Americans continue to prove we deserve the travel tag: Ugly American. The latest example is the Minnesota dentist who killed a lion that allegedly had been illegally lured from a Zimbabwean nature preserve onto private land. Here, a fellow Midwesterner talks about this despicable act and what it means for travelers the world over.

The Ugly American Arrives in Africa

Majestic lion in Africa. Photo by Vinodtiwari2608 via Wikimedia Commons

Majestic lion in Africa. Photo by Vinodtiwari2608 via Wikimedia Commons

When I was younger and so was Val Kilmer, I remember huddling on the couch late at night on a summer evening. The sounds of nighttime were coming in through the open window as we speculated about what would happen next while watching The Ghost and the Darkness. Loosely based on historic events in Kenya at the end of the 19th century, the film had a lasting impression on me. With it came a deep respect for the sheer power of Mother Nature — no matter how the critics scrutinized the movie.

Today, if you were to ask me what truly terrifies me, I’d answer with a simple word: humans. The power and stupidity — and the horrifying combination of the two traits — send shivers down my spine. When it comes to poor decision-making, arrogance, and bad behavior, no group seems to snatch the unseemly limelight like Americans these days.

The Dentist and the Lion

By now, you have probably read about the poaching and poor sportsmanship of the allegedly illegally executed lion “hunt” in Zimbabwe that occurred earlier this month. The not-so “Minnesota nice” dentist allegedly paid thousands of dollars to bag a trophy lion specimen. He may be charged with poaching and already is being heavily shamed by,well, the entire world right now. Rightly so, in my opinion.

The victim was a beloved male lion, reportedly 13 years old and radio collared in a National Park, thereby a protected creature. He was apparently lured into range to be killed on private land through a series of illegal actions and failure to comply with not only basic law, but also basic hunting and sporting ethics and conduct. To top it off, the poaching has once again put a Western visitor, namely an American, in the ugly spotlight.

What Good Can Come of This?

It’s truly tragic and is likely criminal as well. But I really hope that good comes from such a widely shared news item.

What I mean is this:

Yes, a very popular, beloved lion, dubbed Cecil has died; beheaded and skinned for the bragging rights of an arrogant man who already has been convicted — twice — of poaching in the United States. But maybe we can take a few things from this atrocity.

I am a subsistence hunter myself, many seasons bringing home the bacon or in our case, venison that will supplement our family grocery needs for an entire year. So know as you read, I’m not anti-hunting or a bleeding heart liberal bent on humans and animals sitting down to tea in mixed company one day. It sounds neat and I’ve always envied Dr. Dolittle and Eliza Thornberry their talents, but that’s not where I’m going with this.

Hoping for Accountability

Take heed, travelers, the press is calling the man many names, among them, tourist.

We need to teach our children that we can strive to be better. Whether one is traveling alone, with family, hunting or getting the perfect shot with a DSLR, we should all have high standards for behavior both on our own soil and abroad. This is another disgraceful blow to the already rampant ugly American persona.

What I am opposed to is the unseemly stereotype that this appalling behavior helps perpetuate about Americans abroad and hunters everywhere. I am hoping for accountability — in my rural town, poaching is unacceptable. I’m happy to be part of a community that respects and even reveres the beasts we live beside and count on for meals.

The action of an ugly American has left lion cubs in Africa without a male protector.

Photo by Vinodtiwari2608 via Wikimedia Commons

Though the Zimbabwean government sanctions lion hunts, this was not how it should have gone down. If the media reports are accurate, this lion was wasted – not taken for bush meat, not even thanked for its life and the opportunity of the hunt. This cannot even be called a hunt. To have baited the collared lion from a park, all involved had to have known that there was a bit of a nefarious air about the whole ordeal.

Taking Our Children on Safari

We want our children to be able to go on safaris–real ones, for great photos and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We need to cultivate a respect for the majesty of nature in other parts of the world and in our own familiar countryside, and travel as respectful ambassadors. We have to change the ugly American label that is too often solidified by dopes like this guy.

Zimbabwe Tourism is not taking this matter lightly–with good reason. Though I’m absolutely against habituation of animals to humans, Cecil was known to perhaps enjoy the tours and interaction of humans through his kingdom. Sadly, reports from the country say that the dominant male leaves behind a pride of many lions and lionesses, including around two dozen cubs. Without his protection, it is feared that those lives will ultimately fall victim to other poachers. With anywhere from 100,000 to 400,000 lions inhabiting Africa today, it’s wise for the world to be concerned about matters such as this.

We need to stop senseless acts of stupidity around the globe. We as travelers and Americans need to put an end to the image of the ugly American tourist. Whether it is defacing National Parks in California, wading in World War II memorial fountains, or illegally killing a lion while on holiday overseas, these blatantly selfish attitudes need to stop.

Travel is supposed to bring peace to the mind and body and open your eyes to a much bigger world out there. I don’t know about all of you, but I am sick to death of reading about how unintelligent we supreme beings have become.

Do you think Americans deserve the stereotype? Why or why not? Tell us in the comment section below.