Ernest Hemingway, lion hunter

Ernest Hemingway after a hunt
Author Ernest Hemingway posed with a lion shot during a safari in Africa in 1934.
Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum | Public domain via Wikipedia

The picture of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer grinning over the carcass of Cecil the lion has dominated social media for days. He isn't the first American to travel to Africa to hunt wild game, but judging by the recent uproar, he may be one of the last.

The American love affair with hunting safaris runs deep, all the way to President Theodore Roosevelt. Vox recently compiled a complete list of every animal Roosevelt and his son killed on safari: It numbers 512. That includes eight hippos, 29 zebras, two ostriches — and 17 lions.

The author Ernest Hemingway was also an avid hunter. In 1933, he spent three months on safari in Kenya and Tanzania. He kept a detailed journal of his experiences, writing:

Now it is pleasant to hunt something that you want very much over a long period of time, being outwitted, out-maneuvered, and failing at the end of each day, but having the hunt and knowing every time you are out that, sooner or later, your luck will change and that you will get the chance that you are seeking.

It's tempting to think Hemingway played a role in romanticizing big game hunting for Americans. He has his own grinning photo with a dead lion, after all. But when he turned his experiences into short stories, he skewered hunters rather than celebrated them.

Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" both feature men looking for adventure on African safaris, armed to the teeth and ready to take down game. His characters search for courage and masculinity on their safaris, but Hemingway serves them disappointment and disaster instead.

No one goes home with a lion head to mount on their dental clinic wall.

Hemingway's hunters are denied a happy ending — and, judging by the reactions on social media and across the internet, Walter Palmer may be, too.

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