Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
Sporadically, I watch the “Outdoor” channel on cable TV in a recurring attempt to understand the mind-set of trophy hunters and why they seem able to take the life of a wild animal so glibly and gleefully without regard for its suffering, respect for its natural habitation, or (in some cases) concern for its nursing offspring.
I still don’t understand their apparent callousness. They seem devoid of empathy. Some have suggested that killing gives hunters a feeling of heroism, which is confirmed by the admiration of those who see the animal’s head mounted on their wall. However, in my view, trophy hunting represents a thirst for victory and domination—motives that hardly seem ‘heroic’ in any ordinary sense. The exertion of power over another individual (slavery, oppression) or the urge to take its life (predation) seem like the very antithesis of heroism, which is usually associated with acts of rescue or salvation. Genuine heroism seeks to protect life, not destroy it.
Jim Burnsworth, who produces hunting videos for BowTech called “Western Extreme” which are seen on the Outdoor channel (http://www.outdoorchannel.com/show.aspx?show-id=1044), is exhilarated when he shoots a 14-point white-tail buck, an adult elephant, and an African lion with his bow. On one show, Jim eagerly joins Mexican safari hosts in the Sonora Desert to “conserve” big horn sheep. He makes it clear that he believes hunting is equivalent to conservation. For example, he cites “excess” elephant population in the Zimbabwe preserve as justification for culling them, and claims that “every animal [species] on the planet has to be managed.” But is that true or false? Do the Sonoran big horn sheep or African elephants really need us to help them survive by shooting them? That is a strange and dubious rationale. After downing the buck, elephant, and lion, Jim declares that tagging each prize was one of his “childhood dreams” and that tagging his first buck and his first bull “rank up there with his wedding day and the days that his 5 kids were born.”
Ted Nugent, a rock musician who advocates hunting, claims “it’s in our blood, it’s part of our DNA” to hunt, just as it’s in a man’s nature inevitably to look at a beautiful woman. But is that true or false? For all Nugent’s praise of personal freedom and pursuit of his own happiness, he seems blind to the anomaly that human freedom is the very quality that allows us to avoid killing, to be unlike predatory animals. But ethics plays no part in Nugent’s philosophy, which is reducible to a Darwinian survivalist model.*
South Fork Outfitting, a safari company in western Illinois whose videos appear on “Headhunters TV” on the Outdoor channel (http://southforkhunts.com/about/about-us/), employs the current euphemism “harvesting” to describe the opportunities it provides its clients to hunt “a trophy whitetail deer of a lifetime.” It promises “you will show up as a client, and leave as one of the boys!… This is the place where a hunter’s dreams really do come true… At any one moment a world class whitetail can present himself, and you’ll be here to close the deal!”—a licentious use of language, since a “deal” is otherwise used to describe something both parties agree to. On its elk hunting video, South Fork boasts in a masculine, alluring voice, “This is where boys become men and men become boys.” Sort of makes you wonder how boyhood dreams are influenced and what male maturity entails.
What I do know is that hunting is BIG BUSINESS in this country, so money gained from the selling of rifles, scopes, bows, bait, and safaris drives this so-called “sport.” Cabela’s (http://www.Cabelas.com/), a major outfitting store that also sponsors hunting docu-videos on the Outdoor channel, appends the following motto to their TV advertising, which implies a dubious justification for this kind of lethal “adventure”: “It’s In Your Nature.” Thus, even murdering defenseless animals can be called “natural” in this age of euphemisms. The Chifuti Safari company (chifutisafaris.com), which hosts “big game” hunts in Zimbabwe, has been a thriving business for two decades, boasting it “has made their reputation by offering the finest in classic dangerous game hunting available in Africa today.” The Dallas Safari Club (www.biggame.org) claims that “Nearly 700,000 Americans will go hunting outside of U.S. borders in the next two years.” HeadHunters International (http://www.headhuntershunttexas.com/) is another Texas-based hunting company—one of many that claim to be “conserving natural resources.” Safari company web sites typically provide a rationale for what they do, revealed in slogans and mission statements. Here’s just one example:
The Dallas Safari Club
DSC’s slogan reads: “More Than A Club. A Way of Life.” The home page of its web site boasts “a Grant in aid program that contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to programs and projects promoting our mission to conserve wildlife and wilderness lands, to educate youth and the general public and to promote and protect the rights and interests of hunters worldwide.”
While DSC’s mission statement claims to support “the causes of wildlife and habitat conservation around the world,” and grants money “for conservation, education and hunter advocacy efforts worldwide”, its focus seems clearly on the latter—that is, to ensure that “game” animals will be available to perpetuate trophy hunting as a business. Its support of the Dallas Ecological Foundation’s (www.dallasecologicalfoundation.org) popular “Outdoor Adventures” program in Texas public schools includes the “Shooting Archery Field Excellency Trials for Youth” (S.A.F.E.T.Y.) and youth outreach programs, which “send children on outdoor adventures” that DSC claims have “turned youth into budding sportsmen and conservationists by the thousands.”
The Dallas Safari Club has come up with what it believes is a solution to help save the black rhinos, a critically endangered species that has been reduced by poaching from 65,000 individuals in 1970 to only 2,300 in 1993. In the name of conservation, DSC announced that during its January 2014 convention it plans to auction off a special permit that will give the winner a chance to kill one of Namibia’s 1,800 black rhinos. DSC Executive Director Ben Carter expects the permit will go for $750,000 and that killing one black rhino can be justified by donating the money it raises to the Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’s Black Rhino. Proffering a strangely counterintuitive claim, Carter told the Dallas Observer, “The whole model of wildlife conservation, of sustainable-use conservation, is that any resource, if it has a value, it will stay there, it will continue to flourish.” Unfortunately, giving a species economic value is precisely what got rhinos into their present predicament.
All this sounds to me like a euphemistic attempt to (falsely) equate game- or trophy-hunting with conservation. How does killing a threatened species—like the African lion—contribute to its conservation? One cannot claim that their overpopulation necessitates “culling” the herd. How does ‘turning youth into budding sportsmen’ enhance their appreciation and respect for the rights and interests of rare animals? If DSC’s primary purpose is “to promote and protect the rights and interests of hunters worldwide”, then it ought to be deprived of a non-profit tax-exempt status like any other political advocacy group.
In a declaration of “Industry News” (dated May 7, 2013), DSC boasted that the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, which met for a conference in April in Budapest, Hungary, had adopted its lion-hunting policy, which urges lion hunters to “self-impose harvest restrictions.” Notwithstanding abuse of the term “harvest”, DSC’s self-regulating policy defines “the ideal huntable male African lion” and urges hunters and other safari companies to limit kills by the same criteria. The definition reads:
“The ideal huntable male lion is at least six years of age and is not known to head a pride or be part of a coalition heading a pride with dependent cubs.”
According to DSC, “research shows that hunting older male lions has no negative effect on populations.”
To further encourage selective hunting, DSC adopted a new club policy: “No DSC member will be eligible for any DSC recognition or trophy award unless the member’s lion trophy submission is a fully mature lion as determined in the sole discretion of the DSC awards committee.” DSC claims that “Responsible lion hunting, based on the latest science-based wildlife management principles, is a proven essential component of the complex policy formula that will preserve wild African lions and their habitat for future generations.”
Regardless whether hunting older male lions reduces overall population figures, DSC’s treatment of animals as either trophies or commodities raises four critical questions: (1) Why does a youth-oriented outdoor “adventure” need to include killing? (2) Why does any conservation-minded “sportsman” need to receive an award or recognition for bagging a magnificent mammal? (3) Is self-regulation adequate to curtail the reduction in lion populations and allowable kill quotas, given the fact that poaching and illegal trade persist and that self-restraint has failed to conserve the wild tiger population in Asia? (4) Are safari companies more concerned about the “future generations” of hunter-clients than that of the animals hunted?
Hunters (mostly men) generally defend their “sport” by appealing to its longstanding custom or tradition—and by claiming that a “clean, quick kill” is more humane than factory farming and slaughterhouse practices (although death by an arrow is not as quick as by a bullet). However, these trophy hunters are not doing it to subsist or to eat. They do it for the thrill and the glory—which is why they pose gleefully for a snapshot over their “prize” as if they had just won the Super Bowl. It’s an expression of the same macho pride and arrogance to which Dodge truck ads appeal with the phrase, “Guts, Glory, Ram!” One client on an African safari fired off 5 or 6 rounds into a mature lion, then leaped for joy, yelling “I got my lion—something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little boy!” (Notice the possessive, “MY lion”). What continues to dumbfound me is the apparent lack of empathy and respect for the animal in its own natural habitat. The lion is at home; the hunter is the intruder.
Like naturalist John Muir, president Theodore Roosevelt loved the grandeur of wilderness and sought to preserve it in pristine condition. Under his administration, the Antiquities Act of 1906 was passed and the National Parks system flourished. However, Roosevelt also enjoyed hunting. In 1883, as a young 24-year-old politician from New York City, Roosevelt became alarmed about reports that the vast herds of buffalo that had once blanketed the Great Plains were quickly disappearing. Roosevelt was afraid the buffalo would become extinct before he got the chance to shoot one. According to historian Clay Jenkins, “At times he basically said he didn’t trust Americans who wouldn’t hunt; and he hinted that he didn’t believe that Americans should have citizenship who weren’t willing to kill a quadruped.” In his excellent DVD documentary on the National Parks, Ken Burns cites a conversation Muir had in 1903 with Roosevelt during a three-day campout in Yosemite valley. Observing Roosevelt’s love of birds and wildlife, Muir had the audacity to ask the President when he was going to give up his infantile need to shoot the very creatures he admired. By the campfire, Roosevelt began telling yarns about his big game hunting. Muir was bored and unimpressed. “Mr. Roosevelt,” he asked, “when are you going to get beyond the boyishness of killing things.… Are you not getting far enough along to leave that off?” After a moment’s pause, Roosevelt replied, “Muir, I guess you are right.” But while Roosevelt did start promoting the camera instead of the rifle, he never gave up the sport of shooting big game.**
Hunting may have been “a way of life” for bygone tribes and cultures—and even some present ones whose survival depends on it. However, “trophy hunting” is untenable in our present industrialized cultures where survival does not depend on predatory behavior and crop-farming is more energy efficient. After all, one capacity that makes humans unique on the planet is our freedom to avoid killing. Why not exercise that option?
* Shortly after Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species, Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest.”
** Douglas Brinkley, The Wilderness Warrior:Theodore Roosevelt and The Crusade for America (HarperCollins, 2009), p. 544.
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