Thoughts on Cecil the Lion by Guest Blogger Ab Abercrombie

Elephants at a water hole in Zimbabwe

Elephants at a water hole.  Hwange, Zimbabwe.

I want to share the following thoughts by my friend Ab Abercrombie with his permission.

Dr. Abercrombie is a Professor Emeritus at Wofford College and teaches Plant and Animal Resources of Africa and Techniques and Strategies of Wildlife Management at Africa University near Mutare, Zimbabwe.  Africa University is a private university affiliated with the United Methodist Church.  Its students come from 22 diverse countries throughout the continent.

Read along with an open mind.  Abercrombie’s words are in blue:

OF LIONS, SYLLABI, NEOCOLONIALISM, AND DEFERRED DENTAL SERVICES

I really like lions, especially the one that finally decided not to eat me some years ago near Vic Falls. Furthermore, I think that Cecil, a late, lamented resident of Hwange National Park, was a fine lion, a glorious lion if you like. I am saddened by the tasteless manner of his death. Heck, I’m so mad that if Walter James Palmer were my dentist, I might skip one or even two cleaning appointments.

male liono with kill

Not Cecil, but an injured older male lion photographed at a kill.  Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe 2013.  Being a wild lion is not for wussies.

I am also disturbed that Cecil’s death has dominated America’s Africa-headlines for days on end. During this same period, South Sudan has been descending into the

greater kudu

This graceful antelope, a greater kudu bull, is one of the most sought after hoofstock trophies in all of Africa. Hwange, Zimbabwe.

abyss of renewed civil war. Guinea has been racked by scary health-care catastrophes. And in east-central Congo, juvenile higher primates, of a species that y’all know very well, have died because proxy fighters for “developed” nations have sought the cheapest coltan to make for us the cheapest cell phones. Probably some truly wonderful things have also happened in Africa, but how would we know?

OK, I’m upset in general. But I’m also upset in particular because Cecil’s death & the furor surrounding it will affect my own life. In a few days Chrissy Hope and I shall depart for a semester in Zimbabwe. She’ll teach “Rural Development.” I’ll teach “Plant & Animal Resources of Africa” and “Techniques and Strategies of Wildlife Management.”

I have taught the Management course before. And I always spend a lot of time on trophy hunting. Of course I’ve never been a trophy hunter myself; I don’t have the money. But some people do, and I am thankful for that. Ecologically, trophy hunting is very low-impact. Properly managed, it is entirely sustainable. Justly administered, it provides revenue for local communities that are desperate for money.

And thus, when it’s done right, trophy hunting can be a powerful tool for conservation. The death of an elephant by Yankee gunfire can contribute $20,000 to a dirt-poor village. Then perhaps elephants will no longer be defined as five-ton rats that will destroy your maize-crop—and perhaps ivory poachers will be condemned as game-thieves rather than praised as agents of nuisance-animal control. Similarly, a trophy-hunt for a big male lion might generate > $30K; then perhaps a villager can tolerate the loss of the occasional cow and can teach her kids how to be very, very careful. Otherwise, well, poison is pretty darn cheap, and somebody will know how to use it.

female lion on a kill

A lioness enjoys dinner in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that trophy hunting in Zimbabwe always works super-well. Mr. Cecil’s death certainly proves that point! But before you propose a general condemnation of trophy hunting, please scan presentations by Zimbabwean, Namibian, and South African biologists at Plenary Meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Or read articles about lion and elephant

lion injured by cape buffalo

Note this lion was photographed at his pride’s kill. Being a wild lion is hard work. He is not bearing weight on his left rear leg, probably from an injury in bringing down the buffalo upon which he was feeding. Hwange, Zimbabwe.

management in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Or meditate on the conservation triumphs made possible by Teddy Roosevelt, the greatest trophy hunter of all time. Or, best of all, come to Zimbabwe and do some serious research. I guarantee that you’ll discover plenty of nastiness, complexity, inefficiency, cruelty, and injustice within the trophy-hunting enterprise. But if you keep your eyes and your mind open, you’ll also recognize some substantial successes—the schools, the clinics, the empowered communities, the changing attitudes about conservation.

buffalo and cattle egrets

A cape buffalo, one of the “Big Five” dangerous game trophies in Africa. Hwange, Zimbabwe.

