What’s Unethical About This Picture?

Maybe nothing.

Let’s see.

Is shooting a big, beautiful male lion who was minding his own business ethical?

The two lovebirds are Canadians Darren and Carolyn Carter, who like killing big, beautiful wild animals. They also are in the taxidermy business, so they create the “art” of preserved beautiful dead animals for those who also either enjoy killing them or who like having the stuffed dead creatures, or just their heads, as trophies or decoration.

It is fair to say that at this time in human culture in North America, simply killing big game for the thrill of it is considered cruel and wrong. The fact that the Carters are taxidermists gives them a little more ballast in a utilitarian argument. In general, killing anything just to kill it is unethical: it ends a life, and life has positive value. Killing an animal to eat it helps balance out the ethical considerations, as we regard human life as having higher value than animal or plant life. Killing a lion to save a human life—as in the situation where a lion is deliberately stalking and killing people, like the two “Tsavo Man-Eaters” responsible for the deaths of construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway between March and December 1898 (dramatized in the film, “The Ghost and the Darkness”) would also be ethical.(Those lions are stuffed and on display in the Marshall Fields Museum in Chicago.)

If one doesn’t deny the value of taxidermy as art, furnishings or as museum exhibits for historical or educational purposes, then maybe the practice has  sufficient value to human life to sustain the argument that killing even a harmless lion to stuff it is ethically defensible. Personally and professionally, I find that to be a weak and rationalization-stuffed argument, but let’s give the Carters the benefit of the doubt for now.

The killing was legal. It was, however, the result also a so-called “canned hunt” in South Africa, where a company called Legelela Safaris arranges  opportunities to shoot magnificent wild animals for a fee. If it’s sport, it’s barely sport, and, of course, there are many, many sports that do not require killing anything. If one can do something without causing harm (like killing a living creature), it is unethical to deliberately do it while causing harm. Yes, the circumstances surrounding the kill are  ethically dubious at best.

What about that kiss?

Ick. How romantic: we just made a beautiful live thing dead, oooooooh, kiss me, baby, killing creatures make me hot! Yechh. The kiss, however, doesn’t hurt anyone; it just shows that the individuals kissing have ethics alarms just slightly more functional than the typical psychopath. (Norman Bates, you will recall, enjoyed taxidermy.) One could argue that the smooch shows gratuitous disrespect for the lion, but realistically, the lion doesn’t care. The ultimate disrespect was shooting him, not being turned on by it.

And the photo?

The photo is hurtful. I’m not going to show it to my wife, because it will make her cry, and I got a little choked up myself when I first saw it. A good argument can be made that posting such a photo online is ethically indefensible because it causes psychic distress to others who see it , and unless they live in a cave, the Carters know this. If they want a photographic record of their thrill-kill, swell; let them take their ugly photos and store them in an album. on a wall in their home or taxidermy office, or on their own computers and cell phones. Posting such photos online (in this case, the hunting company posted it, but presumably with the Carters’ consent), are harmful without any sufficient counter-balancing human benefit.

What do you think? Is the photo and what it portrays ethical or not? Poll time:

Now just to get the bad taste of all this out of my metaphorical mouth…


Pointer: Jonathan Turley

38 thoughts on “What’s Unethical About This Picture?

  1. I often argue that fees charged by governments for licenses to kill big game for the purpose of financing overall conservation of the species is ethical. Not so here.

    This does not appear to be that. For profit hunts are grossly unethical.

    • If it is ethical to kill the lions,that stalked and killed two workers to eat on that railroad wouldn’t it be reasonable to conclude that it is ethical to kill those who stalk and kill large game for sport?

      • See, Chris? The more I read of your posts the more I think, “This fellow truly gets it” and think, “Why doesn’t Chris live in Houston so we could hang out, drink St. Arnold’s beer, talk about cool things, and gush about my beloved Rush?” Your comments are well-reasoned, erudite, and insightful. I think I share your ambivalence for hunting.

