Bill Oddie in his front garden with 'Cecil' - named after Cecil the Lion, shot by a licenced hunter from the US in Zimbabwe on 1st July 2015.
Whether it's Cecil the Lion or un-named fox cubs, killing for fun is wrong
29th June 2016
No animal should be killed for our enjoyment, writes Bill Oddie. And that applies alike to Cecil the Lion, shot by a Minnesota dentist almost two years ago; and to the nameless fox cubs that died more recently in England, thrown to hounds by a huntsman to teach them to hate and kill foxes.
When we remember Cecil, let's not kid ourselves that cruelty in the name of sport is something that only happens abroad. These fox cubs reveal that our own country has a huge blot on its landscape that we need to eradicate.
A year this Friday ago a lion was killed. Actually, in the last year, hundreds if not thousands of lions have been killed. But this one was different. He had a name - Cecil.
Cecil isn't the only animal to be killed for the sake of - and I have to spit this word through gritted teeth - 'fun'.
Heaven knows, it is an eternal question at the League Against Cruel Sports, an organisation of which I am proud to have become President, but what on earth is the satisfaction of slaughtering beautiful and innocent creatures, wild and otherwise?
Did that hunter - is that even hunting? - feel braver or better for what he did? Not, I imagine, after he was derided and ostracised across the world and was forced into hiding like -one might say - a hunted animal.
The world took notice, and rightly so. The dentist who bravely shot Cecil (maybe it would have been braver if he'd tried to take out Cecil's teeth without anaesthetic) got castigated, and rightly so. But a year on, what have we learned?
But animal cruelty is a British problem too!
Last week, what I believe was an equally shocking story hit the newspapers and TV. Footage showed a live fox cub being taken into a building which appears to be where the hounds of the South Herefordshire Hunt were kept. We then see a man coming out of the building with the cub, now dead, and dump it into a wheelie bin. Seconds later, he appears carrying a second fox cub, entering the building, presumably taking the cub to a similar fate.
Let's be clear about what we see - the cub is pulled squealing from the back of a van, we hear the baying of the hounds and, to those who recognise it, the sounds of encouragement from a huntsman. Then a sickeningly sad, silent body thrown away like rubbish.
You can find out more about this story in the Ecologist, but stay with me and ponder the connection between these two incidents. In fact, let me ask some questions. Now you've heard of both stories, did one shock you more than the other? If so, why?
For some, the beauty of a lion is unsurpassable. The power of these animals is the epitome of nature's glory. To eliminate a lion's life while hiding behind the barrel of a gun is to me not only the height of cowardice but also an extension of human nature which I personally can't fathom. This was done not for food or on the basis of some conservation principle, it was not done to protect villagers from a rogue killer. It was done for sport.
We must accept that several hundred lions are killed each year by trophy hunters. (Many hundreds more for other reasons). The argument used by those who advocate trophy hunting, whether it be of lions, elephants, rhinos or any other animal, is that the money raised through the 'sport' goes back into conservation and benefits other animals and local communities.
This has long been disputed, and most recently an American government report highlighted that there was 'little evidence' that the money was going anywhere other than into the wrong pockets: "we found many troubling examples of funds either being diverted from their purpose or not being dedicated to conservation in the first place." Really not a surprise to many of us.
What's in a name?
But back to Cecil, specifically. When all this is going on, why did Cecil cause such an international surge of upset, outrage and disdain?
I'm wondering if it was because he was called Cecil.
Not the name Cecil specifically, but just because he was named. This made Cecil all the more real to us. It's almost like we need a nudge to feel the compassion we should feel anyway. Those who deal in the death of animals hate this kind of thing - they would call it anthropomorphism, or the 'Disneyfication' of animals.
I'm sure deer hunting took a long time to recover once Bambi came out. But like I say, maybe all of us need a nudge to recognise that animals deserve our respect, and if it takes a name to do that, then so be it.
So back to the two fox cubs in Herefordshire. Or as I know them, Cecil and Cecil. Okay, you get the point. Does giving them names make the horror of what happened to them any worse?
Even those in the hunting community were quick to distance themselves from what this footage appeared to show. For their sake, they need to try and show that this was a one off. Who are you trying to kid, fellas? Fox hunting is knee deep in cruelty.
The way the foxes are chased and killed is cruel and unnatural. The way foxes are captured and kept in 'artificial earths' so they can be raised as ready-to-use bait whenever the hunt needs something to chase is monstrous. And the attempts at justifying this bloodsport as some kind of conservation effort is as convincing as that of those who support trophy hunting.
Cruelty is cruelty - no matter where it takes place
So when we remember Cecil, let's not kid ourselves that cruelty in the name of sport is something that happens abroad. These fox cubs and many other examples show that our own country has a huge blot on its landscape that we need to eradicate.
One more thing. By a strange coincidence - or was it? - a couple of days after the Cecil news, I found a Lion garden statue that somebody had dumped in my front garden. I promptly sprayed it with gold paint, wrote a short dedication on a piece of wood, and set it up amongst foliage close enough to the pavement for passers by to pause, read and pay homage.
Where I live - Hampstead! - front garden ornaments often get vandalised or stolen, but not my Cecil. He still stands proud. Respect.
Bill Oddie is a conservationist, writer, composer, musician, comedian, artist, ornithologist, and television presenter. He will be invested as President of the League Against Cruel Sports at its AGM this weekend. In 2003 he was awarded the OBE for his work in wildlife conservation. He first rose to fame as a member of TV comedy programme The Goodies.
Broadcasting: Bill's groundbreaking wildlife programmes for the BBC include: Springwatch/Autumnwatch, How to Watch Wildlife, Wild In Your Garden, Birding with Bill Oddie, Britain Goes Wild with Bill Oddie and Bill Oddie Goes Wild.
Books include 'Bill Oddie's Little Black Bird Book' and 'Birding with Bill Oddie'.
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