Financial and Life Lessons We Can Learn from Dr. Walter Palmer’s Cecil the Black Maned Lion Debacle

I’ve been thinking about the story that has captivated the country over the past two days – how, if various news reports are to be believed, Dr. Walter J. Palmer of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, owner of a practice called River Bluff Dental in Bloomington, Minnesota, and two of his guides poached the beloved Cecil the Lion from a national park in Zimbabwe, luring him from the sanctuary where he was protected, injuring him with an arrow before tracking him for two days, shooting him, beheading him, skinning him, and leaving the body behind with plans to mount the trophy in his office.  The dentist, a big game hunter who donates tens of thousands of dollars to conservation efforts at auction in exchange for the right to cull rare animals at certain times or toward the end of their life cycle in a case of philanthropy meeting practicality, claims he was unaware that the aforementioned guides did not have the right to authorize the hunt, for which he paid an estimated $54,000 according to The New York Times.

In less than 72 hours after his identity was discovered, it would be easy to conclude that Walter Palmer’s world has fallen apart.  His business has been shut down (read the earlier linked Times article for more), his online reputation and ratings decimated, he’s had to refer patients to other dentists, he’s gone into hiding, and there’s no doubt he is, and will remain, a social pariah for many, many years, unwelcome everywhere from Christmas parties to restaurants.  His primary economic engine – the thing that generated the lifestyle that allowed him to live so well and took more than a decade of of hard work and advanced, expensive schooling – has been wrecked; permanent impairment that will be difficult, if not impossible, to recover.  Every day that goes by, he loses more and more money, not to mention more and more former (and would have been future) clients, while the costs of his practice remain in place, draining wealth.

Leaving aside the other issues that are being discussed elsewhere involving the ethics, morality, fairness, and appropriate, if any, punishment he should suffer, I want to John Stuart Mill the situation and extract the lessons we can learn from his suffering.  Like Justine Sacco, who had her life destroyed by a single, stupid Tweet (a Tweet that divides people fiercely if you get them into private conversation; some have said is blatantly, offensively, inexcusably racist, some contend was merely vapid or insensitive, and others say a reasonable person might have interpreted it as sardonicism intended to mock racial disparities and first world privilege, the nuance being lost in a world of black-and-white pixels and absence of context clues), Dr. Palmer has discovered in a world of smartphones, tablets, computers, watches, traffic cameras, security cameras, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Google, there’s not many places people can hide unless they remain off the grid.  (And it’s only going to get worse – computer scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have developed a new technique that can use thermal signatures to do facial recognition in the dark.)  If he happens to own a 10,000 acre ranch in Colorado, now would be the time to high-tail it to the cabin and sit on the porch with a cup of coffee because this thing isn’t going to go away anytime soon unless some larger news story bumps it off the cycle.  That is, of course, assuming he isn’t extradited for criminal poaching charges as some are attempting to have done.  He very well could be looking at the inside of an African jail cell for awhile.

1. Financial Independence Is Taken for Granted But When It Is Necessary, There’s No Substitute

Given his high income, it was probably unthinkable this time last week for Walter Palmer to contemplate that his source of cash flow could dry up.  If he was smart (and he very well may have been), he’d have used a lot of that money to acquire other, non-disclosed cash generating assets that are pumping out the dividends, interest, rents, and royalties we so often discuss.

Imagine he had a block of 12,100 shares of Exxon Mobil, the descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s old Standard Oil of New Jersey.  Not only is it still worth $1,000,000+, no matter how hated he is, he’s still getting his $2.92 cash dividend each year, or $35,332 per annum, from his cut of the oil, gas, chemical, refining, transportation, and other activities.  Every three months, he’d open his statement to see another $8,833 deposited.  It doesn’t matter if he is loved or despised.  It doesn’t matter if his reputation is in tatters.  It doesn’t matter if he loses his medical license or school children hiss at him in the street.  As long as his name is engraved on those stock certificates, his ownership still gives him the right – whether someone likes it or not – to collect his pro-rata share of the distributions.  Unlike a small business, you can’t exactly boycott Exxon Mobil over a single, relatively small investor (and everybody is relatively small to Exxon – the empire has a market capitalization of around one-third a trillion dollars).

Sure, there are times when this rule doesn’t hold – like the night Black Wall Street burned or the experience of equity investors in China prior to the communist takeover that plunged the country into generations of grinding poverty (a condition that only ended in recent times – those of you my age (32) and older probably still remember being told, “Eat your dinner, there are starving kids in China”) but overall, if it is violated in a rich, first-world country, you probably have bigger problems beyond a mere paycheck or your reputation.  You’re probably dodging bullets and running for the border.

2. Stealth Wealth Is Invaluable

The advantage here is that, unless you open your mouth, stocks can largely be hidden so people wouldn’t even know to boycott Exxon Mobil in the first place because nobody would have any clue he owned it!  There are almost no disclosure requirements under most circumstances for a U.S. based investor acquiring a U.S. based stock provided he or she doesn’t cross the 5% ownership threshold, which is easy to stay under even for billionaires given the size and scope of the domestic equity markets.  The same goes for bonds, REITs, (to some degree) MLPs, royalty unit trusts, and anything else that allows him to “disappear”, in a sense, into a broad crowd of thousands of other owners.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say if someone approached me with $5 billion tomorrow and said, “I want to make sure I always pay my taxes, and never do anything questionable, but you need to keep this entire empire hidden from sight so nobody has a clue I have more than a typical middle class fortune”, I could absolutely do it.  It’s not that hard once you understand the framework in which we are all operating.  Without a doubt, I could keep them from ever appearing on the Forbes list with no one, not even their own children, being clued in to the extent of their net worth.  It’d take some time but it is doable.