        My son (he’s fifteen) fancies himself a hunter. Me? I couldn’t care less one way or the other. We went on a hog hunt in February – he loved it; I, on the other hand, was not impressed. I proved that, if needed, I could shoot and kill a hog with a big ass gun. Who knows how I would feel hunting deer, or elk, or in this case, lions. My gut tells me I would use the scope on the rifle to get a close-up view of a really cool looking animal and simply forget to pull the trigger. If Leo came after me, my family, and my friends, the result would probably be different.

        Here, I am willing to concede that hunting to control animal populations is not only valid but ethical. I have absolutely no confidence, though, that these tours are run ethically by ethical guides to cull (ethically) older, infirmed animals. I highly doubt that the South African government has the resources to prevent poachers and other jerks who simply shoot animals for sport. Poachers are worthless human beings and deserving of any and all misery heaped on them.

        As for stalking big game hunters, I usually root for the animals. I figure if the hunters are going to shoot them with high-calibre rifles, then why not even the playing field and let the animals have a shot at them, too? How about letting Leo have a right of first refusal (the two in close quarters where Leo gets an opportunity to defend himself by ripping the hunter’s proverbial head off) before the hunter can plant a pocket full of lead into his brain? Seems fair to me.


      • Would you consider it to be ethical to kill several of the Davidson lions (the born free lions) if you knew that they had also attacked and killed several people – which, by the way, they did?

      • ”Is an elephant life worth more than a human one, even one that is despised?”

        On the surface no, but IMO that’s a false equivalency.

        Your points below are well taken. There’s an ethical aspect to all hunting; where it’s evident in the Big Game Trophy milieu escapes me.

        FWIW, I see Catch-n-Release fishing the same way.

        I used to hunt, but quit on personal philosophical grounds due to an incident known only to me, and one which still haunts me to this day.

        If someone wants to Big Game Trophy hunt, or catch-n-release fish, have at it. That I will neither listen to their adventures wholly enrapt nor offer up validation ought not bother them one whit.

  2. This is ick, no doubt. Yet I voted that there is nothing unethical about it.*

    Even ‘for profit’ hunts in Africa are closely regulated, overseen, and surcharged. Locals benefit greatly from the cash infusion, and managing the local wildlife make their lives better, objectively.

    Hunting makes conservation possible in nations that would likely destroy resources without the incentive to protect. The money made from such ‘trophy kills’ does help the species overall. In many cases, the animal is being culled for a good reason: sick, old and suffering, dangerous to locals, killing its own species, and so on. The countries involved either manage these wildlife resources well, or they soon have none to manage.

    Hunters finance wildlife conservation, full stop. Without the dollars hunter are charged, how long do you think your average sub saharan dictator will protect their country’s resources? History shows that governments are pragmatic. They always do whatever is in their best interest, in the larger scheme of things (present lunacy regarding borders aside.)

    The picture was in bad taste, no doubt. However, the recent attacks upon hunters by the looney left are far more unethical than killing a lion. As leftist get more totalitarian, it takes this sort of in-your-face push back to let them know we will no longer bow to their demands. Progressives are going to understand that as they sow, so shall they reap, and as they do unto others, so they can have done to them. Human nature says that someone will go too far in that, as this couple has (shrug).

    *I personally eat what I kill, save the occasional poisonous snake or rabid skunk. (These represent a clear and immediate danger to myself and members of my family, otherwise they are left alone) I got this habit from my family, who needed the game for sustenance. Could I survive without venison in the freezer today? Sure. (My kids might object, though) Why should I, though? Beef and port are expensive for a family with teens. Hunting frees up cash for other needs (Have you ever tried to keep a teenage boy in deodorant?) Not only is hunting for food ethical, it is laudable.

      • In Texas, feeding them alcohol is perfectly legal as long as they are under my direct supervision.

        I will comment that vodka has been more in demand the past week, though.

    • I tend to agree with your post, though, I did vote for all of the categories. As I stated above, I have no truck with hunting or fishing (maybe that is because I am fairly awful at them). I did see a documentary a few months back about big game hunting and there are some very ethical companies that exercise great concern for the herds. I do wonder if African governments (as notoriously honest and ethical and paragons of virtue as they are) have the resources to prevent illegal or uncontrolled hunts. Maybe it is just me, but this story just seems wrong. Perhaps I have a visceral objection based more in emotion than reason when it comes to big-ass animals.


