I have been banging the drum pretty loudly in conversations and in social media about what I see as the senseless slaughter of Cecil the Lion. For anyone who cares to know, here is the first of a five-part series explaining why I am so outraged about this tragic event.
Part 1: I am a child of God, and I put great value on everything God has created.
In the autumn of 2002, Aprill and I made our second trip to Yellowstone National Park. One morning long before sunrise, we drove north from the Old Faithful area toward the Hayden Valley, a wildlife paradise home to the largest herd of free-roaming bison in the world. It also happened to be the home to wolves. We had been vocal and financial supporters of the reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem, ant that had finally come to fruition 7 years before in 1995. The Hayden Valley offered the best chance to see one of the growing packs.
On the way, the western sky began to come alive. Black turned to gray-blue and then slowly to a vibrant deep blue I had never seen before (or since). The road curved through a landscape that slowly awakened along with the morning. As we made our way around one curve facing west, we hair-pinned back toward the east. Immediately in front of us was a ridgeline and atop it, a bull elk and his herd of cows.
Silhouettes across the blue sky, the elk stood unmolested. Without another human being in sight, we stopped the car and got out. I zoomed my camera to its maximum and snapped three grainy pictures to document the moment. While we stood there, the bull bugled loudly, telling us in no uncertain terms this is my herd and you need to know it. With the herd still standing on the ridgeline just as we had found it, we got back in the car and drove away.
We didn’t see wolves that day. But what we saw was no less impactful. To me, God’s creation is sacred. In the Bible, creation is documented, and at every point, “God saw that it was good.”
But whether you believe that God created all that we see as I do or not, you can’t disagree that nature is magnificent. I have been fortunate in my life to see whales, bison and elk in migration, swim alongside sea turtles, surprise a rattlesnake on a trail and watch eagles in flight. I have hiked across the Grand Canyon, visited the jagged Oregon coast, walked the badlands of North Dakota and the desert of the Guadalupe mountains. It is good. Very good.
Sadly, so much of it is also in peril. Tremendous peril.
According to the the National Geographic Society, there were 1.2 million lions in Africa in the 1800s. By 1940, the population had shrunk to 450,000. Today, the number is estimated at 20,000.
It doesn’t take a soothsayer or math wizard to see that this is a catastrophe happening on our generation’s watch. So when just one man pays an obscene amount of money to kill just one lion, the impact is massive. It infuriates me.
And when the last lion is gone, there will be nothing that can be done. They will be gone. Gone.
While Cecil’s slaughter has outraged me on its own merit, it is also a symbol – a symbol of an increasingly reckless regard for nature. I’m equally appalled when I read of our water supply being put in peril by irresponsibility, see mountaintops strip-mined or hear that the need for cheap beef has put my beloved wolves of Yellowstone again in peril.
But this isn’t meant to be a hack on business and industry. Individuals bear responsibility, too. In those badlands of North Dakota I mentioned earlier, Aprill and I hiked to an area of sand canyons – formations of windswept dunes equally beautiful and fragile. In large type, signs ask visitors to stay on trails and to not disturb the dunes in any way. Yet, hand-dug writing with intelligent phrases like Joe and Alice Forever or John is a complete %&$#! abound. Poignant stuff. That sign doesn’t apply to me. I can do whatever I want.
Which brings me back to a dentist from Minnesota. I put great value on creation. When others don’t, it bothers me. But when someone like Walter Palmer can decide the decline of a majestic species that’s numbers are in such a perilous state doesn’t apply to me, I can do whatever I want, and then exact a toll on it like he did, I want to cry. I have cried. Now, crying out is my new mission.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
Tomorrow, part 2: I need wild places, and I want the wild places to remain wild.