On that note, early this morning, I published a piece over at Investing for Beginners called Naming Your Family Trust.  One of the suggestions was a refrain heard by some attorneys, estate planners, and wealth managers these days who encourage investors, business owners, and other affluent individuals who are using trusts to pass on assets: Take advantage of the privacy trust funds can provide by using a generic or anonymous name.  Instead of calling something the “John Smith Family Trust”, consider, instead, naming it something like “General Midwestern Properties Trust”.  That way, any property held directly by the trust can’t be traced back to the family by outsiders without considerable effort and luck – for example, if it acquired an office building, the trust name is going to be on the title deed at the county recorder’s office, along with the assessed value and property taxes.  I guarantee that right now, somewhere, somehow, there is a reporter looking through property records for Walter Palmer trying to fill in more detail about his life.  If he happens to own duplexes or car washes, they’re going to be next up on the boycott list; another source of cash flow impaired.

If you really want to go dark – to take your stealth wealth full blown black ops as it were (legally and ethically, of course – we’re not going down the route of Afghanistan’s Hawala money laundering network) – there are a number of things you can do, such as using a combination of Nevada LLCs with generic names managed by the attorney-of-record and anonymous sounding trusts (perhaps even New Hampshire silent trusts) to hold those membership units.  Nobody except the IRS, and in a few cases, your state tax agency, is going to have any idea where the money is unless you screw up or have paperwork mailed to you, which you should most assuredly not do.  (Even then, when you look at families like the Rockefellers, to go back to our Exxon Mobil discussion, you could theoretically use entity-level taxation to avoid disclosing or having any record of the wealth on your personal tax return, making it hard for even the government to know the extent of your wealth, but it would take many millions, if not billions, of dollars to achieve that in any scale-efficient way and in almost all cases, why bother?  The Rockefellers were running part of the government itself back in the days when Nelson was the Vice President so they had motivation to conceal the extent of their ties to commerce, maintaining plausible deniability through a network of advisors overseeing dozens, now hundreds, of individual trusts and thousands of individual holdings.  Still, it’s an interesting intellectual case study for those of you who like this sort of thing – go back and look at the 1960-1970 behavior of the family office, the Senate testimony on the family holdings, and anything else you can find.  It’s a fun diversion.)

3. Be Careful About the People with Whom You Go Into Business – Their Reputation Is Now Your Reputation Risk

At the moment, I have no idea if Walter Palmer is the sole owner of the dental practice that is, as I type this, being boycotted up in Minnesota.  Imagine, though, he had other partners in the firm; others who worked just as hard, and had their own net worth tied up in the place.  They would be experiencing a financial emergency right now if they hadn’t prepared beforehand for a situation like this because of something someone else did; to which they were no party and, perhaps, of which they had no knowledge.

4. It’s Usually the Small Oversight Failures That Lead to Life-Altering Consequences

People like to think it’s the big stuff – tsunamis the size of mountains, hurricanes visible from space, coups overthrowing entire governments – that are the biggest risk.  And, sure, they are definitely worth attention.  (One example: Everyone in the insurance industry knows there’s something like a 1-in-10 probability that the Pacific Northwest is completely and totally destroyed within the next 30 years, killing 7+ million people and wiping out nearly all of Seattle and Portland.  Every few years, someone will write an article about it until it is once again forgotten; sort of like Berkshire Hathaway pulling back its hurricane premiums in the Gulf of Mexico due to warmer waters prior to the active hurricane season a few years ago that cost so many other insurance companies billions of dollars more than it should have.)

More often, it’s small oversights in critical engineering breakpoints.  Like the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 from a few rivets giving out due to shoddy welding, or a little too much sugar in the air at a sugar refinery turning the whole place into a bomb that levels multiple city blocks, all of this could have been avoided if Walter Palmer had checked his permit, ensuring it was legitimate; such a tiny thing.  (On a related note, this is one of the reason certain tool manufacturers have competitive moats in the investing world.  Wise management knows it.  It’s often been said if you aren’t going to be able to undercut the leading oil rig drill bit makers, even if they are charging more than a house for each drill bit, because you have potentially billions of dollars of liability exposure on the line.  Going with a less-tested product, from a less-known manufacturer, to save what isn’t even a rounding error despite being a lot of absolute dollars, isn’t rational.  Who behaves like that?)

The twin qualities of neatness and fastidious, done so gracefully they look effortless, can save a lifetime of work from being wiped off the board.  Cross your “i”s and dot your “t”s.  In the case of Walter Palmer: If you’re going to pay tens of thousands of dollars to kill the most famous lion on the planet – a lion who is so famous, in fact, that he has his own licensed image collection from photographers at major image repositories (the graphic at the top of this page is of Cecil the Black Maned Lion running in Africa prior to his murder) – you should not act surprised when everyone gets angry.

Generally, a good rule in life is to try and avoid anything that cause small children to weep uncontrollably and build tiny alters with stuffed animals in memory of whatever you destroyed.  You’d think this goes without saying but we apparently need to cover all of our bases these days.


  • FratMan

    If I were him, I would offer 75% off on all dental services for the rest of the year and appeal to my clients’ sense of forgiveness. If you appeal to people’s better natures, and give them super lucrative financial incentives to act on those better angels, things tend to work out.

    Then I’d cut my services in half for the next year. Earning half of something is better than 100% of nothing. It would continue to give me something to do and re-establish a routine.

    I would be extraordinarily kind spirited and seek forgiveness if any dental customers mentioned it during the visit.

    I would also be 100% forthright to avoid further escalation (e.g. not act like Tom Brady).

    Getting back to normal would be paramount. Hiding, or providing any potential for further escalation, would be avoided at all costs as it continues the story.

    My expectations would be cameras and harassment at the office throughout August, and some semblance of return to normalcy by September presuming none of my behavior adds new information to the story.

    The one caveat is the risk to personal safety, and even customer safety, of people knowing where I would be. Many of the statements on Twitter have been quite threatening, and a physical attack would be something to mitigate against.

    The problem with hiding is that the story comes back to life when you return. I’d prefer sharp pain for the short term over prolonged waves of moderate pain in the long term. Just get it all over with so you can move on.

    • blair1234

      The involuntary lifestyle adjustment he will face would be incredibly hard for me, so I feel for the dentist in that respect.