  3. Shooting for sport, in this case, is mildly unethical. Taking a life for pleasure is shitty but the value of this life is not high because it’s a) just an animal and b) not an endangered one. So long as the world isn’t about to run out of lions killing one doesn’t really do a whole lot of harm outside of that one animals life and sorry not sorry I don’t place a high degree of value on any one non-endangered animals life. I’d also bet that I’m not the only one that feels that way. As a personal ethics gut check: how bad do you feel when you see road kill on the side of the road? For most people, I’m betting it ranges from feeling nothing to only mildly bad. Why do you feel such mild emotions for that possum and more powerful ones for this lion? Whats the ethical difference? I don’t see one – they both died pointless wasteful deaths ultimately caused by human intrusion. The lions only has more emotional impact because they are physically bigger and they’re cute pop culture figures that are distantly related to some of our favorite pets. And, if you’re interested in self flagellation, maybe they metaphorically represent Africa and killing them is redolent of the west’s general pillaging of Africa’s people and nature during the heyday of imperialism.

    All in all, mildly unethically because it’s killing for pleasure but the killing really isn’t all that bad – the perception of it is just made worse because of what they killed not necessarily that they killed. If they had taken this picture in front of our dead possum I don’t think it would cause nearly the same reaction. The kiss is 100% ick and irrelevant

    • One might also ask whether it is more ethical for an animal that has trusted humans all its life to feed and protect it, to suddenly find itself with a spike to the head and on its way to the tannery and the meat grinder to satisfy some humans’ preferences for car seats and lunch.

      • So long as it’s killed humanely, I think it’s ethical. Killing in and of itself isn’t wrong; it’s why you kill that determines whether the action is wrong. Killing for joy – wrong. Killing in self defense – right. Killing for a product – so long as it’s killed humanely, not human or endangered fine. When it comes to cows it’s especially true when you balance it against the state of nature. How many cows would be alive in the wild right now if we didn’t raise them as live stock? Certainly a smaller than number than are alive now. Unarguably, raising these animals to kill them means that more of them get a chance at life, and arguably a better life, than they naturally would. Chilling with your homies in a protected environment is probably preferable to the constant fight of flight life that prey animals live. If I were a cow and you gave me a choice between being not born and born into sheltered animal husbandry, I know which way I’d go.

        • I agree; it was a mainly rhetorical question meant to contrast that with the high dudgeon over the killing of a beast which has never had an expectation of any other treatment from man or other beast.

        • Depends on the kind of cattle operation we’re talking about. The cows on my back pasture that get to roam around and munch grass all day are probably the kind you’re thinking about. The poor abused creatures that are kept crammed into overcrowded feedlots, standing knee-deep in manure, would probably, if given the choice, prefer to take their chances with the coyotes and mountain lions. The difference is stark: the pastured animals have a good life and one bad day (their last), but the industrially-farmed animals have a life of misery.

  4. It’s mostly a case of ick. The ick that people still seek to do taxidermy on non-menacing wild life is ick (The 1898 ones were a threat and taxidermying them can be assuring and asserting our being top of the pyramid) Sometimes even beautiful animals become an active threat to human populations and needed action, so hunting skill should not be lost. The smooch is very ick, as getting turned on when something dies of violence I think is a sign of illness. Posting it is also ick, but we don’t know if it was their tone deafness or the safari company, they may not have known it was being taken or would be used to advertise their ick to the media mob. But the safari company might not understand that media witch hunts will cost more business than they thought the image would gain. Foolishness or naivete spread the ick far and wide.

    At what cutoff point does the cumulative ick make this evil? I can’t quite say it does here, even if the image nauseate me. Foolish, short-sighted, tone deaf to rest of humanity, and enough ick to float the Titanic, but not really evil. We can’t even be sure it’s unethical because we do not know how they explain or rationalize it, all we really have is an icky image.

  5. I had to bat this one around for a while, and finally, to my own surprise, decided there was nothing inherently unethical here, and so voted “nothing”.

