|A sportsman and his trophy.|
In the last few weeks, we've seen global outrage at the trophy hunting dentist from Minneapolis who wounded and then, 40 hours later, finally killed Cecil the Lion. More recently, we've seen similar outrage over trophy hunting by a child in our own Canadian backyard. This past week, the Wildlife Defence League posted a graphic video on its Facebook page of some hunters playing with the horrible death of a majestic grizzly bear in British Columbia. That video went viral before Facebook pulled it, citing copyright issues. But Gary Mason, National Affairs Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, brought the video back in a piece critical of trophy hunting:
"It seems bizarre that we can be so rightly outraged by the trophy hunting we witness in Africa, but allow the same thing to happen in our own country. Grizzlies in B.C. are being killed for no other reason than for pure pleasure and enjoyment; to provide some testosterone-fuelled “sports hunter” the thrill of killing a defenceless animal that is doing nothing more than innocently ambling about in its home environment." - Mason
I think that Mason captures the reason for the widespread public disgust over trophy hunting, and it has nothing to do with whether the animal in particular is endangered, or in a research study, or a beloved part of a community. On a visceral level, seeming to care so little about the lives and suffering of obviously sentient animals with as strong a will to live as any seems psychopathic. On an intellectual level, the pleasure of the hunter is clearly an insufficient justification for taking the life of an innocent animal.
"What about conservation?" say hunters like Texas millionaire, Corey Knowlton. The problem isn't just that the available evidence supporting conservation is weak and mixed: ecotourism, where the only shots fired are camera shutters snapping away, can bring in many more dollars and place much more value on the lives of wild animals. And besides, if hunters really cared about the lives of their beloved animals, they'd just donate their money to the cause without having to kill any of them. As Ricky Gervais has pointed out, then they'd be heroes.
Non-hunters are quick to come up with a different response. While they frequently condemn trophy hunting, hunting to eat and make use of the carcass is widely considered unproblematic. Mason again:
"And most people accept that grizzlies can and will continue to be hunted by First Nations, but only as a form of sustenance. [But] The notion that some bozo can pay a guide to point him in the direction of a poor defenceless animal and be allowed to brutalize it to death is infuriating. And it has to end." -Mason
New York Times Sunday Review endorsements (albeit based upon arguments with false premises), the eat-what-you-kill movement seems to be growing in popularity. Nevertheless, I'm willing to bet the farm that most of the people who've expressed outrage over trophy hunting think that killing pigs, cows, and chickens for our consumption is just fine, even if you pick them out of a freezer at the grocery store.
But is it?
Let's face it: we don't have to eat meat to survive. We don't even have to eat meat to thrive. Here's a website celebrating elite athletes who are vegans. They don't consume dairy products or eggs, let alone any meat.
Whether we kill animals because we enjoy hunting and stuffing them onto our walls or because we enjoy eating them, the bottom line is that we're killing animals for our enjoyment. An expert hunter who only kills and eats mature animals with a single shot surely causes much less suffering than our food industry does, but that hunter is still killing sentient animals without adequate justification.