It might be stereotypical, but I came to Africa for the animals. Obviously I came here for other reasons too, such as a unique work experience, but ultimately, it’s always been a dream of mine to go on an African safari, and see animals in the wild, where they belong. (Probably ever since seeing The Lion King, let’s be honest.)
So when I actually did get the chance to go on a safari, you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that in that particular park, (called Nazinga Game Ranch), all predators – meaning lions and panthers – died out years ago due to overhunting. And, while the animals within the park are protected by law and the borders are patrolled by military officers, (although I don’t know how frequently), the area is vast and dense. If they wanted to, poachers could sneak in, shoot, kill, pack up and animal and leave without anyone noticing they’re there. Furthermore, the park is surrounding by an even more vast hunting area – hence the name “game ranch.” If you think the park is hard to protect, patrolling what is being hunted where it is legal is even more difficult.
In this region, the only animal that is illegal to hunt are elephants. Despite the threat of jail time, they are hunted nonetheless. Our driver told us he has seen several injured elephants within the park throughout his years of visiting it.
Consider Cecil – the lion just killed in Zimbabwe by an American dentist who wanted him as his trophy. He was well known for his presence in an international park there, and was the a tracked and researched subject at Oxford University. While the American says that he killed the lion legally, there has been speculation that the guides he hired used raw meat to lure him out of the national park and into the hunting zone. His defence is that as far as he knew, everything he was doing was perfectly legal. I can guarantee that any responsible hunter will tell you that if you are hunting internationally, it is your responsibility and your responsibility alone to be aware of the laws and regulations and to adhere to them. Paying into this horrible industry as Mr. Palmer did only ensures that it will continue.
I’ve written about this before, but if you’re living in a third world country and are close to poverty, chances are you don’t have the privilege to be concerned about environmental issues and about whether or not big cats become endangered or extinct. All you care about is earning a living to support your family. From what I know, the men who work as these guides are from small villages in the area, which means that their livelihood is dependant on people, (read, douchebags), like Walter Palmer. That’s not to say that they should not be held accountable for their actions as well, it’s to say that the hunter should not be acquitted of responsibility for his actions. Ignorance is no excuse for brutally killing such an animal just to skin, behead it and hang it on your wall.
Outside of poaching, animal cruelty is a problem here in Burkina Faso. Mules are overworked, tired and whipped – (sometimes beaten with hard wooden sticks by young boys) – into walking for miles on hot asphalt pulling loads up to three times their size. Horses are frail, chickens are stuffed into coops so small they’re standing on top of each other, and goats graze on garbage where there’s no grass in sight. Live cows are forced onto the tops of vans, and in order to keep chickens fresh for transportation, (as refrigerated trucks are hard to come by), tens of them are tied by their feet – live – to the handlebars of motorcycles. I can only imagine their diets in the dry season, when the grass disappears. You might dismiss this as a regular treatment livestock, however even artists have picked up on the less-than-human habits and produced entire granite sculptures representing the maltreatment of animals such as mules and cows in Burkina Faso, (and West Africa more generally.)
Blogger Freya Dowson wrote a few weeks ago, “Where there is human hardship, there is animal suffering,” and if you’ve ever travelled to a third world country, you know what she means. Animals become a means to an end, rather than the intelligent, often majestic beings that they can be. This becomes especially problematic when it involves key species such as lions and elephants, which are still disappearing at alarming rates.
This post has been edited to include more information, and opinions, about the killing of Cecil the lion.