The Cherokee Nation is having a Cecil the Lion moment, and the outrage in Tahlequah is palpable. The victim went by the name Hollywood, a moniker the eight-year-old bull elk acquired because he did not fear human beings and seemed to love having his picture taken.
Hollywood’s stomping grounds were at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve, located near the Cherokee Nation capital in Tahlequah. The Wildlife Preserve is operated by the Nature Conservancy and is home to a herd of elk reintroduced to the Ozarks in 2005 after being extinguished by overhunting and habitat destruction more than 150 years ago.
Preserve Director Jeremy Tubbs told the Tulsa World that Hollywood “was always there, and we could direct people over there. People with kids could drive through, and it was almost guaranteed they would see him.… There are no other elk like that on the preserve; they are typically pretty secretive animals.”
Many of the Facebook comments by Cherokees are not fit for a family publication, but some of the less indecent language compared killing a tame elk in a nature preserve to spearing a goldfish in a bowl. Several Cherokees suggested staking out taxidermist studios, since Hollywood was a trophy kill. The perpetrator took his head and a very small amount of meat from a very large elk.
Descriptions included “cowardly,” “unsportsmanlike,” and a common comment was that whoever perpetrated this crime was “not a real hunter.”
There’s an old joke applied to several Indian languages that claims the word “vegetarian” translates into “poor hunter.” This is not about hunting, let alone subsistence hunting.
When I began this report, the Nature Conservancy had offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the poacher. While I was writing, the reward went up to $3,000 with contributions from Natureworks, the Oklahoma State Game Warden Association, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Operation Game Thief.
Operation Game Thief takes calls at 800-522-8039, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. It’s a bit of a stretch to call the perpetrator a “game thief” because real hunters don’t normally shoot animals accustomed to posing for photos.
There has been a lot of this going around, from Cecil the Lion in Africa to a sacred white moose in Canada. Most disgusting of all, some people teach their kids that shooting rare animals is a matter of pride.
The Cherokee word for elk literally translates to “big deer,” but public opinion in the Cherokee Nation appears to be that the killer of the big deer named Hollywood was an exceedingly small excuse for a human being.