      Do you think it would have been better for him to maintain silence rather than issue a statement, given the likelihood that it would be perceived negatively? His defense that he thought it was legal seems unlikely to vindicate him. Like “The Dude” said, “You’re not wrong Walter, you’re just an asshole.” (

    • I agree with this. If he does not have black ops level stealth wealth as Joshua advocates, I would hold a major news conference, confess my sins, beg for forgiveness, and state that all the profits made from the dental practice for 1 calendar year will go towards nature conservation NGOs or charities. At the end of the year, I would hold another press conference and hand over the silly, larger than life cheque to said NGOs or charities.

    • Henrietta Atkin

      I think this is a great idea! I would certainly forgive the man if he did this; in fact, this is one of the ideas I had when wondering how he’s going to get his life back. But I have to add: if he promised to quit the “hobby” of killing animals, and donated lots of money to the preserve where Cecil lived, and to the study program at Oxford University. (They were studying Cecil and that’s now 10 years of research that’s ruined. His actions hurt many, many people who were invested in Cecil).

      But I wonder if he will realize that what he did was wrong? Seems to me that someone who actually likes watching and hearing an animal scream in pain (I’ve seen the videos of lions being hit with the high powered arrows that he uses, and it is agonizing) — does that person have the same type of connection to life that most of us do? Can such a person change?

  • blair1234

    This really is a very negative development for Dr. Palmer. A cascade effect like this is impossible to undo. The likes of conservationists, National Geographic, Steve Irwin, and Disney with The Lion King helped to set this one up for Dr. Palmer over many years.

    Joshua, your post about social capital comes to mind. Dr. Palmer seemed to be successful with positive social capital, but that same success will make many people unlikely to sympathize with him. It’s amazing how quickly social capital can be called away or reversed, like a magic trick that you’ve seen a hundred times–you know how it works, but your mind still refuses to accept it.

    Anyway, I can’t decide whether the crucial mistake for Dr. Palmer was killing Cecil, or choosing this sort of hunting as a hobby in the first place.

  • I guess in the Pacific Northwest you’re referring to the Cascadia fault line and the volcanos?

    • To live a fulfilling a rich life, there are two questions you can use to your advantage that, while they might sound facetious, are a wonderfully useful tool.

      1. Ask yourself, “Would Mr. Roger’s do this?” If the answer is “yes”, you aren’t likely to experience devastating life consequences so you’re probably safe.

      2. If the answer is “Maybe … it’s questionable”, ask yourself, “Would Auntie Mame do this?” If the answer is “yes”, screw the consequences and do it, anyway. It will probably be worth it, social and financial costs be damned.

      3. If the answer to both is, “No”, you’re probably being stupid. You should walk away.

      (P.S. You’re right when you guessed I was referring to Cascadia. I left expanding thoughts in another comment somewhere on this page if you want to read more about it.)

  • The wide-screen photo at the top of the page looks fantastic.

    • Henrietta Atkin

      Wasn’t he beautiful? And here’s how he ended up (this is not Cecil himself, but another trophy hunter’s kill after it was skinned and its face cut off. I don’t know about you, but I thought I had seen it all. This is a “hobby”? They mutilated this lion.

  • Rob

    Personally, I think this has become a bit overblown. If it were an illegal hunt, then yes he should be fined and subject to the appropriate legal penalties. However, if we are going to destroy a man for going on what he says he believed to be a valid/legal hunt…well there are a lot of other individuals who will have their lives destroyed as well. Not to mention any of us who eat meat (slaughterhouses are a discussion for another time).

    This story went viral for the obvious reasons (appeals to the masses, hunting is evil, cute/cuddly lion, etc). However, this man donates large sums of money for conservation efforts and in exchange is allowed to hunt animals that he may not normally be able to. I equate this to lumber mills cutting down trees for use, but plant new ones to replace those utilized. (I see the argument against this statement being ‘but he isn’t using the animal, it is purely for sport’ – which I can agree with but at the same time, would you feel any different if he had eaten animal and used his pelt for clothing or any other practical means?).

  • This reminds me of that thing Buffett says all the time about reputation:

    “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

  • Steven

    I somehow managed not to know about this until reading Joshua blog post.

    His behavior wasn’t the best, but certainly no reason for him to be Doxed.

    The outraged people looking to destroy a mans life are just as bad as he is in my mind.

    • Henrietta Atkin

      Actually those of us who are angry are not looking to ruin Dr. Palmer’s life. We are just sickened by the slaughter. (Check out a picture of a skinned, faceless lion with his head chopped off.) Dr. Palmer went ahead and did this AFTER they found the collar around Cecil’s neck. He wounded the animal first with his arrow, then let it suffer for 40 hours before killing it. He’s killed 43 animals in his life, and says that it’s his “hobby”. Oh, and he sexually harassed his secretary and paid her 127K in a settlement, then fired her. He’s also been up on felony charges for illegally killing a bear in this country.

      Is any of this enough to convince you of the fact that the man is an asshat? What I want to do is use the publicity to stop endangered animals (only 15,000 lions left in the world). Sport trophy hunters say that the money they give to wildlife agencies helps save lions. Then why are there so few left? And if people like Dr. Palmer were stopped from their gory, disgusting hobby (any idea of how bloody it is to skin a lion and chop off its head?) we wouldn’t even need the protective agencies.

      Most medical professionals, most men, go to third world countries and give their medical services for free to the poor who need it. Dr. Palmer spent 55K to kill a lion, and with it, most likely all Cecil’s children because rival lions will kill his cubs.

      The majority of people in this world are tired of rich people getting away with murdering endangered animals and sexually harassing their employees. Please join us.

