Backpacking deep in Kings Canyon National Park, I was unaware of the world’s disgust over the news last week that a beloved lion named Cecil was illegally and cruelly poached by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe. Instead, I sang with a pack of coyotes across the canyon from our campsite and delighted in spotting adorable marmots, rare pikas and an even rarer Pacific fisher. Not once did I feel any instinct to kill these critters so we could display them in our home.
When we re-entered civilization, my email, texts and social media accounts were ablaze with fury over the lion’s awful fate. Truth be told, my first thought was of how close Sacramento has come – twice, so far – to having a vast collection of trophy-hunted exotic animals imposed on our community.
Elk Grove’s Paul and Renee Snider are big players in international trophy hunting. Renee Snider’s exploits have been heralded by organizations such as Grand Slam Club/Ovis, which praised her for traveling to “every huntable continent in her pursuits” and pointed out that she “has more than 300 different species and subspecies to her credit.”
News accounts and published photos of the Sniders’ home suggest they’ve killed at least one African elephant, which together with a lion, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros make up the Safari Club International’s “Big Five” achievement that Renee Snider is reported to have earned. Several of their hunted species, as pictured or noted on various websites, appear to be members of species listed as vulnerable, near-threatened, or critically endangered, including a polar bear.
In mid-2013, the Sniders made a $15 million pledge to expand Sacramento’s existing auto museum and add a so-called natural history component comprised of their animal collection. This proposed riverfront project was supported by some city officials, but stalled in early 2014 after nearly three dozen local college biology faculty members wrote to the city’s planning commission, urging rejection. The scientists wrote that the collection was “of limited educational value” and that they did not agree “with the Sniders’ view that trophy animal hunting promotes conservation worldwide.”
A prior effort came to an embarrassingly public end when it came to light in 2007 that Sacramento State’s president at the time had written to the Tanzanian government to secure special access for the Sniders to kill more than 80 species of animals – including a half-dozen in jeopardy – for a new “natural history museum” on campus to be paid for with a reported $2.4 million donation from the couple.
While our community has dodged these two bullets so far, I wouldn’t doubt the ongoing desire to find a public home in Sacramento for a hunted house of horrors framed yet again as a “natural history museum.”
On a recent visit to the American Natural History Museum in New York, I witnessed the direction such bona fide institutions seem to be headed. Newer high-tech exhibits engage patrons and teach kids about ecology and conservation. Exhibits of stuffed animals don’t make the best educational or cultural experiences. Purposely killing one of the last members of an imperiled species doesn’t seem right regardless of the justification. And if Sacramento decides it wants a museum displaying dead rare animals, there are plenty of scientifically collected specimens available.
While Cecil drew worldwide attention, animals like him are being killed routinely across the globe to satisfy the thrills of wealthy trophy hunters. The near-universal revulsion suggests that Cecil may not have died in vain – that he will be remembered as a harbinger of a coming world in which we no longer tolerate such craven killing of rare and beautiful animals. In Sacramento, we can honor Cecil’s memory by standing strong against future attempts to resurrect any proposal for a mausoleum of wild animal victims.
Jennifer Fearing is a legislative lobbyist for animal protection groups and former deputy director of the Humane Society of the United States.