In 1994, I travelled to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. While I was there I got to go on two game drives. Driven out into the nearby grasslands, armed only with our cameras, we got to see animals such as elephants in musk, zebra, hyena, baboons, giraffe, and lions. As we drove by one evening, about six feet from our jeep, there were lions eyeing us ever so carefully. They were magnificent. You could see the power in their limbs, hear their mighty roar, and understand that they really are the kings or queens of the jungle. As I watched them, I felt very humbled at my own weakness in the face of their strength. I felt that this was their home and I was the interloper. I felt a great sense of awe at the wonders of God's creation. It was not my first time seeing lions. I had seen them at a few zoos. I had seen them at a circus. But this was the first time I had seen a lion in their own environment, and it was truly magnificent.
Lions are a species in peril in Africa. As humanity has settled into Africa, the habitat of lions has shrunk, as has the population of animals that the lions have hunted for prey. The lion is not an endangered species yet, but their population is under threat. So I was truly saddened to hear the story about Cecil the Lion being shot by a Minnesota dentist this week. It seemed a violation of God's plan. All of a sudden we were back to the old Tarzan movies of the thirties and forties with Bwana, the big game hunter, proving his manhood by killing animals. Now I know nothing of this dentist who killed Cecil other than he likes to hunt. But being a dentist- a dentist who could afford to travel to Africa- I know he is not poor. He did not have to kill Cecil for food, or to make a lion skin coat. He killed for sport. He killed in order to put a lion's head over his mantle place. He killed just so he could brag to his friends- I bagged a lion once.
Reaction to Cecil's murder has been swift. Cecil's murder went viral on the news and Facebook. People have immediately vilified the dentist- who might be a nice guy other than his need to prove his manhood by killing animals. We might wonder why now. Why are people reacting now to the death of this one lion? Lions have been shot by Western hunters for centuries now. Elephants are killed for their tusks. Rhinos are killed so that their horn might be used for medicine. Hunters long for their trophies. Didn't God give us dominion over creation?
But things have changed since the first lion was killed centuries ago. We know that animals are precious. We've watched as dodos and countless other species have disappeared forever because of our over hunting. We live in a world facing threat from global climate change. Because of our collective efforts as a species, all creation is endangered. To kill for sport when all creation seems on the ropes seems at least mean spirited. And hopefully, we are coming to understand that we are called to caretake creation and not subdue it. We live in a world where too many humans are killed in mass gun attacks like last week's attack at the theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana where people were killed just just for going to a movie. Any death by a gun, whether it be on an Amy Schumer fan or on Cecil the Lion is wrong. We live in a world where killing is not justifiable any more. And we live in a world where immediately thousands of people can see events thousands of miles away at the click of a mouse.
The dentist may not be an evil man. But I think he represents the old way of thinking. Rich white men on top of the world. Everything else is below. The reaction to his trophy kill though hopefully shows we are evolving as a species. We realize creation is a gift not something for us to control. We realize that all of us are connected, whether we are black, or white, or human or leonine. Blessings.