of Cecil, much of it has been spent speculating what sort of punishment, if any, someone like that Midwest animal killer (ed. note: we don’t publish names of accidental newsmakers for it may ultimately add credence to him or her) deserves, and little on the culture that produces just such a character.
We know that a hunter he is not: he kills not to feed but to entertain himself; he’s never in any danger, as he hires help to back him up; and he doesn’t respect the object of his aim, or give it a fair chance. Like a lowly killer, he just takes a life.
But since he’s an American, heaven forbid to say anything about the ‘sport’ of hunting, and the fact that those adept to it pay a small fortune to belong to such an insensitive and egotistical club. And since we’re on the subject of things we should never ever question, we won’t bother bringing up the gun issue to the fore. Again, heaven forbid start arguing over the 2nd.
And yet, these issues are correlated to the African lion’s killing, or whenever an elephant is downed (100 today, as every day), a whale is killed for ‘scientific purposes,’ a gorilla is hit by a stray bullet, or a turtle is caught on an illegal fishing net.
The upside of such a wall-to-wall coverage, as flawed and misdirected as it may be, is that it’s also dislodged from the top of the news that starlet caught on a drug binge, another famous for being famous person’s latest Twitter diatribe, another pic from the endless British royalty lineage, or, in the case of the U.S., yet another stupidity uttered by the Republican’s front runner.
Speaking of which, another corner will be turned this week with a pseudo-debate of the also endless string of candidates to be former U.S. presidential candidates. And, we hate to say, another toxic whiff of that malodorous concoction is coming up.
But it’s unwise to expect it all to return to a hypothetical normal; chances are, more is coming our way. Which doesn’t mean to say that Cecil, and the grief his death has provoked, was all in vain, and will be forgotten in the weeks ahead.
Giving it in to those who are almost jealous for the attention animals receive, compared to that directed at humans in distress, certain losses hit us in such a primeval center of our beings that we can’t help it but responding in kind. We too are adept at exercising our empathy muscles rather than our trigger-pulling fingers, and Cecil just gave us a complete workout.
The media will report whatever its wealthy sponsors dictate, with exceptions few and far between, about what mostly makes you depressed anyway, while shoving personal habits of the fabulous and the infamous on our unimpressed faces.
But while most will act as if last week didn’t exist, and whatever is on deserves their eyes, some will remain concerned about our fellow partners on the stewardship of this planet. And will demand a reprieve on trophy hunting, at least until we create robots to be shot at, and remain engaged on veering our entertainment and eating chops toward ethical choices.
We won’t forget about ISIL, and the Turks, and the troops stuck overseas, and the plight of Palestinian children, or the continuous misery faced everyday by refugees and undocumented immigrants in Europe and the U.S.
No need to forget anything so to stop patronizing an industry that treats living beings as commodities, and how its very existence is the flip side of having wild animals rot in private yards, and ‘traditions’ of slaughtering beasts for fun still being carried on. Lest even the cutest of our pets can be tortured in cosmetic labs, or considered food in other cultures.
Behind the killing of wild animals, for riches, pleasure or neglect, there are vested interests and global traffic, spurious black markets, and entire societies anchored on the morally dubious notion that we stand above all other species.
Trust no one but yourself to keep this from falling into the cracks of media disposable grinders. Pages may turn but the book’s the same; we have an obligation to get it right. Just as a life wasted to war or hunger is a life too many, so is another stupid killing of a creature evolution trained to live and let live. Ladies and gentleman, it’s August out there. Enjoy. WC

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