• Do we owe Cecil the Lion’s killer an apology?


    For at least two reasons.

    Enraged mobs are bad

    Walter Palmer became the target of an international rage mob.

    Here are articles about the insanity, to include many threats of violence and death against him and his family:

    Cecil the Lion, Walter Palmer and the Psychology of Online Shaming | Time 

    Hunting for Justice | US News

    For a Week, Walter Palmer Is the Worst Human Being Ever in History | Mother Jones

    Even if I thought Palmer was a terrible human being guilty of serious crimes and ethical transgressions, this is not acceptable. The Hammurabi “eye for an eye” legal concept is one of the oldest documented, and it was meant to limit the dangerous sense of vengeance people who have been wronged often feel. That sense of vengeance is dangerous because it can spiral out of control. This is an important innovation in human civilization: disempowering a person or group’s self-entitled rage. The replacement is a system of rules that (ideally) treats all parties equally and according to agreed-upon standards.

    The internet is a frontier, little regulated or controlled. So the madness of an unhinged mob again has the opportunity to get traction and destroy lives. It is a grand irony many people actively, cheerfully returning to a pre-civilization mode of social behavior call themselves progressive. This is far from the first time.

    The modern social media titan calling itself the “front page” of the internet, Reddit,  now has to use a tag on postings “no witch hunting”. This is not irony or comedy. It is a practical measure to stop large numbers of people from becoming digital vigilantes. It’s also not theoretical, as innocent people have already been harmed by such mobs.

    There’s never a time where this response could be a good idea. If you ever feel yourself reaching for a pitchfork as many others are, it’s probably wise to stop and ask yourself if this is really the best recourse; And, do you know everything relevant? Because…

    Trophy hunters are good for some endangered animals

    This might sound crazy or like conservative apologia. This isn’t true for all places, but it is in many parts of Africa. It also does not have to be true, but today, it is. The cold, hard fact is that conservation is expensive and poor countries often can’t afford it. Effective security for endangered species occupying thousands of square miles is very expensive. Some nations where such animals live still struggle with providing food, clean drinking water, and other basic necessities to its people. Regulated, controlled hunting expeditions can bring in enormous sums of money that can go to conservation efforts.

    Also, for species like Rhinos, there are sometimes very troublesome individual rhinos that actually need to be removed because they sometimes kill irreplaceable female rhinos. I learned a good deal of this listening to Radiolab’s The Rhino Hunter episode.

    I challenge you to give it a listen. It follows Corey Knowlton, who (somewhat inadvertently) paid $350,000 to hunt and kill a rhino. I don’t agree with everything Knowlton has to say, and I don’t like hunting. But I think he is right that today, right now, eco-tourism and charities just don’t generate enough money. We need hunters to save species. The reason is purely economic, which shows how much we actually care. Not enough to fund protection, but enough to get angry about extinctions.

    We could fix this by increasing aid money, we simply choose not to. Don’t believe me? Norway made an agreement with Brazil to pay it $1 billion to slow rainforest deforestation by at least 75%. Brazil has already exceeded that, which will save species and help curb CO2 emissions.

    I’d prefer we go that route. But, since it could mean a .2 % tax increase,  there is no way we would consider it. We’d ultimately rather have a few more dollars than a few more species. The other popular solution, crucifying dentists, is even less likely to work.

    Category: Critical ThinkingfeaturedFeatured Incskepticismsocial justice

  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is an evolutionary psychologist, co-founder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.
    • Or, alternatively:


      I didn’t make any death threats against Palmer or his family.

      I did argue that he should feel ashamed, because I felt (and continue to feel) what he did was shameful. Maybe trophy hunting is an important element of conservation for some species (you make the case for rhinos), but you didn’t present any evidence that that’s the case for lions generally, or in the specific case of Cecil.

      Palmer’s killing of Cecil the Lion was a monstrous act, and I have no regrets about saying as much.

      • I meant “we” in the royal sense. On that basis, the answer remains yes, unless you mean to defend the mob reaction.

    • Yep. I heard that podcast, and it gave the issue a new dimension I had not thought of by myself.

    • Guestus Aurelius

      Yes, the internet definitely owes this guy (and many others) an apology.

      Paul Bloom had some interesting things to say about this on Sam Harris’s podcast a few months ago: http://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/the-dark-side

      For another take on the purported benefits of trophy hunting, see this recent Gad Saad vlog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4zljVSc2z0

    • Kevin Davidson

      Issues like the type of hunt-baiting and luring a protected animal, and the money trail which in Zimbabwe ends with Theo Brokenhurst have to be considered before making generalizations. The style of hunt was unethical and the money does not help Conservation in Zimbabwe. Follow the money.