      • The thing that gets me – and that few people in the broader public seem to be talking about right now – is the fact that the new male lion who takes over the pride will almost assuredly kill Cecil’s cubs as they are evolutionary prone to do to wipe out competing bloodlines. That means the 5 or 6 other cubs are going to die before they have a chance to mate and an “inferior”, if you will, gene set from the weaker-now-dominant male lion will be passed on to future generations. This has been going on for a few hundred years as trophy hunters try to pick off the biggest, strongest, fastest lions, leading to a dearth of quality in the subsequent reproductive populations; not a good recipe when dealing with dwindling stock.

        Perhaps, it can be argued, this is a good thing – we don’t exactly want a bunch of Tsavo Man-Eaters running around like we had in 1898; nine-foot, three-inch beasts that required eight men to lift. On the other hand, I can’t help but think it’s a tragedy for ecological diversity.

        Of course, as Thomas Sowell is prone to pointing out, folks don’t think about second and third-order effects even though those are the ones that have the longest lasting consequences.

        (As for Dr. Palmer, the previous allegations he lied to investigators over the location of a bear death in the United States, and the allegations the hunters on this trip attempted to remove Cecil’s tracking collar, covering up the crime, leads me to be disinclined to believe he was unaware of his actions. Looking into his background, there seems to be a pattern that makes one wonder about him though that’s neither here nor there since it’s not particularly relevant to the broader lessons that interest me; lessons that can be extracted for everybody’s benefit.)

        • Henrietta Atkin

          Good points, Josh. Sad about Cecil’s cubs — but maybe the pride won’t be threatened by rivals for a bit.

          I like the points you make about business and how much more transparent it is becoming simply because, as you said, we are all on the grid. It does seem that we are all having to find a common ethics.

      • Steven

        This post certainly reads like someone trying to ruin his life!

        I have no idea what he’s done in the past, but even if all your allegations are true it doesn’t justify the practice of destroying someone on the internet.

        It is not just his life that is getting ruined, these types of online attacks will impact his family members and employees also – surely you wouldn’t argue that they deserve this too?

        • Henrietta Atkin

          The sexual harassment isn’t an allegation. There are documents and the person who was harassed has already given an interview to the Daily Mail.

          If you play with fire, you get burned. What I’m surprised by in your post is nowhere do I see a sense of all the people that Dr. Palmer has hurt and wronged: the Oxford University team, the nation of Zimbabwe etc. etc.

          As for his family, I would have left him once I found out he was touching his employees breasts and buttocks, and making unwanted comments about them. But that’s just me.

      • I’m a bit confused if you are angry over all trophy hunting or just this guy, who is likely an unethical character based on what I’ve read.

        If it’s all hunting, then you need to look in to how paying for the preservation of these parks and animals is paid for. Whether we like it or not, the wild spaces have been in encroached on by people to the point that these animals have to provide some economical benefit or their savannahs, forests, and other areas will become farmland and they’ll be poached in to extinction.

        It’s been an amazing success in America. Ducks Unlimited and other organizations have done more to conserve habitat for ducks and deer that any governmental organization. Careful limits and national management have allowed their populations to recover and thrive in ways we haven’t seen in 100 years.

        A recent example would be the black rhino hunt sold for $350,000. That rhino was near the end of its life and was killing other rhinos. It had to be culled from the herd. It could be shot, or it could bring in huge revenue to fund their conservation program. And unfortunately they didn’t get near the revenue they should have because many rich hunters who would have liked to buy that permit didn’t want the bad PR.

        The question or issue is, are the African organizations running these in an ethical, intelligent matter, and do all the funds go toward what they should? If they’re not, then it certainly doesn’t help. If it is, it can have amazing affects, much like the rhino recovery in South Africa and elephants in Zimbabwe.

        My favorite example of all is the Oryx. That antelope is effectively extinct in Africa while it has enormous populations in Texas ranches that exist only due to the hunting revenue that pays for the conservation of the land and animals. They’ve actually done this with numerous African species. Texas had fewer than three dozen captive-bred scimitar-horned oryx; as of 2010, it had more than 11,000. During the same time period the number of captive-bred dama gazelles increased from nine to more than 800; the number of addax from two to more than 5,000.

        • Henrietta Atkin


          Don’t understand your confusion. Isn’t it obvious that I’m both angry at the loss of the lion that was lured out of the park, AND at Dr. Palmer?

          I just got another email from African Wildlife Foundation. Despite the moneys given by these trophy hunters to various charities, the lion population has declined by 42% in the last two decades. There are 30,000 lions left in Africa.

          Also, you can quote to me all the stats you want, but in my opinion you are not qualified to give them. A person who really understands about the lion population and the eco-systems they create and live in are scientists who have studied the population for DECADES.

          And, to a man, they are saying that the killing of Cecil — and other lions like him who get lured out of their protected preserves — is disturbing and wrong and has negative repercussions.

          In the same way, nearly every scientist is saying that we are experiencing global warming, but no matter how many times they testify to a sub committee in Washington, some politicians (not all) who have no experience in the matter find a way to distort the evidence — usually because they are protecting vested interests.

          I am not going to comment on this matter again, because if you can’t be convinced, then I won’t try.

          Even in nature, no animal kills another except to eat it or protect their territory. Killing for any other reason is against the most basic natural instincts of all of us.

          Before I had children, I gave any spare $$ I had to the Heifer Project which feeds the hungry. I make a lot less than Dr. Palmer. What you do with your spare 100s of thousands of dollars is your business — however, if I discover that you gave 127K to someone to hide your sexual harassment of them, and THEN paid 55K to kill a lion, after you’ve already killed two others, which belongs not to you, but to all of us who enjoyed and delighted in him, then yes, I am going to be angry at you.

        • I made no defense for the dentist at all and specifically said he’s likely an unethical hunter and guilty of at least looking the other way, if not illegal hunting. If that’s the case, I’m all for his punishment along with any other illegal hunting and poaching. I did not defend the killing of Cecil. I also specifically said the great weakness of these conservation programs is how they’re implemented and the poaching and corruption involved which you mention above as if I was unaware.

          Your general anger in my direction seems misplaced and you didn’t seem to really look at my comments. I also have no idea how you can determine my qualification to mention population numbers that are public and not particularly controversial.

