There is so much that infuriates me in the news on a daily basis that I nearly always begin my day in some sort of rage. The stupidity of humans never fails to amaze me, and the killing of a lion by an American dentist this week has put me in more of a rage than usual. Supposedly this American dentist paid upwards of $55,000 to hunt and kill a lion. Cecil, as the lion was named, was part of an Oxford University research project. Outfitted with a GPS collar, the university was able to keep track of the animal’s movements and habits over the last seven years. The hunters tracked the lion and lured it out of a sanctuary with food, proceeding to shoot it with a crossbow. The wounded animal fled and was further tracked and then shot. As if that were not bad enough, the hunters then skinned and decapitated the lion, presumably to keep as trophies. There is perhaps nothing to compare with this story to demonstrate man’s arrogant sense of entitlement.
When I came across this story I just happened to be reading Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa, a book that glorifies the hunt and the hunter. Hemingway’s machismo is on full display in this book, contributing to his myth. Originally published in 1935, Green Hills of Africa recounts Hemingway’s 1933 safari trip with his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway. The content of the book is deeply disturbing, and Hemingway, true to form, presents the hunt in heroic fashion. What doesn’t get mentioned as much, and the same is true today, is that big game hunting is a rich man’s sport; if you have enough money, you can pay to kill anything. This is capitalism at its most vulgar. The released photograph of the dentist and his hunting guide kneeling beside a dead Cecil and smiling is a clear example of the inhumanity of man. There is a similar photo of a smiling Hemingway kneeling beside his own dead lion in the new edition of Green Hills of Africa.
What should be celebrated is not the content of Green Hills of Africa, but its reimagining of the form that a book could take, really quite revolutionary for its time. The book is not a novel, but a memoir with fictional elements. It is a tremendous book that illustrates the vulgarity of man when he gives in to his own ego, but it is also a revelation of form. Of course, Hemingway intended to show the relentless determination of a man to take what he wants packaged in the heroic guise of the unknown and inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s own safari trip in 1910. Nevertheless, big game hunting as it is portrayed and practiced, then as now, is sinful.
Common practice dictates that when a wild or captured animal mauls and kills a human that the animal in question is put down. However, there is no reciprocal action when a human kills a defenseless animal. This should be changed and hunting for sport for the purposes of obtaining a trophy should not only be outlawed, but the practice ought to be punishable by death. Hunting for sport is a cruel and cowardly practice. The animals really do not have much of a chance, and the hunter has every advantage over the prey. The ramifications of Cecil’s death go far beyond the killing of a lion. Cecil had six cubs that will now in all likelihood be killed by another male lion as he asserts his dominance. And all for what? A smiling man standing above a dead lion?