A wealthy ‘hunter’ has succeeded in killing one of Africa’s ‘Big Five’- in this case a photogenic lion and Aslan look-alike, improbably named Cecil. So what? It happens every day – why all the fuss? Well, there were one or two unusual features. Firstly, the weapon used was a crossbow rather than a gun. This was interpreted by the media as a ‘bow and arrow’ hunt which gave the story a romantic twist, subsequently tarnished when it emerged that the initial shot merely wounded the beast which then had to be finished off with a gun some 40 hours later. Secondly, Cecil was part of a 20 year research programme. He was GPS tagged and thus able to report back at regular intervals so that scientists from Oxford University could learn more about him and about his species in general. Finally, he was not ‘hunted’ in the accepted sense of the word – he was lured away from the comparative safety of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park onto a neighbouring farm and slaughtered as he incautiously approached a baited vehicle.
Every now and again, something that happens every day of the week attracts the world’s attention and at present Cecil is doing a grand post-mortem job of questioning the questionable practice of killing animals in the name of sport. The American dentist at the centre of the story is presently hiding from outraged protesters bearing ‘I am Cecil’ placards and threatening revenge. Politicians and celebrities are lining up to speak out about something on which they have hitherto remained silent. The whole issue of ‘trophy hunting’ is under scrutiny. Bravo, Cecil.
According to the Book of Genesis, God’s instruction to his creation is: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ We have been pretty good at dominion and have subdued far too many things that moveth even to the point of extinction, whilst forgetting the attendant instruction to ‘replenish’. We have interpreted ‘subdue’ as getting an arm lock on the earth until it submits.
The conservation movement rejects this policy and most people who visit Africa’s great open spaces are filled with wonder at the diversity of creation and moved to support efforts to maintain and replenish it, as instructed. Those of us from Christ the King who journeyed to Tanzania in 2011 still talk about our vivid recollections of encounters with leopards, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, lions and many more. I don’t remember any of us ever wanting to reach for a gun. Let’s look again at the ‘dominion’ concept.