          I simply laid out largely uncontroversial facts about US populations of endangered animals that are hunted, deer and duck populations as well as mentioned rhino and elephant populations in 2 countries that anyone could google and are held up as wins for animal conservation. I didn’t specifically mention any lion statistics.

        • Rob

          I agree, I think this has gone off the rails a bit. Also, I’ve read, enjoyed, and commented on this blog for years and this the first time I can remember someone trolling every comment in what appears to be a blind rage. @henrietta_atkin:disqus if you want to have a composed, empirical conversation about this issue I think we are all willing to do so…but attacking comments one by one is not really the best way to go about it, in my opinion.

        • Myopic Worldviews

          The rational side of my brain is thoughtfully aware that blind rage is a poor way to handle things, especially on an issue tangential to most people’s lives. The emotional side of my brain is OUTRAGED that you’re trying to silence my OUTRAGE which I’m ENTITLED to. Stop OPPRESSING me, @disqus_TiBcDKhgsW:disqus.

        • Thanks all. Thought it was just me.

        • Like @disqus_tzre7YH18P:disqus @disqus_TiBcDKhgsW:disqus and Myopic Worldviews have said, I think this conversation would be much more constructive if we compartmentalize the emotion of the story from the discussion Adam initiated.

          Using rationality to dissect the larger issue of animal conservation and how to go about improving it worldwide is far more productive than getting angry and using caps lock to shake our proverbial internet fist at the world.

          I think Adam brings up great points and examples of success in America. *If* hunting is going to occur regardless, we might as well regulate it properly and use the funds to conserve the vast majority of animal populations. Banning the practice will just drive it underground and the activity will continue illegally and without regulation and oversight. It’s the mental model of reactance and scarcity. Quoting Cialdini from Influence: “When our freedom to have something is limited, the item becomes less available… we experience an increased desire for it.”

        • Scott McCarthy

          How is it that there are 30,000 lions in Africa if, as you claim in your earlier comment, there are only 15,000 in the entire world? Why don’t I trust your numbers?

        • “Despite trophy hunting’s problems, most conservationists believe the positives still outweigh the negatives. The reality in Africa, they say, is that most animals, including elephants, rhinos and lions, are not killed by trophy hunters.

          Instead, they are killed by local residents for meat or in clashes as wild habitats shrink, Africa urbanizes and the continent’s population grows at the fastest pace in the world. But above all, the animals are illegally slaughtered by highly organized, heavily-armed poachers who sell ivory and organs, mostly to Chinese markets.”

  • Steve Roberts

    Would you please provide a reference to the “1 in 10 probability that the Pacific Northwest is completely and totally destroyed within the next 30 years”? It seems a bit extreme (unlike you). I assume you are referencing a large volcano eruption (vs tsunami or asteroid impact)

    • It’s funny because it doesn’t even cross my mind as extreme due to my habit of looking at the world through numbers and it having been on my list of low probability/high consequence events for awhile. (On a related note, Aaron and I are one of only two households of which I am aware who specifically paid to have a rider written for our personal and business insurance contracts to include earthquake coverage in case the new Madrid fault goes. It’s been 200 years since the last big one but we’re overdue for another so it seemed like the thing to do. The insurance agent had to look into it because she didn’t know if it was possible – she thought we were kidding – but the firms involved were willing to arrange it for what amounted to less than the cost of a single dinner.)

      It involevs the Cascadia fault line and a confluence of factors, working together, that create a catastrophic feedback loop. For the pacific Northwest along the said fault line, there are two scenarios that the government, scientists, and FEMA contemplate. One is “the big one”, which is really bad – billions in damage, thousands or tens of thousands dead; typically a 1-in-500 year event. The other is “God help us” – millions upon millions dead, long-term population decline, catastrophic wipeout. It is the latter I referenced and about which you are asking now. It is the “God help us” scenario that is overdue and recently got another round of press coverage in what is now a famous New Yorker article that will, like so many other issues, be completely forgotten in a couple of years.

      The specific probability expectations differ slightly among scientists for the “God help us” event so its rough by necessity. For the sake of simplicity, I took The New Yorker’s number but having this in my ‘risk files’ for a couple of years, there are definitely different projections out there of which I’m aware, including, for example, those of Dr. Michio Kaku, the Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York. He puts the worst-case situation in which it’s all wiped out at around 1 in 10 over the next 50 (rather than 30 years). John Vidale, the director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which is a joint project between the University of Washington and the University of Oregon, puts the probability at 15%, or 1 in 6.67 odds, over the next 50 (rather than 30) years, though I had to laugh recently when I came across an interview with him in which he said, and I’m paraphrasing, “If the chance it will come is 15%, the chance it won’t come is 85% but you don’t need to worry about that because you might not live 50 years anyway, and there are a lot of people working on it. The smaller one is more likely.”

      A huge reason for this is because many of the buildings, infrastructure, and skyscrapers in Oregon and Seattle were built prior to the knowledge that it was sitting on one of the most destructive fault lines in the world. If it happens, the older skyscrapers are going to collapse (Portland didn’t start implementing earthquake protections in building codes in any meaningful sense until the 1990’s!). The powers that be have been working to quietly correct this but if it happened tomorrow, it’d be horrific. Paradoxically, for example, most of the projections I’ve seen make it look like Portland will be hit much harder even though it’s further away because the roads, bridges, and buildings mostly aren’t equipped to deal with it. (The interview to which I linked for Vidale includes a co-interview with Sandi Doughton, a science writer at The Seattle Times, who points out the gas lines that supply Portland are build on ground that is going to liquify so there are second and third order effects that then set off their own lollapalooza effects. That’s the problem – it’s not just the earthquake or tsunami, it’s everything working together since society built the cities in ignorance, unaware it was on a time bomb.)

