logo

A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

image

Environment

May 30, 2018

Opinion: Inside the Mind of a Lion Murderer

This is an opinion article courtesy of Alexander Anghelou who is a psychologist specialising in cognitive behaviour therapy, who is passionate about nature and wildlife.

WRITTEN BY

Alexander Anghelou

Why would anyone be interested in killing lions? Even if it was for free, which it is not. As a psychologist, this is what I try to understand.

In 2014, after visiting South Africa, I wrote an article entitled “Lion Canned Hunting, the person behind the ‘Hunter”. This was before the infamous “Cecil the Lion” incident which sparked the world, and exposed the brutal and pitiful practice of canned hunting. At the time, the psychopathic industry of canned hunting was unknown to most people.

On the first of July 2015, Cecil the emblematic lion in Zimbabwe, is killed by an American dentist and exposed this barbaric kind of hunting to the world. Hearing of this industry for the first time, people were shocked and disgusted that this existed, and was even legal. I decided to look back at my article and see how things have evolved, but also analyze the persona who indulges in such practices. 

It’s over-compensation to avoid the reality that they are not 100% in control.

For those who have not heard of lion canned hunting, it consists of putting an adult lion (which has been hand reared and habituated to humans), in an enclosure, where a trophy hunter kills the lion with a rifle, gun, or crossbow from the safety of a jeep. There is no possibility of escape, and no ‘skill’ required. The lion, that has been habituated to humans, is calm until it gets shot, usually more than once, before dying an agonizing death. After killing the lion, ‘the brave hunter’ poses for a picture with the dead animal, before getting it shipped home to hang on their wall. A dirty business built on animal suffering and money.  

Four years after first hearing about canned hunting, I still believe that we live in a fast pace world that makes us feel less in control, and therefore less secure. To feel secure, many seek to over compensate by seeking an unrealistic degree of control, this strategy backfires as it leads in the opposite direction where one eventually ends up feeling helpless, and therefore more anxious and more insecure.

Born to Die. Photo: Alexander Anghelou

Read on The Outdoor Journal: Capt. Paul Watson’s Commentary, ‘Human Lives are Not More Important Than Animal Lives”.

In the case of canned hunters, I believe that it is over-compensation, to avoid the reality that they are not 100% in control.  I believe that the power and thrill the hunter feels by killing lions, which are symbols of power, is due to the fact that they feel reassured by fooling themselves that they have more power than they actually have, and therefore temporarily feel more secure.

The problem with reassurance is that it is addictive, the more we have it, the more we need it.  Since we habituate to it, our need for it escalates, we need more of it to get the same effect.

Behaviour isn’t random; it always serves a purpose and has a function.  We do many things to feel more secure. The more control we feel, we experience greater security, but it’s a self defeating trap because as soon as the illusion of control is exposed, we end up feeling more anxious and insecure than before. A growing number of people have expectations of 100% control, whilst each trophy hunter has individual twists and subtleties, I am confident that this is an important component and a common denominator. I would expect to see an expectation of control, in a mild or significant way, in each one of them. 

Boasting about killing an animal isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a sign of insecurity.

To be secure is to accept that our control is limited.  Only then do we maximise our feeling of control.  When we feel secure we do not feel the need to dominate and kill.  I do not include hunters, that hunt to eat or people who are in a situation where they need to defend themselves.  I am referring to the hunters who fly to the other end of the world to kill for the ‘entertainment and thrill.’ Boasting about killing an animal isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a sign of insecurity.

The way to address this insecurity isn’t by escaping or over-compensating, but instead coming to terms with reality. We do not have 100% control over our lives, we never did and never will, but that does not mean we should live in fear.

Imprisoned Lion. Photo: Alanxader Anghelou

The Situation:

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the animal massacre that is happening in Africa today, here are a few figures from Conservation Action Trust in South Africa

“Research reveals that in 14 years (between 2001 and 2015) South Africa and Tanzania alone represent the biggest exporters of animals in Africa.  During this period, they shipped 10,273 dead animals and 6,208 living animals of various species.
An astonishing 81,572 hunting trophies from African Bush Elephants were exported from Africa in this time – including skin pieces, tusks, feet and ivory carvings. 
In the same 14-year time frame 17,000 African lions were killed for sport resulting in their pelts, heads and bones exported for hunting trophies.”

In 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under the Obama administration stopped the import of lion trophies from South Africa. This was due to the listing of Panthera Leo as threatened on the Endangered Species Act, the African lion population had decline by 43 percent between 1993 and 2014. The Trump administration is set to undo the Obama legislation by legalizing the importation of lion and elephant trophies into the United States, but this decision was put on hold, leaving the situation unclear.

