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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I cannot condone what the six lions did. If it is crime to bite the hand that feeds you, it is certainly a crime to bite the hand that brings you water. And sometime shortly after eleven am on Tuesday, May 27 a 49 year old unnamed keeper had gone alone into the enclosure where the lions were kept (so the tourists could stare at them) to deliver fresh water. He was familiar with the lions. He had worked at the Utispan African Trophy Hunting Ranch, in the wild northwest desert of South Africa, for two years. But, as somebody once said, familiarity breeds contempt: I think it was either Sigfried or Roy who said that. But we can be certain that the lions did bite his hand because if you are going to leave the fingers scattered on the ground, you have to swallow the hand. And before you can swallow it, you have to bite it.
And that was all that was left of the poor guy, a few fingers – that and a couple of feet of lower intestine, but that was all. Which makes the ad copy for the Ranch that much more than ironic. “We know these animals and their qualities and customs by heart… ” (Did I mention that they also ate the guy’s heart? Well, they did.) “…All of our family have been born and grown up in the Kalahari. We have learned to understand the animals and their special skills.” And now these family folks are meeting with folks from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs to “…discuss the fate of the lions.” What fate? The six lions are already living in a cage, probably getting used to free food from humans, so they could then be released on the property so some wealthy Arab, European or American could be driven to their feeding station in the brush, pointed in the right direction, and then proudly display a photo of him or herself kneeling next to their dead fellow carnivore.
Whereas, if the lions were free to do the hunting on their own they would live happily for a couple years, chasing, catching and killing until they got gored or stomped on or got mauled by another lion and then they would slowly starve until they were weak enough or sick enough to be eaten alive by hyenas or dogs or ants or everything else. It’s the nasty reality of “Born Free”. Almost nobody in the wild dies a peaceful death. Peaceful deaths are not natural: Eat or be eaten is in fact, eat and eventually be eaten.
Perhaps we should just treat animals like humans. You know we want to. We dress them in human attire, and feed them tasty human food, and we used to go even further. In 1386, in a market day in the French village of Falaise a young child had her face ripped open by a pig about to be sold for hammocks. In retribution the guilty swine was then dressed for court in a waistcoat, breeches and gloves and brought before a jury. They sentenced the sow to be mangled and maimed like the child and then garroted and hanged, which would have been the same punishment meted out to a human. With the slight difference that after execution this guilty party was roasted and basted. And if you were thinking that people in the Middle Ages were just nuts then you need to here about the little town of Erin, Tennessee, where, on September 13, 1916, the townsfolk were so offended when a 30 year old circus elephant named Mary trampled her handler, that they lynched her. It took a crane and two separate attempts but it was a sufficiently slow and agonizing death that post mortem the locals felt satisfied justice had been done.
At about four-thirty on an afternoon at the end of February this year (high summer in South Africa) 29 year old Samuel Booysen, entered an enclosure at the Aloe Ridge Lodge, Mulders’ Drift, S.A. which contained “eight or nine” lions. And then, while two other caretakers watched, Samuel was disemboweled and eaten by a pair of the lions. This time the lions left behind the spine and skull. The South African Department of Labor was moved to respond to the twin tragedies of Utspan and Mulder’s Drift by reminding workers that “occupational health and safety …remain the responsibility of everyone, including workers …”, which is a short way of saying, “Stuff happens.” These guys could be working for George Bush’s OSHA.
And from news reports it appears that attitude is still warmly appreciated in South Africa, as when investigators determined with visible relief that 58 year old Dirk Brink (love the name) was not killed this year by the lions on his “game farm”, even though his friends had to fire guns to drive off the lions who were feasting on his corpse. Luckily the lions had not eaten Dirk’s head (?) and doctors were able to determine he had actually died of a massive stroke before the lions showed up. To quote a friend, "Everything there indicates that the lions dragged him off under the trees after he had died." Well, that’s a relief.
But what should happen now to the lions, now that they have stumbled on the realization that people are at least as tasty as wart hogs, and we don’t have any tusks. That is not information we want lions sharing with each other. So it has been suggested that the lions on the Krugersdorp be moved, and replaced by another pride, ignorant of human frailty. But Coert Steynberg, described as an expert from South Africa's game industry, has pointed out that lions are not congenial to sharing or swapping territories with other lions. Warns Mr. Coert, "The dominant male (will) kill the less-dominant one, and his offspring, to ensure the propagation of his own pride's gene pool." In other words moving the lions would just mean they would be killed off camera.
It seems the morality of lions is difficult for South Africans to define, even on June 17, 2007 when nine-year-old Tshepo Gaerupe, made the mistake of putting his hand through a gap in an enclosure gate. The lion grabbed the boy’s arm and dragged him inside, where two of the ten lions feasted on the child. Adults, racing to the screams, found only a small piece of the boy’s skull. Upon investigation it was discovered that the owner of the farm, Tommy Van Vuren, who was away on vacation at the time of the attack,(how very George Bush of him) had allowed his permit to keep the lions to lapse. The lions were darted and removed from the farm and. it was decided that all ten lions would then be put down. But Van Vuren filed suit stopping the euthanasia. He also installed stronger fencing and added an electrified fence, and then he applied for a new permit, which was quickly granted. And the courts backed his argument that the seizure of his lions had been unconstitutional. Magnanimously Van Vuren offered to pay the cost of transporting the lions back to his farm, if the authorities would pay the cost of darting them with tranquilizers. He also offered to sell a pair of the lions and give the proceeds to Tshepo Gaerupe’s bereaved mother. There was no word on whether she took the money or threw it back in Van Vuren’s face.
Yup, it is very hard to define justice when mixing men and man eaters. I guess it all goes back to the work of Charles Darwin, so succinctly encapsulated by the Disney Company as “The Circle of Life”: From the day we arrive on the planet, And blinking step into the sun, There’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than ever be done,…On the path unwinding, In the Circle, the Circle of Life.” I just think Disney should have included that one verse they left on the cutting room floor. “There’s so much to be savored, before you are eaten too, there’s so much to be consumed, from Zebras on the run to your competitors’ baby, too. In the Circle, the circle of Soylent Green.”

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