      The policy makers remind me of the Citibank building disaster in New York City a couple of decades ago. The engineers and architects built this beautiful skyscraper but there was an error in the design that, depending on the circumstances a 1-in-16 year or a 1-in-55 year wind could have caused the whole thing to collapse, killing everyone inside. They didn’t want to panic the public so for months, these construction guys would work on the building at night, retrofitting it without explaining what was really happening. It’s sort of like that – only for an entire coastline.

      Oregon began working overtime on fixing itself – still only assuming the lesser bad of the two scenarios (the 500 year event) – back in 2013 when the the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission published a draft of its findings and projections. The lower-damage, higher-probability event would cost an estimated $32 billion, kill up to 10,000 people, and it would take 1 to 3 years for drinking water and sewage facilities to be restored, 3 years for healthcare facilities to be restored on the coast (18 months in the valley), 1 to 3 months for electricity in the valley / 3 to 6 months for electricity on the coast, 2 to 4 months for police and fire stations to be operational. They don’t even seem to look at the “God help us” scenario because, if you research it elsewhere, it generally is hard to conclude that it wouldn’t matter. The state, for all intents and purposes, wouldn’t exist in any functioning sense. It’d be a wasteland that had be rebuilt from scratch using Federal and global resources.

      Is there anything, specifically, you’re seeking? Pull all of the scientific, government, public utility, and insurance data you can on “Cascadia” and you’ll have a few weeks’ worth of reading, looking at how it might play out depending on when it happens (e.g., if it’s summer, and people are on the beaches, it’s going to be a lot worse than if it’s the middle of the night in winter).

      • Ang

        I would eagerly await the piece on car manufacturers and technology risk. Are you referring to the gradient of acceptability in engineering? I.E. – things can be “broken” up to a certain degree?

        Reminds me of what I read in this new yorker article:

        Also a side note – would the reenactment of glass-steagall in effect fix the risk profile with banks that you are talking about? Once investment is separated from the commercial side, would banks still have exposure to reinsurance risk?

      • As someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, I feel incredibly blessed by the geological lottery won by the region over the past few centuries – the fact that a devastating earthquake or two didn’t occur at this specific range of time, during this specific phase of the civilization’s development, etc etc. When you back out and think about it, it’s unreal the luck involved, the things that did not occur that statistically could have, that has led to the development of such a prosperous West Coast of North America.

        • A humble geologist

          Unfortunately, a lack of devastating earthquake within an active subduction zone is an ominous sign of things to come. Stress accumulates at a (mostly) constant rate within all subduction zones, and the Cascadia zone is no exception. Having no appreciable earthquakes in the region indicates that energy is being accrued deep within the earth. When the fault ruptures, decades’ worth of stored energy is released in mere seconds – resulting in an earthquake. Personally, I’d feel much safer if we had moderate earthquakes once a month that causes minor headaches (rattling furniture, some things falling off shelves) rather than one “big one” that occurs once every century. You can compare this process to active volcanoes, which also “accrue” energy until a tipping point is reached and the volcano erupts. Famous volcanoes of the past (Yellowstone, Toba, Crater Lake, Krakatoa, St. Helens) and future (Yellowstone again) erupt infrequently but with devastating results every time. In contrast, Kilauea volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983, thus relieving the pressure as it accumulates.

          The New Madrid fault zone mentioned above would be a source of intraplate earthquakes, which are invariably weaker than megathrusts – anything within the North American plate is unlikely to exceed a magnitude 8. However, the lower energy released doesn’t mean less damage because the infrastructure and building codes in the area are woefully unprepared. The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a relatively piddly 7 Mw, but completely wrecked the capital. It’s like how some northern U.S. states get meters of lake-effect snow annually and business rolls along as usual, but the southern states literally shut down if they get a couple centimeters of accumulation.

        • Derek

          Along with the lower level of preparedness, do you believe a New Madrid quake would see the energy transmitted over greater distances and therefore cause more damage than a similar earthquake would on the west coast? I know it surprised people when the magnitude 5.8 quake that occurred in Virginia back in 2011 was felt from Atlanta to Quebec City.

        • A humble geologist

          Two factors are at play here which counteract one another:
          1) The landmass east of the Rockies does indeed transmit earthquake energy across greater distances than out west. Now consider the fact that earthquakes don’t directly kill people. Instead, earthquakes cause building & infrastructure collapses, tsunamis, landslides, sewage/electrical/chemical/fossil fuel releases from storage facilities or transmission lines, etc. These earthquake-induced disasters are what actually kill people. Therefore, an earthquake affecting a huge area that’s unprepared for such a disaster is, in many ways, more deadly than a massive surge of energy focused in a remote region. The two most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, each releasing an energy equivalent of ~100,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs, claimed a (relatively small) total of a few thousand people because they occurred in remote areas and the gargantuan energy output was mostly confined to those areas.
          2) An earthquake’s energy spread out over greater distances is, in general, a less-destructive earthquake. This is because an earthquake’s energy travels outward in all directions (becomes “thinner” the farther out you go) and attenuates as it travels (naturally imparts its energy to its surroundings, in the same way a shout becomes fainter with distance or through walls). Let’s take the 2011 Virginia earthquake as an example: at 5.8 Mw, it released a total energy equating to half of the Hiroshima “Little Boy” bomb’s explosive energy. However, this energy was spread out over the eastern half of North America, greatly diluting the energy that, if concentrated, would’ve caused severe damage to life and property. Combine this point with the fact that intraplate earthquakes simply can’t produce super-powerful earthquakes, further mitigating the potential risk.

          Seismology isn’t my specialty, so I can’t give you a confident answer one way or another. However, I suspect even a seismologist would tell you that there are way too many variables on the field to make any kind of generalized statement. The most intelligent way to act is look for at the USGS’s hazard maps and determine the relative vulnerability where you live. If you’re in a position to do so, you fortify your infrastructure if the risk is high, buy catastrophic insurance if the risk is medium or higher, and keep emergency preparedness supplies in your home, vehicle, and workplace even if there is no perceived risk. Emergency preparedness is for ALL black-swan, low-frequency-high-impact events out there – like terrorist attacks and geomagnetic storms – not just earthquakes.