In the end, of course, you might decide that you still want to oppose trophy hunting. But if you do, management biologists will challenge you to offer a just way immediately to infuse several million replacement-dollars into Zimbabwe’s economy. And if you can’t invent such a plan, then do an honest gut-check on which you like better: tawny-skinned lions or black-skinned people.

ADDITIONAL, PERSONAL NOTE: I do not enjoy killing anything, and therefore I am uncomfortable in supporting trophy hunting. Nevertheless, I am completely convinced that resource managers in developing nations should possess that option within their repertoire of potential conservation strategies. Alongside my students, I’ll think enthusiastically about how this might work. Furthermore, to tell the truth, I’ll be sympathetic when my students brand as neocolonialist certain American attempts to frustrate African-designed and CITES-approved wildlife management programs. And, yeah, you guessed it: for a whole bunch of reasons, Chrissy and I are nervous about this Zimbabwe-semester; we would appreciate your kind thoughts and even your generous prayers.

Grace and Peace, Ab.”

Ab and Chrissy

Drs. Chrissy Hope and Ab Abercrombie off to work at Africa University. Near Mutare, Zimbabwe.

From further speaking with Ab, I know that different African countries are applying varying plans in an attempt to balance wildlife and the revenues that wildlife-watching and legal, responsible safari hunting bring in.  For example, Rwanda charges trophy hunting level fees (Ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching!) for the privilege of watching mountain gorillas in the wild.  Botswana has ended trophy hunting and is experimenting with two different fee structures for wildlife-watchers (camera safaris), something akin to “first class” and “tourist” class.

Ab told me that he would hate to see Zimbabwe price middle-class tourists out of being able to go there and view wildlife.  As a middle-class American, I simply wish I was well-off enough to take a couple of weeks off and purchase a tourist class plane ticket to Zimbabwe!!!

Remember that you cannot generalize about Africa.  It is made of many diverse countries, each attempting to make its way into the 21st century.  It is my opinion that carefully managed wildlife-watching and trophy hunting are important tools to protect their precious resources and bring in revenue.  Sadly these nations also must fight the bushmeat trade, habitat loss and a level of poaching that is tantamount to organized crime in order to protect many game and non-game species.

It is noteworthy that in the United States, much of the revenue used to manage game and non-game species and their habitats is generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, tags and permits.  Hikers, campers, birdwatchers, etc do not have to purchase a license to view animals here. If you like seeing our native wildlife, thank a hunter.  Better yet, purchase a hunting and fishing license even if you do not intend to use it.

Thanks to my sister-in-law Sarah for the photos accompanying this blog.

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That Old School Bell’s Gonna Ring Loud and Long…

The other day I ran into an old friend.  We were in school together from the 6th grade until high school graduation and started to reminisce.  I teased him about a pretty unpopular teacher that we shared for 7th grade English who unfortunately followed us to the high school.  We had her again for 9th grade English.  Some poor folks even had her three years in a row.

She berated him constantly–whether he was doing anything bad or not, and I can still hear her calling him out in class,  “Mark Burke, you so mannish!”  My husband suffered a similar fate in her classes:  “Tommy Burns, you are grinning and that means you are up to no good!”

At any rate, I asked my friend who his favorite teacher was.  His answer came as a complete surprise to me.  I had in mind all of the great teachers we had in high school, whether physics or chemistry or 12th grade English lit.  But he shocked me by again reaching back into the 7th grade at old Ford School in Watts Mill and saying, “Well, Jackie, I guess it was your daddy.”

Another shared teacher, my daddy Jack Holmes taught us 7th grade science. I had almost forgotten that.

Surprised and humbled, the best I could do was blurt out “Why?”

“See, it’s funny what I can remember about school and what I can’t,” he said, “but I can remember specific questions on tests he gave us.”

Yeah, right, I thought.  “Name one.”

But he did.  “True or False.  Astronauts cannot eat in space because they can’t swallow.”

I had to think for a second, because it seemed so obvious that it sounded like a trick question.  My friend went on to explain the answer, that yes, they swallow because the muscles do the work of pushing ingesta down into the stomach.  The question made him think and made an impression on him, so I began to think of teachers who had made an impression on me.

My favorite teacher was 10th grade English teacher Mrs. Anna T. Mims, an exquisite lady who somehow took Silas Marner and inspired in me a love of literature that shapes who I am today.  I also adored the almost bashful and halting delivery of algebra-trig and physics teacher Mr. Ben Miller, the precise and demanding Chemistry teacher Mr. Harold Ligon, the irascible U.S. History teacher Mr. Tommy “Sub” Sublett,  strict government teacher Mrs. Rosemary Johnson and Mrs. Keith Oakes, who prepared us well for college with senior English lit.

