Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Buffalo, lions, and elands! Oh, my! This story is an all-out zoo, and each animal has its own set of associations, especially in comparison to their human counterparts.
Such remarks as Margot Macomber's back-handed reference to those "big cowy things that jump like hares" (1.91) are actually meant to represent the characteristics of the humans in the story – in this case, her husband, who is downright skittish. Elsewhere, Macomber confesses to Wilson that in facing the lion, "I bolted like a rabbit" (1.66). Yep, still skittish. If nothing else, the reference turns Macomber into the prey half of the prey-predator opposition – and rightly so.
Eventually, though, Macomber earns his manhood, which puts a stop to those unfortunate bunny-comparisons. Nevertheless, his newfound manhood does not last long though, and as he lies there, dead at his wife's hand, we can't help but compare him to the animal that lies dead next to him – the buffalo he killed. Really, Macomber, who came out on top in this scenario?
But Macomber also has his predator qualities, which Hemingway suggests through his associations with the lion. The rage and hatred Macomber felt earlier toward Wilson resembles the lion's hatred, "his big yellow eyes, narrowed with hate, looked straight ahead, only blinking when the pain came as he breathed […]" (3.15). Also, like the lion, Macomber experiences sickness in his stomach. Such parallels may align Macomber with the lion – a fierce animal, no doubt about it – but also with the prey to hunters. They are both shot and killed.
While animals may at first seem like not much more than the object of the hunt, in the end, we realize that there aren't many real differences between these animals and their human hunters, Macomber in particular.