        • Derek

          Thanks for the insightful response!

        • Thanks for all the great discussion of the Cascadia fault line. I have family in the Pacific Northwest. Hopefully I can convince them to be prepared…

        • A humble geologist

          If you can, please convince them to assemble 72-hour bags (an earthquake can come and go in 30 seconds, but help may not arrive for 3 days) and a map of the area with a “family emergency plan” enclosed – if a disaster strikes when the family is separated, the “emergency plan” increases the chances of regrouping because normal communication channels will probably be clogged (if not damaged or destroyed) and iPhones don’t last long when the grid is down. “Let’s meet at X hospital, or at Y police station if the hospital’s been destroyed. If someone can give you access to Google Person Finder, please let us know you’re alive, and where you intend to go to. Search for people who are ham radio operators because they will most likely be coordinating localized responses and directing people toward aid centers.”

          Aside from the practical uses of the emergency plan, it plays an important psychological role of buoying hope and providing a set of priorities to accomplish. Without a set of goals, even mature, successful people will freeze, despair, and/or make poor decisions during times of uncertainty. This makes them prone to frivolous energy expenditure at best, and be vulnerable to exploitation at worst.

      • Steve Roberts

        I first want to apologize. “Extreme” was probably a poor choice. I meant no offense. You filled the article with 11 links and while everything else made sense, that one line didn’t at the time.

        Wow – That’s the last time I ever ask YOU for more information. I’ll now be reading/analyzing/investigating this for the next 6 months.

  • Everybody in America wants to save African species but we seem to be failing miserable due to the lack of infrastructure, poverty, corruption and other issues. I’ve never seen anybody propose this idea, but I’m curious if everybody can poke holes in it or not.

    Set up public or private nature preserves in the US in habitat similar to the animals needs (forest / mountains for gorillas, savannah for rhinos, etc), bring in enough genetic diversity for breeding, and simply let them loose here. I feel like 90% of the what plagues African conservation wouldn’t be a problem here and the populations would explode.

    Easy to keep the land from development. No poverty driven poaching. Minimal corruption. Strong infrastructure. Just put it under the game and fish organization. Thoughts?

  • Henrietta Atkin


    Thanks for sharing. I agree that Donald Trump, Jr., as well as Jimmy John Liautaud, R. Lee Ermey (actor from “Full Metal Jacket”) have the same culpability as Dr. Palmer, and indeed, the public does need to know about their actions.

    OK, and now to address your question: “Why is there no widespread rage against them as opposed to Dr. Palmer”?

    OG, give me a break. This is not really a question, because you ALREADY KNOW that the answer is: “Because Dr. Palmer RECENTLY killed this lion and it was a famous one.” You are intelligent, so quit acting dumb and asking questions you already know the answer to.

    On the other hand, the one good thing that might come from Cecil’s death is that ALL these people need to be held accountable for their trophy hunting.

    How can I help, you might ask? Finally, a relevant question! By keeping trophy hunters in the public eye, by petitioning to get laws changed banning bringing in dead lion’s paws, skins and heads into the country.

    Personally, I have boycotted Jimmy John’s for 2 years and will never eat there.

  • Austin from TX

    Hey Josh- Not sure if you came across this a few months ago where the owner imposed a salary floor of 70,000 for all employees. The link below is an update. I foresee him having very talented low end jobs with low quality high end people- not really conducive to long term growth. I’m sick of that lion and sick of the planned parenthood smear campaign. I think he should use the negative press to cater to affluent, big game hunting clientele. Think of how ridicuous he could make his waiting room? Think of the stories his customers and waiting room could swap? Why not set up a dentist office at an exotic ranch? I can see the packages offered- Root Canal and Rhino Bundle. Clean your teeth while we clean your kill. TM

  • I wasn’t sure what the focus was going to be when I first clicked on the post title, but great job on distilling life lessons from the debacle! In my own life I find that it’s a concurrency of multiple small issues that together make times potentially difficult.

    Though I’m not personally a hunter nor do I condone the action of the recreational hunt, it speaks so much about the teeming masses that in effect what’s occurring on his digital life is the new scarlet letter. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some kind of secret support group in existence or in the works for this kind of thing – how sad.

  • Todd

    What is more protected from legal action and creditors Trust Funds, 401Ks, Traditional IRAs , Roth IRAs. Let say some was to inherit 500,000 dollars, would it be best to put it into a Trust Fund or max out one’s Roth 401k’s and Roth IRA’s.
    Then have the beneficiary stretch the 401’k and IRA’s out when you pass? And that person was over 50 year old so he could put away 23,000 in Roth 401k and 6,500 Roth IRA and spouse under 50 could put 5,500 in a Roth IRA for a total of 35,000 a year.

    • This is the second weird coincidence on the site this week … I’m working on (right now, the window is open and I’m writing it) a post about IRA bankruptcy and asset protection limits.

      The chances you would ask this, at this moment, in the few hours before I publish it, are tiny. Unless I’m living in Vanilla Sky and none of you exist. As the kids say 2SPOOKY4ME.

      I might be able to get it on the servers tonight but I have some other things I need to finish today, including a meeting at 4:30, which is what prompted it (I’m helping a friend go over her retirement planning and she owns an operating business so asset protection might be important years, or decades, from now, which will play into the decisions made).

      Bottom line: It’s complicated but generally speaking, spendthrift trusts are great for asset protection. Qualified retirement plans have unlimited bankruptcy protection (e.g., if you are self-employed and set up a SEP-IRA, you could have $30 million in it, go bankrupt, and it’s all off limits to creditors, which is why you should almost never make early withdrawals), other plans such as Roth IRAs have an inflation-adjusted bankruptcy limit (right now, the 2015 limits on Roth holdings comes to $1,245,475).

