This weeks blog title sounds like I’m about to tell you a joke, but I’m not. What do Nelson Mandela, the King of Spain and Melissa Bachman have in common? They have all hunted wild animals in Africa at some point. Yes – shot with a rifle and killed antelope (a blesbok in Madela’s case), elephant (the King of Spain in Botswana) and lion (Melissa Bachman in South Africa). As with most emotive issues, its important to get at what is behind the objections to hunting before looking at the issue. So in a similar vein to my last post on the sustainable use of wildlife, lets clarify a few things:
- If you are object to the use of animals for food, clothing, shoes or handbags and you are a vegan, I’m not going to try and convert you. Our views on how we use animals for different products are irreconcilable.
- If you eat meat or use any animal products like leather or gelatine, then you are directly responsible for the death of an animal. You may prefer someone else to kill it for you, but be sure – they are killing it for you. When you buy a packet of bacon you are part of the entire process by which pigs are farmed, fattened, killed and processed. If you deny this you are deluding yourself.
So, given that most of us use animals products in some form or other, and we are therefore all responsible for the death of those animals, why the outcry over Melissa Bachman and the King of Spain hunting in South Africa and Botswana? More strangely, why has there never been an outcry over Nelson Mandela’s hunting? I accept that people find killing animals distasteful. I have slaughtered my own chickens and cows and I don’t find it a pleasant experience. It’s just something I did, quickly and humanely, to provide myself with food. Slaughtering animals is something most people would prefer to let someone else do for them, and I accept that you do not have to develop the skill of cutting off a chickens head in order to be an ethical consumer of meat. I will argue strongly however, that you have a responsibility to make sure your meat comes from a source that does not inflict suffering during the life of the animal or the death of the animal. That is your direct responsibility and the truth is most people don’t really give damn. The same people clicking on a Facebook link condemning Melissa Bachman or King Juan Carlos as cruel murderers are quite happy to sit down to a meal of roast chicken that has been reared under conditions of unimaginable suffering. Don’t get me started on intensive pig farming. The scale and level of suffering that these operations inflict on animals that we consume on a daily basis is a secret nobody wants to hear.
Most people who object to the hunting of wildlife on the grounds of animal cruelty have no ethical basis for making such an objection. They’re just hypocrites who prefer not to be reminded where their cheap meat comes from. I don’t deny however, that people feel a genuine emotion when they see a giraffe or a lion or an elephant being killed and it is this emotion that generates an anti-hunting response. Like all emotions its a complicated mix of factors that are worth looking at. People’s reactions to hunting are important because the hunting of wildlife represents an important sustainable use of a renewable African resource. There is an increasingly aggressive and strident objection to hunting African wildlife which is having an impact on what could be a sustainable industry in some areas of Africa. The emotional response to hunting seems to arise from three main perceptions:
- There is an increasing objection in many countries around the world to environmental degradation. This is a good thing. The best outcome for the environment is a groundswell of people power that pushes for change.
- People who object to hunting African wildlife make a link between hunting and abuse of the environment, and they think that animals are being hunted to extinction. There is also a view of African habitats that does not have any place for people and hunting is seen as a blot on the Disneyland landscape that all the happy animals live in. This is a delusion, avidly capitalised on by Hollywood and it’s Lion King depiction of Africa.
- People think that hunting is cruel and causes unnecessary suffering. I think I’ve dealt with this point already. A clean shot from a rifle that kills instantly is more humane than the method used to kill most of the animals we eat.
Let’s get the extinction idea out of the way first. There is a huge amount of variation across Africa in the state of wildlife populations, but the overwhelming threat to their existence is habitat loss or poaching, not commercial hunting. Wildlife is poached because the ownership structure and governance arrangements deny ordinary African people ownership of a resource which could generate revenue for their communities. Namibia has very successful community conservancies where hunting plays an important part in generating revenue. The vast majority of well managed wildlife populations are increasing. Elephants in southern Africa are not decreasing in number. Lions have been hit hard by hunting and now that research has established this there are very few places left where you can hunt wild lion, and it should be stopped altogether. There are no wild lions in South Africa and Melissa Bachman’s lion was probably bred for the purpose of being hunted. Just like that cow you ate last week when you had roast beef for Sunday lunch. Cruel you say? Inhuman? I’m not a fan of canned lion hunting, but if the animal is hunted in a large enough area and killed cleanly and humanely it’s had a better life and a more humane death than most of the farm animals we eat. It also takes the pressure off the wild lion populations and generates money for keeping land under wildlife ranching. I’m sorry if you don’t like it when Pumba’s friend Simba gets killed by an evil hunter, but spare a thought for Little Bo-Peep when her sheep don’t come home wagging their tails behind them and her mother calls her in for a dinner of roast leg of lamb. There is no rational difference between farming wildlife for human consumption and farming domesticated animals for the same purpose.
I’ve written about the role of humans in shaping African landscapes but I should probably write an entire post about it. The truth is that Africa has been shaped by fire and hunting for thousands of years and the Eden that existed before humans, is a fiction. Almost all the National Parks of Africa were created by moving people out so that this fantasy could be sustained. This is being increasingly recognised and the communities who live around these parks are slowly being allowed to take a fair share of the resources. One of the best ways to generate revenue from these areas is to charge a lot of money to hunt a few of the animals. People who say that non-consumptive uses such as game viewing safaris can generate more revenue than hunting are missing an important part of the puzzle. Their so-called ‘sustainable tourism’ ignores the fact that the most unsustainable thing you can do is get on an aeroplane and fly halfway across the world. There’s no such thing as sustainable tourism unless it consists of you riding a bicycle or sailing a yacht to wherever you plan to go on holiday. If we look at carbon emissions per person, hunting is far and away the most sustainable use of wildlife because fewer people come and hunt per dollar in income that is generated.
By opposing the hunting of African wildlife you are imposing a Western ideology on the sustainable use of Africa’s renewable resources and it’s an ideology that most Africans do not share. Huge areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia are ranched under wildlife instead of cattle because wildlife is valuable. If you remove it’s value it will be poached to extinction, just like it is in Kenya and other countries that do not allow wildlife to have a commercial value.
So before you join a hate campaign against Melissa Bachman or King Juan Carlos, look inwards a little and make sure your views are rational and consistent. Never condone cruelty to an animal – but at least be consistent when you condemn cruel practices. The truth is that only the vegans hold the moral high ground here, and even a vegan would find it difficult to start a hate campaign against Nelson Mandela.