by David Lundgren

The recent Ricky Gervais/Rebecca Francis altercation about hunting has been fascinating, with strong opinions coming down pretty firmly on either side. We’ll leave out the nonsense about it being ‘sexist’ for now, and focus on three main justifications for big game hunting in Africa: Hunting is natural. Hunting helps conservation efforts. Hunting means food for the locals.

Hunting is natural — there’s little doubt of that. We’ve done it for thousands of years. In days gone by, it would’ve been a fairer battle, however, where the human stood as much chance — if not more — of being killed than the prey. These days, with technology giving us a ridiculous advantage, there’s no sport to it. It’s merely slaughter. If you really want to hunt, then take one spear and have at it. I don’t see people posting photos of themselves standing by the house-fly they’ve squashed, and yet shooting a giraffe (one of the more graceful, timid and unaggressive creatures you’ll ever see in the wild) with a massive rifle that reduces the competition to the same farcical level requires proud, elated photos?

Hunting helps conservation efforts? There is some truth in some circumstances to this, and how the fortune spent in obtaining the rights and licenses to hunt animals goes to agencies who are looking after the animals and the local environment. But you show me one single hunter who leaves the States to go to Africa to kill a huge, graceful game animal just so that he/she can help the local community and conservation efforts — and I’ll show you a flying pig. You’re honestly saying that you’re traveling at vast expense to Africa and hunting at vast expense for a large animal so that you can ‘help conservation’? Save your feeble words and send a few thousand dollars to them — that’ll help much more than killing one helpless animal. Don’t kid yourself (or try to kid me) that you’re killing animals to help protect them. You’re killing them because you enjoy it. If not, wouldn’t you post the photo of you smiling with all the animals you’re supposed to be helping save, rather than the one of you smiling next to the poor beast you’ve had to sacrifice for the others? And wouldn’t you be more…I don’t know — sad? You’ve just had to sacrifice one beautiful animal to ‘save the others’, which suggests you have some interest in — perhaps even affection for — wild-life. At the very least, I’d expect it to be a bitter-sweet emotion of having to do a horrible thing to affect something good. But grinning with delight? That smacks of something less harrowing, and far less noble.

The locals eat meat, true. They are also able to catch their own food — as they have done for thousands of years. They don’t need a rich hunter from America to come and bring home the bacon. If they happen to eat all the meat from whatever game you’ve hunted, that seems like a good result — although unsustainable. And if this is the case, why are the hunting photos we see never with the people who will be fed? Why are they still of the proud hunter with the dead animal? Be honest — the photo is a trophy of a big, often dangerous animal you’ve gone up against and killed, and you’re proud of having done it. I love meat, myself. I would hunt for it if I needed to — inflicting as little pain as I could on the animal, as quickly as possible. It would also sadden me, and I wouldn’t for one moment gloat over my ‘victory’. Just because you accept the ‘circle of life’ notion and eat meat doesn’t mean you relish killing, or find enjoyment in ending an animal’s life.

Please don’t attempt to bring up these embarrassingly weak arguments about how hunting is ‘good’ for anything. That’s not why you trekked all the way over the Africa to do it. You woke up and suddenly decided to contribute to game conservation and help feed some starving villagers, and after exploring all the options you finally settled on killing a large animal as the best way forward? For most, this seems a vindicating after-thought.

There are many ways to offer help, if that’s your honest intention. All the money spent on traveling and accommodation and licenses and permits and visas would be far better utilized if so much of it didn’t go to getting you and your weapon over there to shoot one big meal for a village. It’s short-term and self-indulgent. Help build a well, finance the building of a school, go over there and offer physical assistance with the myriad things in need of being done to better the lives of the locals and to bolster conservation efforts. If that’s what you really want.

Whatever you do, just don’t try to say that hunting for your trophy and your exciting dead animal photo-op is anything else but preening your ego, creating a brave story to tell your friends back home, and giving you an adrenaline rush. I, for one, wish big-game hunters would own up to the truth about it, relinquish these attempts at sanitizing their controversial hobby, and admit that the sole reason they want to hunt is for the thrill of killing a big animal and feeling powerful.

There will still be many people who consider this barbaric and awful — and not all of them vegetarians — but…at least it’s being honest. Then the real discussion can happen.

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