    Laying aside the subjective “Ick” and “Awwww” factors, I don’t see that they violated a duty to, or the trust of, anyone or any thing, broke any laws, or clearly demonstrated sociopathic behavior that could cause us to consider them a threat to society. I’m not going to jump on the “right to not be offended” bandwagon at this stage just because one of my oxen is gored.

    • They violated a social norm by posting and celebrating the wanton killing of a wild beast that did not deserve to be killed. There was a time when the “norm” would have been to celebrate with them, and not that long ago.

      But that time has passed, and thankfully so. Being deliberately and maliciously offensive to others (and this surely is) is not ethical. If they had kept the photo to themselves, I could’ve appreciated your point more.

      • That’s pretty much an “eye of the beholder” thing, and requires speculation on their intent. Sorry, I don’t buy it; that’s one of the arguments used by the SJ crowd to attempt enforce their behavioral/thought preferences on others.

        • Is it? Well, I can agree to a point — as I said, when I saw the picture, it didn’t occur to me the lion was dead.

          But in context, it’s not really an eye of the beholder thing, is it? What else could kissing behind a deceased lion that you personally killed for no reason other than to make a kind of sculpture from it be other than celebrating that same fact?

          And I’m not suggesting something be done to them — if they want to be assholes, by all means that’s fine by me. I’m commenting on why their picture was unethical, not why they should be shot at dawn or subjected to a Twitter rage mob.

          • If they have a taxidermy business, collecting such a trophy could mean a substantial payday.

            The kiss could mean no more than ‘we were successful in our business’ amiright?

            • Well, it could mean anything. In context, it’s a pretty bad look. But then again, I’m not their clientele, so I guess there’s that.

          • Yeah, my first take was that it was a couple of selfie-idiots encroaching on a resting lion. As to the rest, see my reply to Jack, below, and I’d ask you to maybe reconsider just what “social norm” they might have violated. The norm of South Africa?; that continent?’ the USA?; the world? Possibly, but probably, I’d suggest, not the norms of their friends, associates, and customers for whom that photo was likely intended.

            • More the USA, possibly the world, but who knows.

              Perhaps you’re right about who it was intended for, but the “naked teacher principle” seems to apply.

      • Keep in mind, in guided hunting of this nature, often a very specific animal is selected to be “hunted” (let’s be realistic, these people likely didn’t do much hunting, they just waited with a rifle while their guides did all the work) because it is no longer advantageous to the breeding population. Old males that are no longer fertile but still able to prevent younger males from reproducing, animals that are overly aggressive to their own kind, etc, need to be culled for conservation programs to succeed. I’m not saying that’s necessarily what happened here, because I don’t know the whole story, and I certainly wouldn’t say that such an animal “deserves” to be killed, but in many cases there *is* a purpose behind a specific animal being killed, and if rich assholes didn’t pay money to do it, the animal would still end up dead.

  6. I think it’s the nature of the guided hunt that I found in poor taste. My grandfather was an avid hunter and conservationist. He would hunt for meat, sure, but even then he could just buy it at the store. I think there’s something about placing oneself into the natural order – being directly responsible for the production of you family’s goods (he had a small farm as well). There’s a value in dispelling that false modern notion of nature and man being distinct. I once quieted a fellow grad student from his progressive rant by demonstrating that idea. I asked him, Socratically, “If human intelligence is the product of evolution, ‘nature’, then why are products of human intelligence not ‘natural’?” His illusions were shattered, of course, being introduced suddenly and unexpectedly to the fatal contradiction in modern thought. He probably purged the notion from his mind just moments later. Had we gone hunting, I think we could have made a more lasting impression. The whole modern enterprise is a network of dependencies aimed at hiding the reality of human nature and its place in the natural order.

    I think the guided-on-rails commercial elements removed all that’s honorable and enlightening from the exercise. I oppose all reduction of hunting per se to the mere killing of animals, but this is really just that. Maybe the exorbitant fee they paid did more for the conservation of lions than all opposition to it combined, though. I’d like to cast a heavily-mitigated “nothing” vote, for lack of nuance.