      You may be melding the South African system of Conservation with that of corrupt Zimbabwe. Utilitarian, more good to both animals and people viewing them is achieved without Trophy hunting. Wildlife Viewing Tourism for instance can spread the money around to the locals and help Conservation without harming the animals.

      • There is no evidence I am aware of that the “style of hunt” was unethical (do you find other styles ethical?). Zimbabwe dropped all charges against Palmer. He had a lawful permit and was outside park grounds. Animals do not always remain behind invisible boundaries of protected parks.

        Re: trophy hunting does not help conservation in Zimbabwe.
        There is evidence that it does. In a letter to Science (See http://www.sciencemag.org/content/293/5538/2203.2 ) Nigel Leader-Williams et al pointed out that after trophy hunting of elephants in Zimbabwe was legalized, those populations fared significantly better, writing,

        In Zimbabwe, implementing trophy hunting has doubled the area of the country under wildlife management relative to the 13% in state protected areas. As a result, the area of suitable land available to elephants and other wildlife has increased, reversing the problem of habitat loss and helping to maintain a sustained population increase in Zimbabwe’s already large elephant population.

        There mere fact of economically incentivized regulation, regardless of where the money goes, may benefit the animals because the money is the same or better, but with regulations that protect populations of animals.

        None of this is to say there aren’t serious problems with corruption that ought to be addressed, but unless you plan on sending the tanks into Africa to overthrow every corrupt government, we need a better plan than those that are failing every year.

        • Kevin Davidson

          You have an interesting perspective, and I don’t feel it necessary or condone threats to Walter Palmer. The hunting style I feel is unethical:
          Firstly it is not sporting-baiting an animal, and secondly it is hunting for vain egotistic reasons-a trophy, and not for food.
          Other reasons:
          1) Cecil was a radio/GPS collared animal being studied by Oxford
          2) He was lured out of his protected status onto private land by dragging a dead Elephant around Honest Ndu’s land bordering the Hwange Park.
          3)The hunt is a night and animals are blinded by a large spotlight when they hear the bait being taken
          4) Cecil was shot with an arrow, wounded and not pursued by Land Rover until the next day
          5)Other animals came up to the bait including Jericho another male Lion but they waited for Cecil to come-he was targeted as a trophy from the start
          6) After he was killed the hunters moved the GPS collar around from location to location to conceal their kill-if it was a legal hunt why did they do this?
          7) Cecil was an Iconic much loved by Tourists who photographed and video taped him often-he was a Tourist attraction and President Mcgabe actually scolded his people for not protecting him from ‘foreign vandals’
          8) Tourism benefits local residents =Trophy Hunting doesn’t

          Please see this page:

          I am not against hunting, but having a permit from Theo Brokenhurst does not make Walter Palmer immune from morality, he is an unethical and immoral hunter-no apology needed. He has been charged with hunting violations previously-check it out.

          Thank you for the reply
          Kevin Davidson

          • I agree with you that hunting purely for sport or for trophies is unethical. But ethical outrage doesn’t solve all problems. So we must consider what things do.

            On #2 you are suggesting Cecil was deliberately, knowingly baited out of the park. What is the evidence for this? I am not asserting there isn’t any, I just am not aware of it and would appreciate seeing it. Likewise for #6. You’re making a claim about intent. I want to know how you are sure about their intent.

            #7 is a mixed bag. The loss of tourism dollars is lamentable, to be sure. But this also suggests Cecil was an important animal, and other animals whose names aren’t on t-shirts aren’t as important. This is hardly an ethically tenable position.

            #8 is a mixed bag as well. It depends on when and where. It’s also true that not all locations are amenable to eco-tourism. Many, in fact, are not.

            Let me clarify a point here that might be necessary. I am not suggesting trophy hunters have no moral culpability, or whatever they do is ethically permissible so long as it is legal and/or beneficial to conservation. I, personally, find trophy hunting under any circumstances loathsome. I believe it will be banished in a future, better, version of our world. But this is different from the topic of deciding about how certain species can be protected today, right now.

            It is similar to the problem of sweatshops in developing nations. You and I probably find such working conditions abusive and unacceptable, but if we could snap our fingers and shut every one of them down, then economic development in many places would be erased and sent backward. Again, the relevant question isn’t so much “is this thing going on acceptable” but “how do we get progress and positive change in the entire system, starting right this second”.

