In times past, a hunter would be lifted triumphantly aloft as the tribe celebrated wildly at his feet after he killed a black leopard. So why all the fuss when an animal of the same species is gunned down in 2018?
The tables have turned, and a mega-rich businessman is discovering that even his massive wealth is outweighed by the dead animal his group allegedly slaughtered. Black leopards (aka panthers) were among top jungle predators that terrorised our ancestors. Killing one would have been considered an act of extreme courage, bringing instant hero status and a tribal coming of age.
The opposite now applies, and the businessman and his party have learned it the hard way after being branded villains and cowards.
Things would be very different had the construction mogul killed a big cat that had strayed into his home, threatening his family and causing panic in the neighbourhood. He would still be on the front pages, but for a contrasting reason.
The moral of the black panther story is that you don’t kill the powerless “inferior” that poses no threat to you whatsoever. Our prehistoric ancestors had neither guns nor sophisticated tracking devices, so the playing field was pretty much level and the line blurred between predator and prey. Also, our forebears hunted for survival, not for fun.
No matter how rich and powerful you are, killing the powerless carries a risk. If you must do it, do it “fairly”. Had the hi-so group killed their prey with bow and arrow, the ensuing public outcry would be muted. But entering the forest with an arsenal capable of massacring a zoo naturally makes them a target for widespread anger.
Also natural is to wonder whether such a wealthy group will escape scot-free. News reporters are asking this very question, along with broadcasters, commentators and the general public. The scepticism is justified, yet it also reflects a misguided belief that jail time is the only penalty wrongdoers can suffer. As The Eagles put it so eloquently, “Your prison is walking through this world all alone.”
Jail is merely one form of punishment. People pay for their sins in different ways.
A photo of a senior police officer greeting the hi-so suspect in a highly deferential manner during the investigation has worried many observers. The one who should be most worried, though, is the accused himself, given the picture has been splashed across every news website and shared like wildfire on the social media. He must be wondering why a simple photo of an “innocent” greeting is creating such an uproar.
His world has been turned upside down. From the glittering heights of Forbes’ rich list, to a murky incident in the jungle. He now has little choice but to wage a “fair fight” in court. Any short cut to justice will come with long-lasting social stigma. The black panther likely died a quick death, but the suffering of its alleged killers is lasting a lot longer.
His business may be too big to fail, but his reputation is not, and a man of his status certainly knows which one really matters. The latter encompasses family members, close relatives, as well as those who work under him. Money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t stem the outpouring of sympathy for an endangered big cat and the abhorrence for illegal wildlife hunters it has triggered.
Meanwhile a report that the ranger’s vehicle was accompanied by the slain black panther’s mate, who “guided” it towards the group of suspects, may have been spiced up. But it nevertheless caught people’s imagination and drew even more sympathy for the victim.
Locals have expressed surprise at the public uproar. “We have been living in poor conditions for years and nobody cares,” one villager told reporters. “One tiger dies and our area is suddenly on everyone’s map.”
It was an intriguing remark but, again, the sincerity is what should worry the business mogul most. Why does the plight of a big black cat interest us more than the fate of human beings? How come an animal once perceived as an enemy of man has received such overwhelming sympathy, and at the expense of a tycoon who has graced Forbes’ rich list?
If the suspect is innocent, the social curse will be short-lived, and whatever “penalty” he has paid so far will be duly compensated. If he is not, the penalty is actually part of “payback” that may last a very long time, probably so long that prison time might offer some relief.