I spent so many years in school, from Ford to the high school to Wofford College to the University of Georgia.  It would never have occurred to me that anybody could remember specific questions on specific tests.  Later on, I searched  my brain to see if I could recall any test questions.

They were all in college or vet school.  There was the infamous social ethics test at WoCo given by Professor Walt Hudgens, who passed out blue books and then said, “There is no test.  But I want you all to sit here and write in your blue book for at least an hour.  You can doodle, draw, write love letters, whatever…just pretend that you are taking a test.”  The class was flummoxed.  I chewed on the end of my pen for a few minutes staring off into space, then furiously started to write.

Of course it was a test, and on one of the ethical dilemmas we had studied.  Not as good of a test as the previous year when he came in the room, threw a rubber chicken on the desk and said, “Prove that this isn’t God,” but a test nonetheless.  He graded our blue books. I made an A+.

Another Wofford test I remembered was in the second day of class in Dr. H. Donald Dobbs’ freshman zoology.  Each fall he’d start with about 150 would-be doctors filling the lecture hall and rather quickly weed out those who weren’t cut out for medicine By the end of the four years, roughly a 12 to 14 of us actually made it into medical, dental or veterinary school.

Dobbs did it starting on the second day of class with a pop quiz on Latin and Greek prefixes, suffixes and root words.  Most of us, myself included, bombed the quiz.  Why would we think to study our dead languages for zoology class?  In fact, we probably represented the first generation of students who didn’t have the opportunity to take Latin in high school.  Tenacious, I hung in there and made it to the end.  In fact, on the biology class senior comprehensive exit exam, I scored  #1 of 19 graduating bio majors, edging out top rivals who went on to become orthopedic surgeons and gynecologists and dentists.

Another test that sticks in my mind was in vet school’s Public Health class, Dr. Brown’s infamous Caribou Test.  Most of my eighty-odd classmates bombed this test, which could have been on something important like tuberculosis in cow’s milk affecting everyday milk consumers.  Instead, 100% of the test was on the obscure cycle of brucellosis in caribou, wolves and native peoples in Alaska.  I aced the test, mainly because I enjoyed thinking about going up to the last frontier and hunting some of those pretty little caribou with my deer rifle.

I barely remember dragging myself out of bed, driving to the vet school and taking Dr. Clay Calvert’s cardiology final.  I had the flu so I called him and he would not let me out of taking the test.  I was out of my head with fever, but did about as well on the test as anybody else, as none of us could fathom Dr. Calvert or what he wanted from us come test time.

Small Animal Anatomy’s final lab practical was a doozy.  Dr. Peter Purinton took dogs and cats that we had dissected in the traditional longitudinal fashion and sawed them in cross-section, sticking pins in nerves and muscles and veins that we had never seen from that angle.

But the most interesting single test question I recall is from the practical exam in large animal anatomy.   Our only classroom blurb in poultry anatomy had come on the last day of class, “Chicken Day.”  On Chicken Day, Professor “Arvle the Marvel” Marshall divided us into groups and each group was assigned an organ system.  We had to make up a skit about our organ system and it was a big joke.  Nobody gave a rip about a chicken unless it was barbecued at a fraternity party.

The question was posted at the base of an articulated chicken skeleton.  “What gender is this bird?”  Hurt yourself thinking if you wish.  I got it right, but then I was the only student who could identify the bacculum of a raccoon when a dairy farmer hosting us for herd health lay it on the table and asked us what it was.

Next week, school starts again.  For better or worse, teachers are leaders who shape our lives even as they struggle to get through their workdays and their own lives.   Their classroom time is only part of their job.  There is lesson prep and there are forms to be filled out, bus duty and other hoops to be jumped through for the school system.  There are tests to be graded.  They give to their schools with pride, show up for ball games and open houses, encourage and inspire.  I feel that a single simple act of kindness and caring from a teacher may make the difference in a child’s life.

As Jack Holmes would teasingly say to us before the first day of school every year, “That old school bell’s gonna ring loud and long in the morning.”  I still run into people he inspired, from 6th grade at Enoree School to Laurens Primary to Ford or Sanders or Gray Court to the ball fields or boy scout camp.

What an amazing gift.

 

 

 

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