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In the wake of the Cecil the Lion furore, Garry Mallard explains the significant differences between hunters and poachers.
Many things divide hunters. Not least, the question of whether hunting for trophies alone, as opposed to subsistence hunting, is ethically or morally justifiable. Many things unite us too. Among them, respect for the principles of fair chase, regulation, sustainability and an abiding disdain for those who flout these principles, otherwise known as poachers.
I, however, am not a trophy hunter.
While I undoubtedly take pride in the proficiency I’ve achieved, the traditional and cultural hunting skills and activities I help preserve and the self-sufficiency associated with bringing fresh, free-range, organic meat and other resources into my home, I am not driven to hang heads on my walls. That’s their thing. I do not condemn the trophy hunter on noble or supposedly enlightened moral principles nor do I support their activities without reservation.
This is true of many hunters, who, like me, believe we are all bound by basic rules associated with sustainability, humaneness, maximum use of the quarry, the strict observance of legality and the rules of fair chase.
Walter Palmer, the American dentist accused of killing a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe appears to have comprehensively flouted all the rules. I say “appears” to have flouted the rules because “facts” leaking out of Zimbabwe continue to evolve and even contradict on a daily basis.
He is reported to have conspired with guides to lure his quarry from a protected environment, using bait to ensure his quarry would be in a specific, if not fixed location, for his killing shot. He has failed to kill his quarry swiftly and while this may happen even when the most conscientious hunter is involved, if the reports are accurate, he has failed even to be sufficiently prepared to ensure a swift second shot to minimise suffering.
He has targeted an animal fitted with a radio collar and part of an active research project, which was also easily distinguishable from other members of the species he was licensed to hunt, by virtue of his distinctive black mane.
He has endeavoured to cover his activities to avoid prosecution and associated mandatory confiscation of his trophy and in the process wasted the carcass, other than those aspects required for taxidermy.
To exploit the sort of emotive sensationalism that enhances exposure, the Australian media refers to such people as “illegal hunters”. Throughout the rest of the world, the media, authorities and indeed the Oxford Dictionary, all refer to them more correctly as “poachers” and they are anathema to all responsible hunters.
It is natural to feel concern and even anger at the circumstances of Cecil’s death. Empathy, the new crowning glory of our species, is a uniquely human and for the most part, an admirable trait. Alas, concepts such as hatred, calculated – often frighteningly imaginative – retribution and the desire to seek revenge are also uniquely human traits.
A quick tour of social media reveals the depth of unbridled hatred harboured for Cecil’s killer. Many people believe the American dentist should be extradited and hung…because killing is wrong? Some even go so far to suggest that the act should be performed in front of his children to teach them a lesson about…what…cruelty and empathy?
Society decries the hunting of charismatic species such as lions and elephants, yet we applaud the efforts of men and women who sally forth in paramilitary gear to hunt and kill poachers?
As a hunter, I am often asked “What gives you the right to take another life?” It’s a tricky question, not because it is difficult to answer, but because the questioner usually is dismissive of my answer, unless it follows the rigid structure of “Nothing, sorry, you’re right. I’ll mend my evil ways forthwith!”
They do not pose the question to any other species, not only because it would be futile, but because they believe it is completely natural, even noble, for the mighty lion to kill the graceful gazelle “because he has to” or “because he doesn’t know any better.”
My justification for subsistence hunting is quite uncomplicated. I hunt because I choose to. I choose not to abandon a practice that is as old as humanity itself. I choose to be a participant in the eternal struggle of life on earth, rather than the benign messianic shepherd of all I survey.
Most of all, it is the example set by the enlightened who vehemently oppose hunting that makes me very proud to be counted among the unenlightened.
Like so many other hunters who are daily subjected to the vengeful wrath of the enlightened, I do not kill a deer because I hate it, because I have judged it morally or ethically wanting and thus fit to be condemned to ridicule, death or even torture as befits my concept of justice.
I take the life of the deer for exactly the same reasons Cecil took the lives of innumerable creatures during his 13 years on earth.
In fact by using hide, antler and sinew, I put my quarry to far more holistic use than Cecil was either inclined or equipped to do, however, none of this is justification enough to those who thrive on the raw meat of hatred and the malignancy of blind contempt.
The change so often demanded in the name of ‘enlightenment’, when born of emotive hatred or philosophical disdain, never serves society well. In such cases, the claimed ‘enlightenment’ is simply a justification for intolerance and social media a stage for intimidation and ego-gratifying display.