      It would depend on what the person was attempting to do, protect himself/his spouse or protect his kids and grandkids. Even then, if it were me – and this is not advice just an observation – I’d probably fully fund the retirement accounts, name the beneficiary as a spendthrift trust, and they’d be out of the hands of potential creditors forever if done right. The reason I say this is because the Supreme Court recently handed down a ruling saying inherited retirement accounts aren’t entitled to the same protection as self-settled retirement accounts so you couldn’t leave the 401k/IRA to the kids directly, you’d have to leave it to a trust.

      I have to run so I don’t have a chance to edit this but I hope that gives you somewhat rough answer to your question in the meantime.

      • Todd

        Thanks Joshua, You and this blog gets me to think which I just love. It is a real brain stimulator. Have to go help
        my brother bail hay. Yes I live in Iowa and it is hot out.

      • A figment of your imagination

        Sounds like Baader-Meinhof triggering after you and your readers have been psychologically primed with all the discussions of how Walter Palmer could possibly salvae his career.

        Or maybe you’re just having an existential crisis. SpooooOOOOOOOooooookyyyyyyy

        • figments can’t spell


    • Mike

      Hey Todd, I just thought I should mention that there is somewhat of a delicate balancing act involved in creditor protection and bankruptcy protection. The reason I mention this is that many people like to forget what the worst case scenario of going to bankruptcy court can be – a denial of discharge. Unfortunately, some of the things that could be most effective against creditors outside of bankruptcy court will not be seen too kindly by a judge and he could deny your discharge, which makes you totally screwed.

  • Todd

    Just one more question about protecting assets. If one was to get a divorce would one’s Individual IRA have to be split with spouse.

    • The short answer: Divorce decrees, and IRS tax liens, are pretty much the only two things that, with rare exception, can reach IRA assets. The IRA will most likely be divided in the marital estate, depending upon the circumstances, but the good news is that according to I.R.C. §408(d)(6) of the tax code, if the judge issues the order as part of the dissolution process, it doesn’t count as an early withdrawal so it’s all tax-free. The spouse will set up an IRA of his or her own and you’ll have your custodian transfer the correct amount of assets to their new IRA from your existing IRA.

      There are all sorts of mitigating factors, of course. If the other spouse has some $10 million trust fund from an accident that will provide security for life, in some states, the judge may decide that basic fairness requires the IRA to remain with the now-poorer spouse or something. Or not.

  • fbcx

    Actually, this has been done in Texas at the YO Ranch in SW Texas. They began importing certain endangered African antelope and similar animals years ago. Now they have the largest herd in the world and have begun to send some of their herd back to Africa to repopulate depleted herds there. Yes, they partially fund this endeavor by selling hunting rights for these rare animals, but the positive benefits of the activity far outweigh the seemingly negative issue of big bad game hunters killing “Bambi”. As a matter of fact, some of the imported creatures escaped and are so much more successful foragers that they are out competing native deer for feed and their numbers have exploded. Since they are non-native species there is “no season” on them and they can be freely killed at any time by hunters, which usually turn out to be local ranchers and farmers protecting fields and forage for competing native species. But don’t think these kills are wasted. Many carcases are donated to local food banks to help provide nutrition to needy families.

  • Jeb

    These social media tragedies are often quite interesting to follow. There is only a limited time of a few weeks for people and organizations to capitalize on the publicity. Then our attention is focused on the next “crisis” or calamity. Lessons can be learned here too whether it is media in general pumping out the stories, real or fake (hoax of Cecil’s so-called brother also shot and killed), and those just chiming in via twitter hashtags to grow followers, #LionLivesMatter, and television audiences like Jimmy Kimmel.

    There is always money to be made as well by tugging on heart strings. Jimmy Kimmel’s fake tears also brought in over half a million dollars to researchers ( Other charities also so a great influx with this comments section being no different for someone to plead their case for funds. Then there are the money-makers disguised as charity with profits being donated by Cecil the Lion Beanie Babies (,,20942501,00.html).

    Politicians too must strike while they can to grab attention, funding and future votes. Both the U.S. and U.N. trying to quickly pass new, more stringent laws while failing to enforce laws already on the books that outlaw illegal trafficking in endangered animals. ( That last news report does an excellent job of hitting all the SEO marks by including the Oxford researcher and a picture of an artist outside the dentist’s office who is using the attention to gather fame and money for himself.

    If you missed this crisis don’t worry. There will be another tragedy/calamity/faux pas next month. If you believe the world is heading in a downward cycle because of all the “troubles”, it means it is time for you to check out of news media for a while. A summer vacation is a great opportunity. We’ll all be here when you get back.

  • Marc Seewald

    I think I would honestly just change my name in a year from now. By that time the mainstream media will have completely forgotten about Walter Palmer and while the extremely righteous won’t forget, it is likely that they will continue to look for evidence of the original re-starting his business.

    1 Year from now the vast majority of people won’t remember his face, a solid majority probably won’t remember his name and only a tiny minority will even still be thinking about him. He should be able to re-start his practice under a new name and enjoy a relatively smooth transition back into normal life. It’s what I would do in his case… the internet may be very good at burning people’s reputations and keeping a record of that public shaming, but it has a TERRIBLE attention span… change your name once attention has passed and it isn’t likely that the shaming will follow you to your new name.

    Assuming he doesn’t get arrested and spend time in African jail…

  • Vicious Buuuuurn

    Let’s see what an actual Zimbabwean has to say about this:

    Americans who can’t find Zimbabwe on a map are applauding the nation’s demand for the extradition of the dentist, unaware that a baby elephant was reportedly slaughtered for our president’s most recent birthday banquet.

  • Ang

    Some satire on this is already coming out:

  • Ronivan Fontanez

    A lesson learned here: as long you have money and life in US you can do as you please. You can go to poor countries, pollute, poach, do whatever you will, just flee to US before you get caught. Then you just need to wait to be render innocent, because poor countries need US support or market support, tourists, etc.
    Perhaps 20 or 30 years from now lions will be or extincted ore living only in zoos. Then perhaps they will stop, or try to hunt another animal until extinction, or try to hunt humans, because small animals don’t give any fun. Disgusting.


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