The sad fate of Cecil the lion – a small piece of a bigger picture

By now, almost every adult who watches television, reads a newspaper, listens to the radio or gets news online has heard of Cecil, the African lion. The July killing of this lion by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer has unleashed a firestorm of protest against Palmer, trophy hunting and hunting in general.

Further fanning the flames – earlier this week, Zimbabwe announced that another American – oncologist Jan Seski, of Murrysville, Pa. – is also being charged with the illegal killing of a lion. This incident occurred back in April.

Responding to the protest, Delta airlines recently joined a growing list of air carriers that will no longer transport certain trophies –  even for legal, licensed hunters.

I have no "insider" knowledge to offer about either lion incident. If news reports are accurate, Palmer's guides from Bushman Safaris allegedly lured the prize lion out of a protected national park by dragging an animal carcass behind a vehicle. Palmer then shot the lion, which had been a popular tourist attraction.

If true, then I hope that all readers of this blog would agree that Palmer and/or his guides acted illegally and unethically and should be punished.

Palmer claims that he trusted his guides and didn't realize that what he was doing was illegal. As a hunter, I have trouble believing that Palmer didn't realize the ethics of what was happening. However, I do believe that he had no inkling of what the public outcry would be. According to news media accounts, Palmer has had to close his business, at least temporarily, and has gone into hiding due to the near-constant harassment he has experienced.

Closer to home – just last October, three Centre County men were charged with poaching three bull elk near Karthaus, in Clearfield County. They illegally shot the elk at night reportedly because they wanted to sell the antlers on eBay.

Many in the press – and the public in general  – refer to all of these lawbreakers as "hunters," (whether in Zimbabwe or Pennsylvania) rather than the poachers, outlaws or criminals that they are. Unfortunately, the actions of a few outlaws stain all hunters and hunting.

Cody Lyons, Jeffery Bickle and Frank Buchanan, Jr., all were found guilty of jack-lighting the bull elk. They each received jail time and had to pay a combined total in fines and restitution of over $43,000. If guilty, I hope that the lion-killers receive every punishment that they deserve.

It is important for those of us who enjoy hunting to remember that we continue our traditional sport only with permission of the majority of people who don't hunt. Yes, we pay for conservation here and in Africa. Yes, we provide a service by keeping animal populations in check, and yes, sport hunting contributes to the local economy. However, this message is lost when illegal actions occur and people lash out at all hunters.

Please hunt legally and ethically. Now, more than ever, people are watching.

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