One should note that fifty years ago, there were around 500,000 lions in Africa,  today there are less than 20,000, and should this continue, within the next 15 years there might not be any wild and free lions in Africa.  Recent data from the DEA (South African Department of Environmental Affairs) estimate around 7000 captive lions being bred for ‘the bullet’ in approximately 260 facilities (100 more than in 2014).

Read Next on TOJ: Demand in Asia’s Legal Markets is Destroying Africa’s Wildlife.

Some Lion kisses. Photo: Alexander Anghelou

What’s Being Done

In November of 2015, the movie ‘Blood Lions’ by Ian Michler exposing canned lion hunting is projected at the European parliament. This movie played a big role in raising awareness of killing lions.  In the past 4 years, I have seen great efforts made to raise awareness, and to engage companies or legislative bodies to defend lions from this industry. There have been efforts to block the import of trophies into Europe, as well as to encourage airlines to refuse the transport of animal parts or ‘trophies’. 

Also in 2015, the Australian Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, announced a ban on the importation of lion trophies as part of a crackdown on canned hunting. This made Australia the first country to make the import of Lion trophies illegal. Shortly after, over 40 airline companies started refusing the transport of big-game trophies.

Possibly the greatest news is that on the 3rd of February 2018 in Las Vegas, a surprising milestone was reached. The world’s largest hunting club, Safari Club International (SCI) announced at its annual convention, that it condemned and would no longer advertise or accept hunts of captive bred lions. This greatly affecting the canned hunting industry in South Africa.

The world is reacting to this immoral industry, but no changes have been seen within the South African government, who continues to support the canned hunting of lions. 

I would like to thank and show my gratitude to the many dedicated people who have been working hard for lions. I encourage anyone who is touched by this piece to contribute in their own way.

Here are just a few heroes trying to bring an end to killing lions and canned hunting: Kevin & Mandy Richardson – www.lionwhisperer.co.za, Luis and CJ Munoz: Chelui4lions [Facebook], Chris Mercer www.cannedlion.org, and Julie Lasne (CACH)

Read Next: Capt. Paul Watson’s Commentary, ‘Human Lives Are Not More Important Than Animal Lives’.

About the Author: Alexander Anghelou is a psychologist specialised in cognitive behaviour therapy and is passionate about nature and wildlife.  www.cbt-brussels.eu

Continue Reading

image

Athletes & Explorers

Feb 15, 2019

Flow State: The Reason Why Alex Honnold and Steph Davis are not Adrenaline Junkies.

“When you’re pushing the limits of ultimate human performance, the choice is stark: it’s flow or die.”

image

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Recently, while watching Alex Honnold’s film, Free Solo, I began questioning the motives behind why he does what he does. I imagine that like me, you asked yourself, what is the driving force behind his compulsive need to risk his life? Why does he have such a passion for free soloing difficult routes, while the rest of us sit paralyzed in fear, simply watching in awe?

Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the directors of the film (which has recently won a BAFTA and has been nominated for an Oscar), touched on Alex’s reasoning a little. For Alex, it is when he is climbing without a rope and is closest to death, that he actually feels most alive.

As an extreme sports athlete myself, with a background in whitewater kayaking, I can relate to this feeling. When I am kayaking a difficult and consequential rapid, my brain is 100% focused on the present moment. In the book, “The Rise of Superman” (if you haven’t read it, do so now), Steven Kotler discusses Flow State. Kotler describes it as being “so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof.” Dr. Ilona Boniwell, a European leader in positive psychology, says, “The State of Flow happens under very specific conditions – when we encounter a challenge that is testing for our skills, and yet our skills and capacities are such that it is just about possible to meet this challenge. So both the challenge and the skills are at high levels, stretching us almost to the limit.” Flow State is very difficult to achieve. The perfect balance between challenge and skill must be met, and the result is a very elusive zone, which is tricky to replicate. In Kotler’s book, he describes action and adventure sports as the only way to consistently trigger this flow state. Flow state is often triggered by a sense of being close to death, which, in return, triggers the maximum sensation of being alive. Kotler describes it simply, “When you’re pushing the limits of ultimate human performance, the choice is stark: it’s flow or die.”

I remember the first time I experienced Flow. I was running Itunda Falls on the Nile River. Itunda is known for being one of the biggest rapids on the Victoria White Nile stretch of whitewater and is a rapid that, if not executed correctly, could be fatal. I recall Flow State kicking in as soon as I entered the rapid. My mind went completely blank, and I experienced a hyper-focused state in which every paddle stroke I took, every drop of water that hit my face, every little bit of it was a slow-motion, full experience. I felt nervous before entering the rapid, but as soon as I dropped in, my nerves faded, and I relaxed into a calm state of execution. While in that Flow State, I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do, perfectly. I made zero mistakes and had a perfect line through the rapid. It was the first time in my life that I felt I had 100% fully experienced something – not only in a physical sense but also in a mental and emotional sense as well.

“My favourite state of being.”

