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Animal lives: Do they matter?

I don’t hunt.

For what it’s worth I don’t play chess or fish very well either; all of them have something to do with patience.  See, I’m melancholic, and I bore easily.

I’m not bothered when I see friends or relatives with their latest kills; I respect hunters for getting out there and doing it in all kinds of weather.

I even respect big-game hunters.  Closer to 100 percent of them respect the game and they respect the land, and that’s good because a lot of them are making up for the ones who don’t.

A few less percent don’t need the game they hunt, though you must admit those deer steaks and wild turkey you’ve got stored up in your freezer doesn’t taste the same as pork chops and hot wings.  Season it right, and some think it tastes better.  Besides, I have a friend who makes a mean deer chili that they always break out on Super Bowl Sunday, and somehow while I’m gobbling it up, I have to admit it just wouldn’t taste the same if beef or chicken had been in that stew.

No, I’m not getting ready to make some anti-hunting statement; I just want to shed some light on the demise back in July of Cecil the lion over in Zimbabwe, Africa.

People are dying of starvation at an alarming rate in sub-Sahara Africa and some of the natives have to track game for food.  I once watched a nature film on a hunt by Zulu’s of a giraffe in the Kalahari Desert and though I found myself rooting for an escape, I also realized that same animal, caught, skinned, and the meat brought back, would feed a whole village for close to a month.  I think I got the point.

It also makes you glad you are blessed to live in America.

See, there’s just this little part of me where I just can’t bring myself to kill something that I don’t need to kill.

And that’s what’s brought me back to Cecil.

Of course none of us can really, truly empathize with Cecil.  Heck, none of us know what it’s like to be an African lion. But we feel that we can imagine his pain and bewilderment, and maybe when we do that’s when we feel ourselves in his position.   Our true feelings, our grief, and even our anger we now display on behalf of a lion that two weeks ago few of us had never even heard of.

Moreover, poor Cecil was tricked, lured from the safety of the Hwange National Park, to be shot with an arrow and doomed to wander for 40 hours in what must have been intense, excruciating pain before being finished off with a gun. Not out of mercy, but so his beautiful, expressive head could be hacked off for a trophy.

You see, Cecil had a name. He was an individual, and with his distinctive black mane he had become one of the most famous lions in Africa. He had a story: legend has it he’d been kicked out of his pride and founded one of his own; a real Lion King.  He was an animal and therefore blameless if he stalked a gazelle; but he was blameless maybe because he was an animal.  “He never bothered anyone,” the Zimbabwe minister told us on television this week in a voice as full of emotion as it was with rage.

The big game trophy hunter who stalked, shot, and eventually killed Cecil, dentist Dr. Walter Palmer, has become so universally reviled he’s had to go into hiding.

Not only have Zimbabwe officials suspended hunting of lions, leopards and elephants outside the National Park, they have also gone after another hunter, a Pittsburgh doctor who, they say, illegally killed a lion.  And now earlier this week, one airline has announced that it will ban the shipment of all big-game trophies as freight.

There’s a slogan out now that says, “Lives Matter”. Maybe we should take a look at some animal lives and decide that their lives shouldn’t be taken purely for fun because that’s what trophy hunting is. It’s about killing to get a trophy.

I’m going into the woods to shoot some wildlife myself later this month.  Only I’m going to do it with a camera.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.