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Archive for August, 2015

Good hunting, bad hunting

“Hunting, therefore, belongs to that class of always impermissible acts along with rape, child abuse and torture.”  

Most level-headed people would see this statement as absolutely ludicrous. They would be even more surprised to know that it is made by an academic, the Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey. It’s a sentiment echoed in a letter written by Douglas Batchelor, a former chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports and no doubt chimes with the thinking of certain individuals who hold extreme views on animal rights and see all hunting as being abhorrent.

What such a position doesn’t do is distinguish between the different forms of hunting that exist, along with the motives and justifications behind each particular activity. This suits some very well in their campaigns to hoodwink the public and influence politicians. (An excellent article by Roger Scruton in The Spectator explains why MPs should not listen to such nonsense  http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9605652/why-mps-have-a-duty-to-resist-online-petitions)

The shooting of Cecil the lion just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe made headlines around the world, much of it publicised through social network. It certainly had consequences. Dr Walter Palmer, who shot the lion, went into hiding after the media storm and may still be subject to extradition to face a charge of illegal hunting. It’s not the first time Palmer has had trouble with illegal hunting; he pleaded guilty to giving a false statement and fined $3000 for killing a bear in the USA. The organiser of the African lion hunt, Theo Bronkhorst, has already been arrested. UK Foreign Office Minister, Grant Shapps, has written to the Zimbabwean government calling the shooting ‘barbaric’.  The importation into the UK of body parts of certain species is being re-examined and Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed that the UK government will be at the forefront of the battle against wildlife crime.

Yet animals in this country are shot every day, so what made the shooting of Cecil so upsetting?

Walter Palmer (left) with his trophy.

Walter Palmer (left) with his trophy.

Clearly it was the method and motivation behind trophy hunting that caused such disgust, coupled with the general public’s limited knowledge of wildlife management in countries like Africa. According to reports, the lion was lured out of its protection zone in the National Park; the hunt was therefore illegal. Cecil was shot with a bow and arrow, something that would be illegal in this country, but not Zimbabwe, though why such a weapon would be used when modern-day guns and ammunition are available can only point to a certain desire on the part of the shooter to do things in a more ‘traditional’ way. “It’s more silent. If you want to do anything illegal, that’s the way to do it” one conservationist told the BBC.  Dr Palmer apparently arrived late at the agreed meeting site as night was falling, yet was still determined to go and get his beast in conditions that would be frowned upon by many shooters in this country.

After locating Cecil, a shot was taken which only wounded the lion. It took some 40 hours tracking the animal for him to be found and put out of his misery. The lion was being studied by Oxford University and had been fitted with a tracking collar, which Bronkhorst then hid in a tree. Following his arrest, he said that it couldn’t be seen at night (an obvious response might be what do you expect when taking a shot like this in darkness?).

A further problem could have been that killing Cecil, being head of his pride, might have allowed another lion to move in and kill the cubs he had fathered – a common occurrence when a new dominant male takes over a group of lionesses. Thankfully, it appears that his brother filled that role and the cubs survived, but by removing the biggest and best animals so desired by those who want magnificent heads to hang on their walls, their actions seem to fly in the face of true conservation. This is a major problem with trophy hunting, but by no means the only one.

It is a fact that such big game shooting does put a considerable amount of money into conservation work and local communities in Africa and other countries (Palmer apparently paid $35,000 for the privilege of shooting Cecil) resulting in wildlife being regarded more as an asset than a pest or a danger and helps to fund anti-poaching patrols. But surely this must be tempered to prevent the difficulties outlined above? To what degree ‘photographic tourism’ could bring the same outcomes is certainly worth exploring, but it doesn’t alter the fact that wild animals often die in ways that would horrify us if applied to our pets or domestic stock. That is the consequence of “leaving it all to nature”, a phrase so often used by those who have obviously not thought through that view.

Prince Harry assisting vets with a sedated lion in Namibia Picture: Simson Uri-Khop

Prince Harry assisting vets with a sedated lion in Namibia
Picture: Simson Uri-Khop

That social network storm often contained comments likening the illegal shooting of Cecil to hunting with hounds, yet the method, the motive and the justification could not be more dissimilar.  Princes William and Harry, both of whom shoot and have hunted with hounds, are not being hypocritical when they campaign for the protection of endangered species and support the efforts to curb wildlife crime. Harry was recently photographed helping vets in Africa and has spent time with soldiers on anti-rhino poaching patrols. It was notable that at this year’s CLA Game Fair, an event once described by a previous LACS director as a ‘bloodfest’, numerous hunting people said how much they disapproved of the shooting of Cecil. They were right to make such distinctions for the simple reason there is good hunting and bad hunting.

It’s in the interest of anti-hunting groups to confuse the two in the public’s mind and it’s one of the reasons they cling to the flawed Hunting Act when a far better law as suggested by Labour Peer Lord Donoughue could properly address genuine cruelty to wild animals. Having to prove cruelty on the basis of evidence is not something they’d wish, or in many cases are able, to do.

No reasonable person would see the use of scenting hounds hunting a fox in the same light as the shooting of Cecil the lion…unless, of course, they see all hunting as being the same as rape or child abuse.

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