In a collaboration between The Outdoor Journal and Mercedez-Benz, I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of their sponsored athletes – free solo climber and BASE jumper, Steph Davis. When asked about Flow, Davis described it as, “the feeling of taking a deep breath, letting it out and feeling totally good and at ease with nothing else in my mind and truly in the moment.”

When performing high-risk activities, like BASE jumping, Davis says her brain has no choice but to enter a hyper-focused Flow State. “With BASE jumping and wingsuit BASE, getting there is pretty much guaranteed because it seems like there’s no choice but to enter that state of pure focus when leaving the edge – although it’s a pretty short-lived experience because BASE jumping is over very quickly.”

Read Next: Steph Davis: Flow, Focus, and Feeling in Control

The film, Free Solo, suggests Alex’s ability to achieve Flow State. When I spoke with Alex Honnold about the topic (also in a collaboration courtesy of his sponsor, Rivian), he shared a similar sentiment towards free solo climbing. “I think that has always been a big part of the pleasure in free soloing is that it forces you into that state more than other kinds of climbing do.” Alex says that he can tap into the Flow State while climbing with ropes as well, but it is rare and doesn’t come as easily.

For Davis, Flow State while free solo climbing isn’t as much a result of being close to death, but rather a result of getting away from external influences. “For me, a big factor for reaching focus, or Flow, is getting away from outside energy – so free soloing inherently works really well because you are alone.” No matter how she achieves Flow State, Davis can’t seem to get enough of it. “It’s my favorite state of being.”

The Science

According to Kotler’s book, Flow State originates in the brain. The release of five mood-boosting chemicals – dopamine, endorphins, norepinephrine, serotonin, and anandamide – creates a high that athletes, just like Davis, “can’t seem to get enough of”. It’s a wonderful experience – Flow State. So wonderful, in fact, that when you achieve it, it can become addictive. Dr. Ilona Boniwell describes the addiction to Flow State well. “Even activities that are morally good or neutral, like mountain climbing, chess or Playstation, can become addictive, so much that life without them can feel static, boring and meaningless. A simple non-gambling game on your computer, like solitaire, which many people use to ‘switch off’ for a few minutes, can take over your life. This happens when, instead of being a choice, a Flow-inducing activity becomes a necessity.”

Searching for Perfection

This addiction to Flow is different from an addiction to adrenaline. An athlete addicted to Flow is not an ‘adrenaline junkie’. They are not searching for that adrenaline rush that comes when you do something risky – like bungee jumping or skydiving. They are searching for perfection in what they are doing. Honnold says he is searching for the feeling of effortlessness. “When climbing feels good, when it feels effortless, when it feels flowy. That’s Flow State. And that is the appeal of climbing in a lot of ways is to get into that state. To feel like you’re doing something well and that you’re performing well.”

“I really belonged there and I wasn’t just scraping through it”

Davis says when she has had experiences BASE jumping in which something almost went wrong and she “got lucky” – which may be a situation where an adrenaline rush could be triggered – she is usually unhappy with that experience. “For me, it’s not really seeking an adrenaline burst. It’s more seeking the ability to do something that maybe should be impossible, and yet doing it in a way that’s actually pretty reasonable… When I’ve had those moments where it just barely worked out, and I almost felt that I got lucky, I’m usually really dissatisfied with that experience. I prefer to feel like I’ve entered the situation in a very calculated way. I’ve really prepared. I’ve gone through Plan B, Plan C, Plan D scenarios. I’ve tried to really think through everything that could ever go wrong and feel like I have a plan for that. And then when it starts happening, I feel like I’m very in control of the situation because I chose to get into it feeling like I’m really ready for it. To me, those are always the most satisfying outcomes. When I either land from a jump or top out a climb and I feel like, ‘wow, you know, I really belonged there and I wasn’t just scrapping through it’.” A perfect balance of challenge and skill.

But for Steph, addiction to Flow is not the main reason she continues pursuing these high-risk activities. For her, it is simply a way of life. “I’m 46 now and I’ve been climbing since I was 18, so my entire adult life I’ve been doing these sports in various forms… it is honestly really hard for me to imagine not being out in the mountains and the desert and just doing these things that I love doing.”

Thanks to Rivian and Mercedes for the interviews.

Cover photo: Vincent Kleine for She’s Mercedes.

Recent Articles



The Rise of Ironman

Few in the passionate throng who anticipate the annual Ironman race realize how close the original idea for the race was to being left for dead. This is the story of Ironman’s unlikely genesis.

White Death

Galvanised by their 6,000-meter ascent, a party of climbers disregard the most basic safety rule. The rescue worker is well reputed, but up there, life hangs by a thread.

Forever Moab

Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef…. Five of the most beautiful National Parks in the US are a stone’s throw from Moab, Utah, America’s capital city of extreme sports.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other