Dr Eric Jensen is an internationally recognised expert on public engagement with wildlife. He is the author of From Conservation Education to Public Engagement: Research, Principles and Practice (Cambridge University Press).
Commenting on the shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, he said:
“It is remarkable that this dentist thinks the core problem is that there may be legal trouble caused by shooting Cecil the lion. The fact that in 2015 people are still travelling thousands of miles to kill exotic animals and bring back trophies shows that there are deep-seated cultural problems in Western societies, where such behaviour should be unthinkable.
“There are global efforts underway, for example through the UN Decade of Biodiversity, to promote pro-conservation social change in the protection of plant and animal species. However, the case of Cecil the lion shows that a great deal more needs to be done to promote changes in attitudes and ensure there are effective legal sanctions in place.
“The case of Cecil the lion is obviously just the tip of the iceberg. The fact that it is legal to hunt African lions in some countries highlights the interconnected problems of global poverty and wildlife conservation. For people with limited options for surviving in economically desperate circumstances, the prospect of a wealthy foreigner paying to kill local wildlife can seem very appealing. The global failure to effectively support sub-Saharan Africa in terms of providing a basic level of economic opportunity directly connects to problems of wildlife poaching both for local consumption as food and for export to wealthy customers outside of Africa.
“At the same time, the very fact that there is any interest in killing these animals amongst wealthy visitors suggests that there still needs to be a major change in how animals are viewed. As long as animals are viewed as just instruments to serve human purposes, with no intrinsic value as living creatures, it is not a great step to think it is okay to kill a lion if it makes you feel masculine or powerful.
“The important point here is that there are systemic problems with the way animals are used as resources by humans. Animals are often viewed as just another consumer good to be used up and discarded with no concern for the future. Animals in danger of extinction are obviously the most urgent concern, but large-scale social change is required to make a real difference. Moreover, as with many problems in poor countries around the world, the origins are in wealthier, developed nations such as the United States, where a market for poached products continues to operate.”
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