The title sounds like that of an Aesop’s fable. I remember well those stories I read as a child. They were simply told but with a strong message that stayed with you. You might also call this a moral tale. However, the Lion and the Donkey are only loosely connected by the coincidence of time, and certainly not by distance. Yet, if you think about it you may discern some similarities.
#CecilTheLion is more than a hashtag, much more. He is a symbol – a proud and beautiful victim – of the greedy, selfish, rapacious world that we live in today. Man – human beings – are by far the most dangerous creature on the planet, as surely we must all know by now. In fact, our own actions are putting the planet in acute danger. Coal-powered plants (the construction of which our own government in its wisdom has sanctioned), for example. On average one 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant produces approximately 3 million tons per year of CO2, according to Greenpeace. We are more dangerous than sharks, tigers, pit bull dogs… more dangerous than lions.
Yes, Man is the supreme predator. The top of the food chain. Dangerous to every other form of life on Earth. A danger to each other (as I write, human beings are suffering and dying at the hands of other humans). And, as noted above, a threat to the survival of Planet Earth and thus to himself.
Our large animals are a symbol of the majesty of Nature. Whether we are religious or not, we must all agree they are in the literal sense of the word – awesome. Cecil, with his black mane and golden eyes, was especially loved. He was the subject of an Oxford University research project; he was a famous and well-documented animal. An American dentist (he has that smooth-faced dentist look about him) named Walter Palmer and his accomplices lured him from his safe haven in Zimbabwe. The Huffington Post describes the animal’s slaughter thus: “We know Palmer and a group of men baited a lion out of safe land with a dead animal strapped to a vehicle. The dentist shot the tricked animal with a bow, piercing Cecil’s flesh. The group then stalked the wounded lion for 40 hours until Palmer had a chance to shoot and kill (and claim) his paid-for trophy with a rifle. One, some or all of the men beheaded and skinned the lion, trying before they left the carcass to extract the tagged collar that proved their downfall.”
In Jamaica, the lion has enormous significance, especially for Rastafarians, since it is one of the titles given to Emperor Haile Selassie I. The lion is the symbol of the Jewish Tribe of Judah and was depicted on the Ethiopian flag for many years. It’s a symbol of strength, of course; and beyond that, of power and dignity.
There is one other word I would like to bring into the equation: the word extinction. Some might say, “Oh, so what if lions (or a species of frog, or butterfly, or bird) becomes extinct? It’s not going to affect us. Too bad.” Don’t be too sure about that. Everything is connected. The domino effect has already begun.
Now, from Zimbabwe back to Jamaica. A few days ago, a video appeared in social media that I can only describe as “stomach-churning.” It was distressing on many levels. The video showed a donkey being tugged on a rope (the poor thing dug his heels in, to no avail) and tied tightly to a post. A Chinese man then washed his hands and forearms in a bucket, before casually picking up a heavy implement (a hammer?) and knocking the donkey on the head. The first time, it sank to its knees. The second blow killed it. As a huge pool of blood spread across the concrete, I quickly stopped the video.
Again, some have said: “Oh, I have no problem with the Chinese eating donkeys, dogs, whatever they want to eat.” Others, self-righteously proclaiming themselves as vegetarians, ask why people should be upset – they enjoy their hamburgers, don’t they? As far as the eating is concerned, donkeys in Jamaica are not raised to provide food, so cannot be compared to pigs or goats. I have a problem with Chinese workers (allegedly employed to China Harbour Engineering Company in Runaway Bay, St. Ann) coming to live in Jamaica and killing an animal that is of considerable value to most Jamaicans, so carelessly. If they are hungry, they can go to the supermarket. I know a perfectly good one in Runaway Bay that sells meat.
The donkey has more than sentimental value. Yes, people in rural areas love their donkeys – some families treat them and care for them as pets. But it is also a beast of burden, a helper and nurturer, an animal that farmers still use in many parts of the country. I understand that donkeys are in very short supply in rural areas, and are indeed in demand. Again, for those with religious leanings, the humble donkey is a very special animal.
When our son was a young boy and had a birthday party, we used to hire a man with a donkey cart (I wonder if anyone remembers him?) who used to drive around the Hope Road area of Kingston. He would take our son and his friends for rides. The man and his donkey seemed a little out of place in the city – but we loved them. I must find the photos.
A friend on Facebook commented: What will be next, if we simply look away?”
But many of us, actually, do look away. Or we shrug our shoulders. We are so disconnected now from our rural traditions that the sad, meaningless death of a donkey at the hands of these smiling people is “nutten.” I am waiting to see statements from the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), from the Ministry of Health or other “relevant authorities.” Is this even legal?
Why do these killers look so pleased with themselves? What is the pleasure in killing? Photos of trophy hunters show the killers beaming over the slumped, sad bodies of lions and other great beasts. It reminds me, chillingly, of colonial days gone by, when the rich, the royal, the aristocratic and privileged (with local “natives” scurrying around them, paid to do their dirty work) went out to kill, and then have their photos taken with the vanquished animal (the pictorial record has always been important, it seems). Nothing has changed, it seems; except that the smiling colonial masters have been replaced by smiling, affluent dentists from Minnesota. By the way, they don’t use the words “killing” or “hunting”; in his semi-apology, Dr. Palmer says he “took” Cecil. It’s a euphemism of course, but that word has the ring of arrogance and entitlement. Oh, let’s take a lion. Oh, sorry, he was a famous one. Didn’t know.
I will end with a footnote from the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe:
“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”