Killing In The Name Of

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Before I start venturing into the dangerous territory of religion, I’d first like to thank everyone who has read and commented on my previous post which, admittedly, wasn’t quite as short and pithy as I had initially planned it to be – turns out there is a lot to be debated and deliberated on the topic of modern trophy hunting. That being said, there’s yet another angle to this issue that I’d like to explore, so please bear with me while I try to keep this one short despite a strong urge to go off on an impassioned rant.

A few days ago, while following up on the Tale of Two Hunters, I noticed something strange, although it shouldn’t have been all that surprising  in retrospect. Browsing through Twitter using the hash tag of #supportkendall (which you must never do if you suffer from high blood pressure or anger management issues), I came across a series of tweets all making a similar case.  A paraphrased version of their argument goes something like this: “Bleeding heart animal lovers worry about poor lions while unborn babies are killed by the millions #liberallogic”.

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Having underestimated Christian conservatives’ uncanny ability to link anything they view as “liberal” to the topic of abortion, somewhat reminiscent of Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies, I was momentarily taken aback. “What are these people on about?”, I kept thinking. Surely, this comparison is more than just a bit tedious and shouldn’t even be acknowledged, let alone taken seriously by anyone?

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However, these tweets do tell us something crucial about the frame of mind of Kendall Jones’ supporters. By mentioning abortion, they’re taking the discussion to a religious level, a realm in which facts and figures mean nothing and belief and conviction mean everything. The Bible, in Genesis 1:26, says the following:

 “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

And, sure enough, one must not look very far to find a pro-Kendall advocate point out the following:

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Now I don’t mean to criticize or attack anyone for their beliefs, but this religious component does pose a problem to anyone who tries to argue against the practice of trophy hunting. If someone believes hunting to be their “God-given right”, then this makes them immune to any arguments put forth against them. After all, God, the ultimate authority, has already spoken on the issue, so why listen to a bunch of ungodly liberals? In a worldview defined by irrefutable truths, there is no room for distinctions of any kind. Hunting is categorically rightful, no matter the purpose, and someone hunting for survival is in the same moral category as someone standing on a lion carcass for all their Facebook followers to see and admire. After all, the Bible made it clear that all animals are ours to dominate and use in any which way we want.

This religious component is a troublesome one, and one can only take solace in the fact that there are plenty of  Christians out there who prefer the word “stewardship” to “dominion”. Just please don’t let the crazy ones be the only voices heard.

 

 

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Words of Wisdom #3

Animals such as deer, we are told, have no predators in many areas, and therefore need systematic culling. Yet when attempts are made to reintroduce natural predators such as wolves and coyotes into these very areas, sport hunters themselves are the first to resist it. Weaker animals in the wild, we hear, will only die miserable deaths by starvation and exposure without sport hunters to control their population. Yet it’s the bigger, stronger animals they’re killing and wounding–the very opposite of natural selection–often with bows and pistols that only compound and prolong the victim’s suffering. Matthew Scully

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Words of Wisdom #2

Whenever and wherever men have engaged in the mindless slaughter of animals (including other men), they have often attempted to justify their acts by attributing the most vicious or revolting qualities to those they would destory; and the less reason there is for the slaughter, the greater the campaign for vilification. – Farley Mowat

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Great White Huntress Seeking Attention

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For my first opinion piece, I’d like to discuss the emergence of a new phenomenon that has been gaining notoriety and causing outrage among conservationists and animal activists: The Great White Facebook Huntress. Now, as you may have inferred, this is going to be a highly opinionated and subjective post, as I have no intention of giving the antagonists of this sad saga the benefit of the doubt, or of appeasing those who choose to side with them. Diplomacy may be a necessary tool in politics but, as any Guns n Roses fan will know, “some men you just can’t reach”.

