Belfast Telegraph

Cruel narcissist he may be, but Cecil the lion's killer has rights too

By Paul Connolly

Want to see the social media lynch mob in its full, snarling fury? Look no further than this week. The story of Cecil the lion and his death at the hands of an American 'hunter' illustrates the worst and the worst of humanity (yes, you read that correctly).

Almost as disturbing as the slaying of Cecil is the reaction of the baying social media mob.

Cecil was a black-maned lion who was the best known animal in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park and was noted for his unaggressive style (by lion standards, that is). He was found dead last week outside the park.

Turns out Cecil was shot with an arrow by an American dentist called Walter Palmer. The story got murkier, though.

It's alleged Cecil was illegally lured from the park. And he didn't die when Palmer shot him. Terribly injured, he was tracked down 40 hours later by Palmer's associates, who shot, skinned and beheaded him.

Walter Palmer is now perhaps the most hated man on the planet.

Photographs show the depths of his obsession with killing large animals.

He is seen smiling (flashing the gruesome, blindingly white denture-like teeth you'd expect from an American dentist) over the animal 'kills', including a jaguar and reportedly a polar bear.

Why anyone would want to kill wildlife is beyond me. Palmer appears to think it's a hobby and his right. Truth is, he has taken liberties with the law in the past, as a 2008 conviction demonstrates: he pleaded guilty to making false statements to the US Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in Wisconsin.

Palmer is, in my opinion, a cowardly, pitiful, cruel little narcissist not fit to tie the bootlaces of the hundreds of Zimbabweans who dedicate their lives to protect the big game of their country.

Palmer is now in hiding after an incredible eruption of hatred which has enveloped both himself, his dentistry business and big game hunters.

But the fury of the social media lynch mob is troubling, too. Some verbal attacks on Palmer have been extreme almost beyond belief.

Right from the start, before the facts of the case were confirmed, he was judged guilty of poaching. He has admitted shooting Cecil with an arrow, but insists he was unaware of any illegality.

Obviously I think his hobby stinks, but he deserves a fair trial. He should be extradited and put on trial - if guilty, then the severe pleasures of the Zimbabwean prison system will give him time to reflect.

As it is, Palmer's lawyers will argue - and not without justification it has to be said - that his chances of a fair trial are non-existent due to the inflammatory rhetoric.

Many of the social media attacks upon Palmer advocate violence. For example, a popular theme is that he is shot with an arrow, left in agony for 40 hours, shot, skinned and beheaded. This may be viewed as incitement and therefore be illegal.

Free speech has its limits. There must now be a genuine fear that an animal rights fanatic, or more likely some misfit wanting a place in history, will attack Palmer.

The whole sordid affair is a classic case of two wrongs not making a right. There is, however, a silver lining to all of this: six international airlines have now signalled they will ban the transport of trophy-hunting kills.

A global aviation and maritime ban on transporting big game trophies? Forget the death threats; that's the real way to remember the magnificent Cecil. We could call it Palmer's Law.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph