Shooting lions has never been easier. We can all have a go. No need even for long flights and safaris into the wilds of Africa. Thanks to modern technology, we can slay the King of all creatures without even leaving the couch.
And I mean, for real. This is no VR, no video game. This is a genuine option offered by canned hunting venues to maximise our ease and comfort while we exploit and inflict suffering upon our fellow creature – for fun. All that is needed is a camera and a gun on a mount at their end. At ours, an internet connection – and a few thousand dollars.
I learn something new everyday, and mostly I wish I didn’t.
There are over 1,000 captive mammal hunting ranches in the US offering up lions, zebras, giraffes as quarry – at least some of them do. The animals that are bred there are accustomed to humans and unafraid. If we prefer getting off our couch and shooting them face to face (actually, we see theirs but they don’t see ours), we simply lay out bait, sit in a hide with our guns and wait. Like taking candy from a baby.
The Ox Ranch Texas for example, on its 18,000 acres, offers a choice to hunt: no less than 14 different species of deer, 24 species of antelope, 11 of sheep, 3 of goat, and buffalo, wild boar, javelina, kangaroos, zebra, emu, ostrich, rhea, alligators and more. 72 species in all. So many to go at. No chance of our ever getting bored.
When we’ve had our fill of killing, we can leave the ranch staff to “process” our bag while we reward ourselves for a day well spent with a drink at the bar followed by a taste of Cordon Bleu fine dining, before retiring utterly replete to our luxurious cabin.
Well honestly, if you were a rancher in the US, why would you bother raising cattle for meat when canned hunting delivers an non-ending deluge of dollars.
A hunter is a hunter is a hunter, right?
Wrong. ‘True’ hunters distance themselves from the likes of the visitors at Ox Ranch who are despised, undeserving of the name. They are mere ‘shooters’.
Real hunting, say the hunters, means patient days tracking in the woods, and nights under the stars, drinking beer, telling stories and playing cards. Hunting is deeply-rooted in the American psyche. It’s a hangover from the days of the pioneers when ‘the West was won’, forging their way through the wilderness, living from the land, armed with their wits and their guns.
“There’s this idea that being out in the woods is recreating the pioneer experience that they [the hunters] see as being the basis of America” – Simon Bronner, ethnologist.
Shoot to save?
For Bronner, hunting is a positive. Licensed hunting brings revenue to individual states and, he believes, ensures stewardship of the land. “Anyone who spends time in the woods and watches wildlife would demand that we do more work on improving habitat.”
No less a man than President Theodore Roosevelt is the hunter/conservationist icon of the US hunting fraternity: at one and the same time passionate, even obsessive hunter, and also creator of national parks and protector of the magnificent landscapes of the USA.
The incumbent president does not emulate his predecessor in either respect. Donald Trump Jr though, seen online in many a photo proudly posing next to his latest trophy corpse, advocates culling wolves in the western States because “they deprive hunters of moose,” and believes the US Fish and Wildlife Service “should be encouraging American hunters legally and ethically hunting abroad, not hindering them.”
Of course hunting is not exclusive to Americans. Far from it. Our own royals have in the past done their share of big game hunting, and still enjoy shooting birds, deer and boar, pursuing wildlife on horseback, and hooking fish out of the water, so-called traditional field sports. Translation: blood-letting for fun.
And as with Teddy Roosevelt and the ‘true’ hunters of America, our royals combine their love of hunting with an anomalous patronage of conservation. “Prince Philip’s total ‘bag’ over the past 30 years stretches over continents, species [including an Indian tiger] and runs into mind-boggling numbers… in Britain alone he has shot deer, rabbit, hare, wild duck, snipe, woodcock, teal, pigeon and partridge, and pheasant numbering at least 30,000.
“On one occasion he and Prince Charles are said to have killed 50 wild boar in a single day. In 1993, out shooting for up to four days a week during his seven-week stay [at Sandringham] he hit his target of 10,000 pheasant.”
Quite the rate of slaughter – and nearly all during the 35 years he acted as the first president of the World Wildlife Fund UK, and then president of WWF International.
To those of us who flinch at any thought of harm to a living creature, this bloodlust is incomprehensible.
So why do they do it?
Well, our royals follow a long historical precedent – 4000 years of it in fact. It dates back at least to the Assyrian empire.
“Ancient hunts were spectacular displays of royal power and dominance, and always took place with the king’s public watching from the sidelines,” says Linda Kalof, professor of sociology at Michigan State University.
The same is true today. Trophy hunting remains a display of power, an activity rooted in colonialism and patriarchy, the participants predominantly white men. And, since you need very considerable funds to cover the costs of travel, accommodation, equipment, guides and licences, it also tells the world you are well able to support a lavish lifestyle.
“Men use hunting to send signals about their fitness to rivals and potential mates,” according to a study published last year in Biology Letters. That makes perfect sense in evolutionary terms.
(This evolutionary impulse is quite likely the unconscious propellant towards prominence of most who achieve it: whether rock stars or racing drivers, marathon runners or mountaineers. Fortunately, few other ‘display’ activities require fear, pain and untimely death to be inflicted on innocent animals.)