        • Kevin Davidson
          • Kevin Davidson

            Zimbabwe hunters say the Cecil hunt will lead to self -regulation

          • This link does not respond to my questions or points. The head of some hunting organization (Muller) claims Bronkhorst “made mistakes” (this is not the same as intentionally acting poorly). How does Muller know? The article doesn’t say.

            Muller also said, Hunting fees help support 2.4 million children in Zimbabwe and the revenue is critical to the local economy and wildlife conservation. Making hunting sound important and important to conservation in Zimbabwe, in contradiction to your earlier point.

            • Kevin Davidson

              Do we owe Palmer an Apology? No-even Zimbabwe Hunters are critical of their actions-did you notice the part where Bronkhurst and Palmer did not have the necessary permits?
              Palmer is now being investigated for herding deer on his Minnesota property. My point is Palmer is not a responsible hunter and does not deserve an apology or any leniency. He epitomizes the maxim that money trumps morals. The man is has no compassion toward living creatures and wants to posses trophy heads for his own pleasure and will circumvent any regulations to do so.

            • Kevin Davidson

              You believe that Palmer had a permit to shoot a Lion-which by the way does not make it ethical-my point is that Trophy Hunting is unethical and Subsistence hunting is ethical.
              You said:There is no evidence I am aware of that the “style of hunt” was
              unethical (do you find other styles ethical?). Zimbabwe dropped all
              charges against Palmer. He had a lawful permit and was outside park
              grounds. Animals do not always remain behind invisible boundaries of
              protected parks.
              I am trying to show you other evidence that Palmer and Bronkhurst acted illegally and unethically. Check into Bronkhurst’s own testimony. He felt pressured by Palmer to get an animal quickly and Palmer also asked to shoot a very large Elephant.
              The Muller link shows how other Hunters in Zimbabwe believe self-regulations are needed because of the Illegal hunting by Palmer.
              I am trying to show that ethics are above the law-these hunters are showing some ethics in action-self-regulation. You can apologize to Palmer if you want to, why not apologize to OJ Simpson too, he was found not guilty-he was trashed by the media. Johhny Cochrane saved him, now there is an ethical conundrum.

            • Kevin Davidson

              The benefit to any locals from hunting fees is not true, what manifests on the front-line is most money goes to Safari Companies, and some to the Government of Zimbabwe who does little or nothing to help the residents with permit money.

            • It is your source, not mine. You should not cite inaccurate sources. Either way, I am not obliged to trust sources you yourself do not.

            • Kevin Davidson

              My source is : Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman of the Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force-he works in conjunction with Zimbabwe Authorities to prevent poaching in Zimbabwe and has done so for twelve years. Why do you think a man with credentials is an unreliable source? Your podcast source expressed points of view with no facts presented and only hearsay evidence.

              The point is that Palmer has been made public enemy number 1 in the social media-I agree-however he deserves to be accountable for his unethical hunting practices-the public outrage is ‘mob morals’. You can not hide in our social media age-the key-pad is mightier than the sword.

            • Kevin Davidson

              I was merely showing a point of view of one source, however, there is no evidence that the money from Trophy Hunting actually helps alleviate poverty in Zimbabwe. I think you should let go of the idea that Walter Palmer deserves an apology. Palmer was made the villain and with disproportionate hate mail or twitters suffers thew consequences of his actions. I challenge the facts you presented that Palmer was acting within his legal right, and further I believe ethics supersede legal authority.

        • Kevin Davidson

          You are mistaken to believe that Palmer had a lawful right and permit to hunt a Lion in the area where he was shot. Please consider the link:
          Cecil was protected-Palmer was part of an illegal hunt all along.

    • Otto Greif

      Good post.

    • Kevin Davidson

      Ethics are malleable, for instance a Buddhist has stricter ethics or morals in regards to not harming animals and Ghandi once said morality is measured by how a person treats other people and animals. I think of ethics as the guiding principles or values that you would teach to your children-compassion, honesty, and integrity. I don’t think Walter Palmer deserves an apology, he has not exhibited compassion, honesty or integrity toward animals.

      Palmer has a trophy room on a Minnesota property full of rare animals heads mounted on display for his personal viewing-death for a personal display of what-machismo? He is a poacher not a hunter-I have some respect for hunters who hunt for subsistence,


      Palmer was charged in 2008 for poaching: