Dear Trophy Hunters,
It was with great shock last week that we were subjected to yet another photograph of smiling, grown men with their arms around each other, kneeling besides a dead lion that had been propped up for the camera. It’s a common photograph, that hunters worldwide will recognize – after all, what’s the use of killing something when you can’t show a matching trophy photo to your friends back home. ISIS in Iraq and Syria have a similar strategy.
Let’s get an obvious fact out of the way first – animals die each day. Most are killed for food, others as part of a controlled conservation cull and yet others for humane reasons. Complaining about trophy hunting and getting outraged is not about some hippy, green, pacifist, vegetarian, tree-hugging agenda. It’s about a lack of respect. A lack of respect for where the world is heading right now. Everywhere we turn, we’re being told by the media to conserve water, conserve endangered species, conserve energy, conserve trees and conserve the oceans. Then we’re expected to look at majestic, beautiful African creatures covered in blood, with grinning killers standing over them, and nod approvingly?
Yes, I know Alex the lion from Madagascar is not real, and that Disney has made us believe that we can walk up to a lion and cuddle it. The outrage is less about being an ignorant city-dweller and more about the wrong message we are giving to future generations.
The message of trophy hunting is the complete opposite to the principles of caring, conservation and heritage that many organizations are working so hard to install in our kids. The world has moved on from hunters, who are not hungry, who kill wildlife because a trophy photo and stuffed head give a pump-up-my-ego moment. Trophy hunting needs to be phased out to make way for alternatives – much like the replacement of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions. “But what alternatives are there?” wail the hunters. We’ll, there are startups around the world investing millions of dollars to find new solutions to old problems. Why not join the 21st century and think like them? It might even cost you less than the $50,000 you paid for the lion hunt.
Ultimately, trophy hunting in Africa is an ethical issue. Many wealthy Western hunters arrive in Africa thinking that the rules are somehow “different” in Africa than from home. Maybe it’s all the misguided advertising they see, of savage beasts that will awaken their primal instincts in an untamed land. Maybe they entertain fantasies of heroism from having seen old paintings that show brave colonialists standing their ground, rifle at the ready, while a tooth-and-claw ball of fury bears down upon them. The truth is usually less glamorous: a lion that has been bred in captivity since birth is shooed out of an enclosure for the first time to get shot. You might as well have stalked and killed a kitten. Trying to prove your virility and strength by killing wildlife is very 1980s anyway. We have Viagra for that now.
Last week Arnold Schwarzenegger posted an image of himself in his heyday on Instagram with two of his bodybuilding trophies, juxtaposed with a picture of a lion. “These are trophy. This is not,” he said, referring to the lion. Sharon Osbourne tweeted about dentist, Walter Palmer, who shot Cecil the lion, “…When he dies, I hope someone mounts his ugly ass head to the wall. #WalterPalmer is a COWARD.” The truth is, public opinion is against trophy hunting, and whether you like it or not, millions of people can now sway public opinion against you very quickly on social media. Consider too, that since last week, Delta, United and American Airlines have banned the shipment of game trophies on their flights. Who would have guessed that a single, dead lion in Africa could change the policies of multinational corporations?
Before assuming that the lawlessness in many parts of Africa means that you can do what you want, consider that trophy hunting is increasingly being seen alongside other pastimes that are frowned upon. It’s no longer excusable to go to Thailand for underage sex because, “that’s what they do there.” It’s not excusable to underpay foreign workers in Saudi Arabia because, “that’s what they do there.” It’s not cool to buy products from China made from endangered wildlife species because, “that’s what they do there.” It’s also not cool to pose with a dead lion in Africa because, “that’s what they do there.” Trying to get away with your dirty habits abroad, that are outlawed at home, is just pirate tourism. It’s time to take personal responsibility for some of the world’s pressing issues and realize when you’re part of the problem and not the solution.
Arguing that only old lions, who will die anyway, are used in trophy hunting is a lie. What hunter wants to tell his mates that he walked alongside a hobbling lion with arthritis for 20 minutes before shooting it and then hanging its mangy head with missing teeth above his home bar? That would look cowardly. Hunting, conservation and trophy hunting are three different things, with trophy hunting the rotten apple among the three. Trophy hunting has become an artificially inflated industry (yes, a business!) that exists solely to enrich a few. The conservation of biodiversity has taken a back seat to the quick profits that a few high-yielding animals can offer.
Subsequently, as the outrage on social media keeps on growing, we’ve had a few other hunters pop up on our Twitter and Facebook radar. One of them is Sabrina Corgatelli, the “Italian Huntress” from Idaho, who has wondered what all the fuss is about and continues to post pictures of herself online with dead trophies. One of them show her standing proudly alongside a dead giraffe that she’s just shot. On NBC’s Today Show she defended the hunt of this large, gangly beast by saying giraffes are “very dangerous animals” that could “hurt you seriously very quickly.” I guess if you’re taunting a wild animal in it’s own territory with a Savage MK II hunting rifle (yes, even the guns have appropriate names) then you should defend yourself by any means. Just don’t post it on Facebook.