So let’s recap what happened. Last November, American TV presenter Melissa Bachman caused a well-deserved but ultimately ineffective  shitstorm after posting a picture of herself next to a lion she shot and killed in a “hunting park”. That’s right people, a hunting park.  I don’t know about you, but when I hear “park”, I don’t usually think of the thrill of shooting down a defenseless, oftentimes drugged predator for the sake of adrenaline and bragging rights. Instead, words like “amusement”, “frisbee”, “picnic”, or possibly “beer” come to mind, along with images of Simon & Garfunkel performing to a record audience at Central Park.  But I digress. Soon, Facebook feeds all over the world were awash with Ms Bachman’s image, accompanied by petitions asking the South African government to refuse her re-entry into the country. Needless to say, the South African government did no such thing. Trophy hunting, after all, is legal in the country (and many others), ergo Ms Bachman did not break any laws, except perhaps the unwritten law of human decency and humility towards nature.

Fast forward seven months and enter Kendall Jones, a nineteen year old student and cheerleader at Texas Tech university. Again, a  series of pictures showing a young woman posing next to a range of dead animals, including a White Rhino, is being posted, shared, and widely commented upon on Facebook and other social media sites. And again, many of these posts include a link to a petition asking Mark Zuckerberg to remover her page from Facebook, or to another one trying to get her banned from hunting in Africa altogether, reminiscent of last year’s anti-Bachman petition. While I fundamentally agree with the underlying sentiment of all these efforts (i.e. she’s a terrible person and, in a perfect world, this should have consequences), I believe that they miss the real point and, ultimately, do nothing to serve the cause of conservation and animal welfare. Firstly, I have a general issue with sites like change.org, which make it too easy for people to channel their initial outrage and anger into something seemingly productive and meaningful without giving proper thought to the campaign they wish to start. Equally, it creates the illusion that activism consists of the mere clicking of the button. That being said, I also take issue with these petitions in particular. As mentioned earlier, big game hunting (including lions, leopards, and even rhinos) continues to be legal in many African countries, including South Africa, so the notion that governments will suddenly start punishing hunters for purchasing hunting permits is beyond ridiculous. It is this very legality which gives these people an excuse for the practise of trophy hunting. The game farm manager who operates the hunting park Ms Bachman was gracing with her presence, for instance, argued that hunting lions cannot be wrong because the government legally gives people permission to do so. This logic is obiously flawed, as laws cannot distinguish between right or wrong, but merely between legal and illegal. “Right” or “wrong” are moral concepts, and morally speaking there is no debating that what Ms Jones and Ms Bachman are doing it categorically wrong. Not because I believe hunting is fundamentally wrong – I do not – but the pictures these two charming ladies have posted suggest that they are driven not by the need for food , clothing, or even population control, but by the desire to exert dominance over another species and use this for self-promotion.  In the following picture, you can see Ms Jonas “hugging” a leopard she just killed, grinning from ear to ear.

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This is the picture of a woman who enjoys killing for the sake of killing without any respect for the animal, and no excuse or justification she or her supporters might come up with will change this basic fact.

Of course, trophy hunters have their own version of this reality. They actually have the audacity to claim that they are really, deep down, the true champions of conservation. “Hunters are the biggest conservationists out there”, Kendall told the New York Daily News, for they “want animal populations to grow and thrive!”. This is a very common argument which was also used in defense of Ms Bachman. Now I am in no position to comment on how much of the money our trigger-happy friends are spending on their hobby actually gets put into genuine conservation programs. Sick as it may be, their money might very well contribute to conservation in some form, in which case it is difficult to avoid feeling cynicism about the human race. But let’s not kid ourselves: Trophy hunters like these two are not primarily motivated by a genuine concern for wildlife conservation. As established earlier, they are out for the thrill of the kill and for photo-ops to prove their badassness (a new word). True conservationists, on the other hand, are motivated by the deeply held belief that we must respect nature and limit our destructive impact on it. That is not to say all conservationists are opposed to killing animals – population control being one of the tricky issues that need to be dealt with – but they don’t passionately embrace it. It is true that trophy hunters do, in fact, want animal populations to “grow and thrive”. We shouldn’t doubt Ms Jones’ sincerity on this point. But their motivation is drastically different, for they are not interested in conservation for the sake of animals. Without healthy, thriving wildlife populations, they simply wouldn’t be able to engage in the killing they so love, and so it all comes back to their fundamental selfishness, arrogance and vanity. To add further weight to her argument, Ms Jones goes on to claim that “funds from a hunt like this goes partially to the government for permits but also to the farm owner as an incentive to keep and raise lions on their property”. And this is where the “trophy hunters as conservationists” myth finally gets exposed for the lie that it is. Wildlife conservation is about ensuring the survival and well-being of wild populations. Breeding lions on a private farm to make money off their inevitable slaughter has nothing to do with preserving the species. According to The Independent, 4,062 lion carcasses were exported from South Africa in the five years to 2011, the vast majority of which were specifically bred to be killed. Claiming that trophy hunters and hunting park owners are conservationists by investing in lion breeding is like saying  eating meat is really all about pig conservation. It’s a cynical and stupid remark that should be exposed as such, rather than accepted as genuine argument in defense of trophy hunting.

So, to conclude, what can be done? For starters, let’s stop with the kneejerky online petitions every time something like this happens. People like Melissa Bachman or Kendall Jones are looking for publicity, so let’s not give it to them. By making ridiculous and unrealistic demands, conservationists and animal activists are doing their cause no favour, as it makes them vulnerable to attacks and ridicule. Instead, support campaigns that aim to outlaw canned hunting. The Campaign Against Canned Hunting organizes a global march for lions held in many cities throughout the world, certainly something that is more promising than expecting the South African government to punish people  for doing something they actively encourage.  Secondly, and this is a long term wish I don’t think will come true in our lifetime, let’s stop viewing hunting as a sport, shall we?  Apparently, the attention she’s received has  landed Ms Jones an upcoming TV show on the Sportsman Channel, which will undoubtedly bring in lots of money she can then give to African governments who refuse to protect their countries’ natural heritage. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that can only be broken by a concerned effort directed at the problem’s root cause, the legality of trophy hunting and the general ignorance of the voting public against a well-funded and outspoken hunting lobby.

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In Memoriam

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A dead squirrel, a mortally injured bird, a run over hedgehog: Sights so common that many people only notice them as a blot on periphery of their vision or, at a push, as a sad but inevitable result of human expansion and progress. This makes these beautiful photographs by Russian artist Maria Ionova-Gribina all the more haunting and sublime. In them, the dead animals are shown the respect otherwise reserved for humans and the viewer is forced to see them as individual, sentient beings, rather than mere “roadkill”, laid to rest Jon Bon Jovi style.

The Power of Imagery

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Every person with a Facebook account (and I’m assuming that would be everyone reading this blog post) is well familiar with the Social Media phenomenon of the shareable list. Sites like Buzzfeed have made it their mission to take over our newsfeeds with lists and countdowns catered to the Procrastinating Masses (to which this author also belongs). But among the silly and, let’s not kid ourselves, flat out inane, there can be some truly eye-opening and educational stuff as well.

This collection of 33 pro-animal ad campaigns belongs to the latter category. While some may argue that they are highly emotionally charged and try to guilt-trip onlookers into action, that is simply how visual ad campaigns must be designed if they are to be effective, and there is no denying the underlying truth in all these images.

 

Opening Statement

So what is this all about then? Well, they say that blogging helps you focus your attention on the issues that really matter to you, all the while making you a stronger, more efficient communicator. As someone with a passionate interest in those we arrogantly refer to as the “lower animals” of our natural world, I follow a good many blogs, newsletters, and social media feeds dealing with such issues as animal welfare, conservation, zoology, or animal behaviour. And there is a lot of content to follow.

The good news to take away from this is that, thankfully, those who advocate for better animal welfare and the conservation of our planet’s fauna are no longer a small group of fringe fanatics. Awareness and sensibility for these issues is growing, and it’s no longer regarded as just “a bunch of tree-hugging hippie crap” (Eric Cartman of South Park) by the public at large. However, it also means that the sheer amount of news content can be overwhelming and seemingly unnavigable.

So where to focus one’s attention? This, to come back to my initial point, is the overall purpose of this blog. By singling out those stories that have, for one reason or another, particularly caught my attention, I hope to be able to provide entertaining and thought-provoking content while, hopefully, becoming a better and more focused writer in the process.

Whatever this future content may be, the underlying ideology always remains the same: To truly evolve as a species, we as humans need to go beyond anthropocentrism and realise that we are not, in fact, the crown of creation.

Beyond Anthropocentrism