Today of course, the hunting fraternity no longer has need of an on-the-spot crowd of lesser beings to impress. Today we have the wonder that is the internet. “Hunters can now trumpet messages about their personal wealth and social status to a global audience.” Darimont in Biology Letters“
Trophy hunting is about spending lots of money killing rare animals for instagram likes,” is US comedian Jim Jefferies’ pithy epigram on the subject. I don’t see the lions laughing.
So, showing off. This may well be the real motivation behind hunting, attracting women and p***ing off their rivals. But how many hunters are going to admit to that? Instead they justify their ‘sport’ by claiming it is not just good for conservation, but vital. (Being cruel to be kind?)
Is their claim true? Is hunting good for conservation?
The USA legally imports no fewer than 126,000 animal trophies every year, and the EU 11,000–12,000, of 140 different species – everything from African elephants to American black bears. That’s without counting the animals that remain in the countries where they were shot.
So we really need to know: is this helping or harming?
As with most controversial topics, there’s black, there’s white and there are varying shades of grey. Sometimes the answer depends on whether you are viewing this critically important question through the crosshairs of a rifle.
Professional hunter Nathan Askew, owner of an American company that leads hunting safaris for “dangerous game” in South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana and Mozambique claims: “The positive economic impact brought about by hunting incentivizes governments, landowners and companies to protect the animals and their habitats.” Well, he would, wouldn’t he?
And no surprise (in view of its choice of former royal patron) that the WWF comes up with this: “In certain limited and rigorously controlled cases, including for threatened species, scientific evidence has shown that trophy hunting can be an effective conservation tool as part of a broad mix of strategies.”
More surprising perhaps is the conclusion of the UK government-commissioned report (after the death of Cecil the lion in 2016) conducted by Oxford University Wildlife Conservation Research Unit: “The most fundamental benefit of trophy hunting to lion conservation is that it provides a financial incentive to maintain lion habitat that might otherwise be converted to non-wildlife land uses.”
Another point made for the shoot-to-save argument is that hunting (supposedly) pumps cash into local communities, not only providing work and lifting them out of poverty, but making them less susceptible to involvement in illegal activity like poaching.
Wilfried Pabst of the Sango Wildlife Conservancy has no doubts of the positive link between hunting and conservation. Sango is donating money to bring thousands of elephants, giraffe, African buffalo, zebras and more, back to Zinave national park in Mozambique, whose wildlife was decimated by 15 years of civil war. Pabst says,
“In remote places and countries with a weak tourism industry and a high unemployment rate, it is very difficult – or almost impossible – to run a conservancy like Sango without income from sustainable utilisation.”
Sustainable utilisation is the preferred euphemism for trophy hunting.
Sounds good in theory, but is it working?
Masha Kalinina (Humane Society International) calls the Sango scheme misguided and potentially deadly:
“Mozambique continues to have one of the highest rates of poaching in southern Africa,” she said. Mozambique lost nearly half of its elephants to poachers in five years. Now both South Africa and Zimbabwe are transporting their own animals to this park just so that they may die at the hands of either trophy hunters or poachers. Is that what we are calling conservation?”
A report last year from the US House Committee of Natural Resources casts doubt on the shoot-to-save argument in general. “In assessing the flow of trophy hunting revenue to conservation efforts, we found many troubling examples of funds either being diverted from their purpose or not being dedicated to conservation in the first place.”
Some estimate that the hunting elite and corrupt government officials siphon off as much as 97 per cent of hunting licence fees. Is it over-cynical to suspect Swiss bank accounts?
Jeff Flocken, for the International Fund for Animal Welfare doesn’t just cast doubt on the claim that hunting aids conservation, he asserts that in the case of lions, “trophy hunting adds to the problem.” The most prized trophy kills are young healthy males. Their deaths destabilise lion prides and diminish the gene pool, both of which weaken the already dwindling and endangered population.
Born Free spells out the very direct way in which trophy hunting works counter to effective conservation: Trophy hunting is not about preserving wildlife. Trophy hunters covet the spectacular and rare, and the Safari Club International’s World Hunting Awards specifically reward hunters who have killed animals belonging to species or groups of species that are threatened, and some of which are critically endangered. In January 2014 wealthy American trophy hunter Cory Knowlton bid US$350,000 to shoot a critically endangered black rhinoceros in Namibia.
What is more, it undermines public support for conservation work, and de-incentivises donations. Jeff again: “Why should anyone spend money to protect an animal that a wealthy American can then pay to go kill?”
And economic arguments are not all on the hunter’s side: hunting licence fees while yes, very lucrative, are one-off payments. Once an animal is shot, it’s gone. Whereas if not a target for hunting, a lion or rhino can earn money for the community from ecotourism for many years.
But let’s leave the last word to Jeff Flocken. And this is the real crunch in my opinion, the most important argument against trophy hunting in any shape or form, the undeniable truth:
“Legalized recreational hunting derails conservation efforts simply
by devaluing the lives of the hunted animals.“
This is by no means exhaustive coverage of the topic. Next post will take a more detailed look at one particular ‘shoot-to-save’ project.
Royals’ shooting passion draws bad blood – The Independent
Hunting Big Game: Why People Kill Animals for Fun – LiveScience
POLL – Should trophy hunting be banned? – Focusing on Wildlife
Everything you need to know about Trophy Hunting – Discover Wildlife