Every so often there's a link to an article on Facebook about a poacher or big-game hunter being killed by some animal. It used to be I'd only see such stories celebrated on Ricky Gervais' page, but just this week I've seen (and I imagine many of you have seen) an article shared from news sources including CBS News and The Guardian about a poacher being trampled by elephants and then eaten by lions. Usually this article is shared with some joke about karma and many people laughing about it.
I find this troubling for a few reasons. But first let me say I am on the poacher side here, but the human side. I find it odd to celebrate the death of some unknown person doing an illegal act that doesn't involve harming other people. I mean if, say, a cocaine dealer was murdered by one of his clients, would we similarly celebrate? Even though this is a person much more directly harming other people? Further, many of the same people I see celebrating animal justice are also fervently against capital punishment. Again, not supporting either position here, but I just find it a strange dichotomy.
Another interesting aspect of this is that many of those so adamantly for the animals in this situation, have never seen these animals outside of a zoo. I, like many of those I see sharing these articles, see lions and elephants much in the way Europeans did hundreds of years ago; they are semi-magical creatures from another content. Although, unlike Europeans of previous centuries, instead of wanting their skins on a wall, I find their lives to hold more value than chickens and cows. That seems obvious I suppose, but why? I've touched cows and chickens, I've never touched an elephant or lion. Perhaps this distance keeps these animals in their majestic state?
But here's the unsettling part: does celebrating the death of a poacher over the death of a criminal whose victims are human place the lives of these animals over the lives of humans? Again, I think those who break such laws (abusing animals, threatening a species, etc) should be punished, but should the punishment be death? And you might say, "Well, this is nature acting, not society," but does that mean we should celebrate it? How far removed is the act of celebrating the death of a poacher and killing a poacher? Are we heading for a world where killing a poacher will be seen as fair punishment? Are we already there?
With this, another question, what is the life of a poacher? How many of us can imagine any likely details outside of killing rare animals illegally for money? Are they rich? Are they desperate? In either case, what do we think these words translate to in their world? That is, if they are rich, what is "rich" to them? I don't imagine them idling they Porsche in front of Starbucks on their day off. If desperate, what is that to them? Like the lions and elephants, their roles in this are also preserved in their distance from ourselves. The poacher too is a semi-magical creature.