These are only two bears representing two dentists over a 40 year period so let's not jump to conclusions about dentists. Yet. . .
Not all the stuffed bears at the airport had their shooters identified, but a couple that did were hunting or fishing guides.
Dr. Walter Palmer of Minnesota, is reported to have said of the death of Cecil:
“I hired several professional guides, and they secured all proper permits,” read a statement from Palmer to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.”Let's remember that most of us know almost nothing about Dr. Palmer and we're filling in the details to fit our own belief systems. I think we all have a tendency to believe what we want to believe - those of us reading the stories and Dr. Palmer himself.. He wanted a lion and the guys he contacted said they'd get him one. How carefully did he look into their credentials? How would an American hunter even check Zimbabwean credentials? As for the rest of us, many are blasting some version of the evil hunter killing innocent animals. Others are praising the good hunters and singling Palmer out as the bad apple that gives all hunters a bad rep.
He added: “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."
While I'm not likely to let this guy off easily, the real issue to me is: what is it that causes grown men, with a good education to want to go out and kill animals, not for food, but for trophies? (And a follow up question that I won't explore here, is how this sort of killing connected to killing human beings?) My representative in Congress is known for his wall full of animal heads and hides. He even missed a key subcommittee vote because he was on safari in South Africa. I had a student once who explained how hunting was a bonding experience between him and his dad. I get that, and I'm glad my dad and I bonded over other things, like hiking, books, art, baseball, and movies, rather than killing animals.
Some defend hunting as part of their cultural tradition and point out how hunters help protect the environment where animals live. I think there's merit to those arguments, up to a point. There are lots of traditions that modern societies no longer openly practice - like slavery, like beating kids as punishment, like cock and dog fighting, like burning witches, like exorcising demons, or child labor and child marriage.
I look at that picture of Dr. Eberle and wonder what he was thinking at the time. I too like to shoot animals, but with my camera rather than a gun. That allows me a connection with the animal, but allows the animal to go on living and for others to enjoy seeing them too. What causes grown men to want to kill big animals and display them? Is it some sort of feelings of inadequacy, of lack of power? Is it part of the DNA they inherited from ancestors who hunted for survival?
A New Zealand study, done to help a government agency prepare to manage hunting on public estates, looked at lots of previous studies to try to determine motivations and satisfactions of hunters.
Decker and Connelly (1989) proposed three categories of motivations; achievement oriented, affiliation oriented, and appreciation oriented.
-Achievement oriented hunters are motivated by the attainment of a particular goal, which may be harvesting an animal for meat, a trophy or a display of skill.
-Affiliation oriented hunters participate in hunting with the primary purpose of fostering personal relationships with friends, family or hunting companions.
-Appreciation oriented hunters are motivated by a desire to be outdoors, escape everyday stress or to relax.
I'd also note that the Alaska Dental Association strongly opposed the use of dental aides to perform basic dental work in rural Alaska. Most, I'm sure, believed that dentists would give better care and that aides lacked the extensive training necessary to make critical decisions. They didn't seem to weigh the benefits of many, many more kids and adults getting very simple basic dental care and education that local aides could provide in an area where few dentists lived. I think their belief was genuine, but colored by their own conscious or unconscious self interests. As are most all of our beliefs. One such interest was simply the same as all professional licensing - limiting the amount of competition. Also dentists could fly out to rural Alaska and see patients and also go hunting and fishing on the side. That is true of many urban, non-Native Alaskans who provide professional services in rural Alaska. And my saying it shouldn't cause people to question the motives of people who do such work. But we should be aware of how such side benefits might bias one's beliefs about what's right and wrong, good and bad.
When it comes to endangered species, there are bigger issues - like resource extraction that destroys habitat, like overpopulation that impinges on wild habitat for housing and food. And climate change which is changing the landscape world wide. We should be concerned with individual abuses such as luring a well known collared lion out of a refuge to be shot. But the bigger environmental trends are much more impactful and threatening to all living things, including humans. These are the least immediately visible and seemingly the hardest to fight. But there are ways and many people are pursuing them. One just has to look, and the internet makes that easy.