  7. I honestly thought you were showing me a picture of a couple taking a photo behind a sleeping lion, or a Photoshopped picture.

    But now that I know, in Paul Harvey’s immortal words, “The rest of the story,” I have the following observations:

    1. I am opposed to killing wildlife for fun. I think it is always unethical to do so, regardless of your profession. That said, I don’t consider it a mortal sin, but rather an unfortunate by-product of man as the top of the food chain. No form of art should involve killing animals specifically to create it.

    We should be thankful that wild animals don’t generally have the capacity (The Ghost and the Darkness aside) to decide to do the same thing to us.

    2. Legality is relevant, but as we all know, that doesn’t make it ethical.

    3. The kiss is a flagrant assault on my sensibilities. “Ick” will do, I guess.

    4. The photo, absent an explanation of its contents, is confusing. I consider it an ethical nullity. The lion, being dead, couldn’t care less. His mate, should it exist, is incapable of caring about a photograph, as are their spawn.

    But the composition and delivery of the photo is unethical. It suggests wanton killing of animals for the sake of “art” is okay, even something to be celebrated with a kiss.

    It’s neither.

  8. I have no qualms about hunting deer, duck, etc. The hunters I know take home and eat what they hunt. For some of them it keeps food on the table during lean months.

    This is killing for sport. It’s not conservationist. It’s not to prevent over population and spread of disease. (For urban parks such as Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park that is a big problem.) It’s just chest beating.

    • How do you know that they, or the locals, didn’t eat the lion? I know where I’d place my bet on that question.

  9. A good argument can be made that posting such a photo online is ethically indefensible because it causes psychic distress to others who see it…

    Are you sure you write this, Jack or were you hacked? It sounds dangerously close to coddling the sort of snowflakery you usually deride, particularly in light of “Orwellian items 4 & especially 5” in your subsequent post this morning:

    • No, I don’t see that at all. The key word is gratuitous. If something needs to be communicated or expressed, then the chips fall where they may. Intentionally or recklessly upsetting others without good cause is Niggardly Principle territory. I’ll defend publishing Holocaust images or pictures of abused animals or 9th month aborted babies for a legitimate reason, but just to boast, preen, or say, “Screw you, any one who judges us!” is not a legitimate reason.

      • I agree with the advisability of avoiding gratuitous provocation, but I’m not at all sure that’s what went on here. Similar poses with kills are common in various media geared towards those interested in hunting and similar outdoor pursuits, even on such outlets as state-run department of natural resources websites.

        It seems reasonable that the intended audience for this particular photo would have been mainly like-minded “sports-people” and potential clients of the safari company. Even the kiss could have a number of perfectly innocent explanations… The safari outfit may have had them strike a few dozen (or more) poses, and requested this as one of them; Maybe they habitually give each other a peck when they’re shot (heh!) together; maybe it’s just a ‘Hey, you and me babe!” moment that no one else is required to appreciate. Without more details, interpreting the pic as a thumb in the eye to the public in general could easily be (and, IMO, most likely is) reading too much into the situation with too little information. Remember Nick Sandmann?

  10. If the kill was done legally, I have a hard time seeing anything actually unethical here. I don’t have any objection to hunting for sport. I’d be concerned with overhunting, or killing endangered animals. African lions are a vulnerable population, but not endangered, and there can be valid reasons to cull a male like this. I don’t get the feeling of ick about seeing the dead lion, or the hunters posing and smiling or kissing over it. (Maybe I have a slightly sociopathic tendency in that respect?) So, I voted “nothing.”

  11. Not my thing, but I can’t find a rational reason to go out of may to condemn it. I would guess that the couple are, like most people, part of a subculture, take pleasure in being part of that subculture, and are somewhat insulated from the feelings of those outside the subculture. Lots of people who hunt for sport love animals just as much, or more, than those who don’t; they just have a realistic view of things that is closer to what happens in a state of nature. Native Americans 300 years ago didn’t have cameras but there’s no doubt that they got a thrill from hunting large animals.

    If they had posted this with a caption along the lines of, “‘I’ killed Mufasa!” or “Suck it animal lovers,” I’d have more context by which to condemn them.

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