Some Thoughts on Melissa Bachman and the Lion

Melissa Bachman, who is the host of a hunting show called Deadly Passion, announced on her Facebook page on November 1 that she had killed a lion in South Africa and she posted this picture:


The response was remarkable. According to one story, “Bachman found herself the target of vicious death wishes and obscenity-laced insults on Monday as critics on Twitter, YouTube and other social networks blasted the Minnesotan for her boastful hunting escapades.” According to another story, “More than 250,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that South Africa deny future entry to Melissa Bachman, a big game hunter whose smiling photo with a dead lion has sparked considerable outrage.”

And, to no one’s surprise, the large animal welfare charities are rushing to create a fundraising campaign with a petition to have lions listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (U.S.)

I posted something about this on my Facebook page, and I had to delete the comments and close the thread because of the horribly misogynist and violent comments that were being made.

People are angry that Bachman killed the lion unnecessarily. There was no need, no compulsion for her to do so. She did not kill the lion in self defense. She killed the lion because she enjoys killing animals.

And most of us think that that’s terrible; we don’t think that we should make animals suffer and die just because we derive some pleasure from it.

Or do we?

We kill and eat about 56 billion land animals not counting fish. There is no necessity; no compulsion. We do not need to eat animals to be optimally healthy and animal agriculture is an ecological disaster.

The best justification we have for imposing suffering and death on those billions of animals, many of whom have had lives far more hideous than the lion Bachman slaughtered, is that they taste good.

So how exactly does this distinguish those of us who consume animals from Bachman?

That’s a rhetorical question: there is no coherent moral distinction between her and most of us. The fact that Bachman kills “charismatic species” and the rest of us just kill chickens, pigs, cows, and fish is completely irrelevant.

The Bachman matter is no different from the moral schizophrenia that we saw in the matters of Michael Vick, Mitt Romney, and Kisha Curtis.

On the positive side, every time one of these cases erupts, we reaffirm our belief in the widely shared moral intuition that it’s morally wrong to impose suffering on or kill animals without a good reason. Ironically, we already believe everything we need to believe to reject animal exploitation altogether. It’s just a matter of coming to see there is no morally relevant difference between shooting a lion for fun or eating a steak because you enjoy it. In both cases, we have taken a life for no good reason.

Let us hope that these episodes of moral schizophrenia cause the light to go on at least for some who make the decision to put their morals where their mouth is and go vegan.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2013 Gary L. Francione