I’m going to visit my grandparents in Minnesota this weekend for my grandfather’s 93rd birthday. To me Minnesota is a sanctuary. It’s a place filled with family, clear lakes, rolling grass fields, and nostalgia. So, naturally I was heartbroken and outraged to find out a dentist from a state in the US I believe to be filled with peaceful and good-hearted people killed a beloved lion in Zimbabwe. I can’t help thinking Cecil the lion must have felt the same way about his sanctuary as I do about Minnesota.
But I am not going to let one person’s actions change the way I feel about a place I love. Pointing the finger at one person, one state, or even one country is not going to change anything. Shaming one man does not address the larger issues that exist as the root cause of tragedies like this.
The real reason Cecil the lion was killed is poverty. Corruption which perpetuates cycles of poverty is what allowed this illegal poaching to happen. A country faced with poverty is often forced to exploit resources because few alternative options exist for economic development and income.
The man, Walter Palmer, who shot and killed Cecil paid guides $50,000 and claimed he did not know he was illegally hunting the lion. The guides who took him and took his money are part of the corruption that comes from poverty. One of the guides was a farmer in rural Zimbabwe. 76 percent of farmers in Zimbabwe live in extreme poverty and rely heavily on food aid for survival. So if you’re going to play the blame game, let’s blame poverty.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Palmer shouldn't pay for his crime. He should pay legally and give what he owes to Zimbabwe for illegal hunting. He is also not the only who can give something. I encourage the people sending hateful emails and berating this man to focus some of their words and energy to eradicate poverty, because that’s the true culprit.
Fortunately, some positive actions are rising out of this very sad situation. A lawmaker in New Jersey proposed legislation that would stop the transport of “game trophies” of threatened and endangered species through airports in New York and New Jersey.
Wildlife workers in South Africa invented a way to deter poachers from killing rhinos for their horns by dying horns pink. African rhinos are hunted and illegally poached for their horns. Rhino horn is used as ivory and also believed to be a medicinal cure. The dye keeps poachers from using horns as ivory. The dye has another function too. The injected dye is actually a bright pink tick repellant which is toxic to humans, making medicinal use of these rhino horns a bad idea.
Millions of people are becoming aware that illegal poaching is still a reality. Awareness on this issue is key, but it’s not enough. Actions need to be taken that go beyond protecting animals and solve the reasons these animals and other exotic resources are being exploited. Investing in sustainable economic development to get countries out of poverty can help end economic dependence on corrupt behaviors and even tourism (especially hunting tourism that is based on illegal poaching.) With good governance, no corruption, and stable economics the incentive to exploit resources will decline. Investing in the fight to end poverty is the best way to ensure the safety and lives of all.