Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Thrill of the Kill

They are pests, aren't they? Sometimes they cause a bit of damage or get in they way of what we want to do - so, you see, it actually helps protect the environment if we HUNT THEM A BIT!

We get to use some PRETTY COOL GUNS!

Oh, ignore the animal rights lot - as any hunter knows, these beasts enjoy the THRILL OF THE CHASE!

Yes, a good day's hunting.....

....makes us THE MEN WE ARE!!!

(Stills from Planet of the Apes, 20th Century Fox, 1968)

Pretty horrible, isn't it? The idea of being hunted for a bit of fun, with some thin justification thrown in about looking after some greater good.

But sadly, it isn't science fiction.

The last week has seen a huge debate around Big Game hunting in Africa after Cecil the lion was lured out of a Zimbabwean national park to be shot, skinned and decapitated by an American dentist, Walter Palmer, who reportedly paid over $50,000 for the chance. The act in itself is likely to have been illegal, but it is the morality of it that has come under a lot of public scrutiny over the last few days.

"Look! I killed this!" Walter Palmer thinks this impresses women, allegedly.
Those who try to justify it often fall back on claims either that this sort of hunting helps protect the African environment from over-population by some types of animals and/or somehow helps the local economy, giving poor Africans much needed work or business. They point to the fact that in many cases local people also hunt some of the animals that tourists pay good money to kill themselves.

There is a small truth in it sometimes - yes sometimes (by no means always) the animals used for Big Game shooting are also hunted by local people, though normally this is for food and survival, not for sport. Nor is it for the chance to boast to an unimpressed American waitress that you have cut the skull off a dead lion, as the dentist reportedly did (complete with photo). Indeed, many of the species hunted are either endangered or close to that status - hence the need for national parks (and for Palmer's guides to lure Cecil out of one).

Similarly, the claims of economic benefits to local people ignore the reality that as several reports have shown, the vast tracts of land needed for Big Game Hunts could be used far more productively for both humans and animals. It essentially is a rich man's sport played out on rich men's lands - local populations are often uninvolved and either restricted from using the land, or even thrown off it, to allow western tourists to come and shoot.

 On BBC Radio 4 Today Programme earlier this week, one defender of hunting said that it was inevitable because "everything in the world is a commodity". This is key - if everything is a potential commodity, then truly nothing and indeed no one is safe.There are no moral limits, nothing that cannot be done and a price tag slapped on it.

We have even now got so called canned hunting, where lions and other animals are born and raised in captivity to be released, disoriented, into confined areas for western tourists to hunt them. In some cases, given the ineptitude of some of these hapless, would-be annihilators, they are issued with wide-spray machines guns to reduce their chance of missing their helpless targets. And totally blowing any claim that this is something helpful, captive lions are even bred and hunted in confined spaces in Arizona, USA.

And perhaps it is this aspect of the dentist's tale that is the most distasteful, most worrying and what angers or concerns most people - the pleasure these people derive from their so-called sport, the thrill of the kill. Because, as you look at the hundreds upon hundreds of online photos of these oft-grinning killers posing with the corpses of the beautiful creatures they have coldly executed, the odds stacked almost totally in their well-armed favour, you can almost see the blood lust, the power rush.

And if you listen to one of them on this video on Youtube, reverentially talking about the power of the weapon he has carried thousands of miles expressly to kill a lioness, you can't help but think of the warning of the philosopher Immanuel Kant when he said, “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” 

Or, to update Kant, the hearts of some women too - because while this remains a heavily male-dominated activity, it is no longer solely so. Indeed, as well as dentist Palmer's wife, whole families have "safari-ed" to Africa and elsewhere to kill. And, closer to home, there are more than a few people, including our Prime Minister, who would like once again to see packs of people chasing and tearing to pieces defenceless creatures across our own green and not-so-pleasant land.

We share our world, in trust to the future, with millions of other species. We may, for now, be the dominant one, but that gives us responsibilities to protect and respect rather than destroy; to nurture and honour rather than commodify the glorious diversity of life around us. We owe that to our companion creatures and, perhaps above all, we owe it to ourselves.

Somewhere, something had gone badly wrong....

ACTION: Please follow this link to sign a petition asking the European Union to ban imports of lion hunting trophies in honour of Cecil the Lion ; PETITION LINK

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