DRAWING A “LION” IN THE SAND

“I am an expert witness because I say I am.
I will testify for you, I’m a gun for hire, I’m a saint, I’m a liar.
Because there are no facts, there is no truth; just data to be manipulated.
I can get any results you like. What’s it worth to you?
Because there is no wrong, there is no right, and I sleep very well at night.”
(Don Henley – The Garden of Allah)

Don Henley is one of the greatest songwriters of our time, and his words often speak of a truth that is absolute. And this particular verse really captures my attention, particularly as related to the plight of many of our endangered, threatened and beloved wildlife; including lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos, polar bears, etc., etc. And while few question the precipitous drop in population of these various species of animals over the last 20, 30, 40 years, data presented by the hunting establishment would suggest that not only are these animals at no risk of extinction, but they are actually increasing in numbers. (“I’m a gun for hire…I can get you any results you like. What’s it worth to you?”)

Big Cat Threatened Poster

The simple fact is, the populations of these beloved creatures are dwindling, and dwindling quickly.

This particular article was one I started to write several months ago, but wasn’t quite sure the path I wanted it to follow. Originally, I envisioned this as a follow-up to “Agent of Change” and “Riding the Wave of Change”. However, as any artist will attest, when the creative juices aren’t flowing toward that idea, you can’t force it. Put it away, and sooner or later, the timing will be right, and I find that time to be now.

So, three months ago, the tragic story of Cecil the Lion erupted into national and world news. Cecil was mortally wounded on July 1st; but it was not until July 26th that his story first appeared in social media pages. Three months later, Cecil continues to generate a myriad of strong and passionate emotions. And while Cecil is no longer headline news, if you listen carefully, you can still hear the steady and slow beat of the war drum off in the distance. Dum…Dum…Dum…not unlike the classic Hollywood westerns. Cecil may no longer exist in the physical realm, but his spirit projects that slow steady drum beat that continues to inspire his supporters to fight the cause of those that cannot speak for themselves.

I believe it is safe to say that the hunting community was initially caught off guard as to the passion and drive of a re-energized anti-hunting movement. And while there were, and are, a number of people who questioned why Cecil was a story at all, public opinion could best be described as shock, anger, outrage, a demand for justice, and a demand for change.

However, what caught the hunting establishment off guard was not necessarily the traditional animal rights activists and the well-known animal welfare organizations. They have been battling the hunting establishment for years. No, the surprise was that this anger was coming from the main stream. And of course, that is their greatest fear.

Historically, the hunting establishment has often been able to pass off animal activists as extremists; as people with a love for animals that exists beyond a rational behavior. And unfortunately, even though this is an unfair and very untrue statement, this argument has been bought and sold many times. And from first-hand experience, I know that many within the mainstream did not always believe the narrative of the animal rights activists. They just could not believe that humans were even capable of this type of activity or behavior, and that the story told must be a gross exaggeration. Then Cecil opened up the proverbial “can of worms” and suddenly mainstream had no choice but to acknowledge man’s capabilities of the senseless killing of defenseless animals.

As they dug deeper into the subject, they realized it was even worse than they could have imagined…canned hunting and other extreme acts of animal abuse. And once the general public becomes outraged and demands change, it becomes almost impossible to stop the momentum. Knowledge is power, and power begets change.

As Hermann Meyeridricks, president of the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) stated “From my dealings with the media and the community, it has become clear to me that those against the hunting of lions bred in captivity are no longer just a small if vociferous group of animal-rights activists. Broader society is no longer neutral on this question and the tide of public opinion is turning strongly against this form of hunting, however it is termed. Even within our own ranks, as well as in the hunting fraternity as a whole, respected voices are speaking out publicly against it.”

Trophy Hunting Illustration
Unfortunately, as animal rights activists will argue the cruelty of hunting and the unethical and immoral facets associated with this sport, the pro-hunting community will argue hunting as a mode of conservation; and that it is naturally engrained in the human psyche to hunt.

The reality is that this world is a complex place; and rarely are issues truly black and white. For every action or inaction, there is a justification for that action or inaction; regardless if it is steeped in logic. The basis may be supportable by facts; or it may just be an emotionally charged response. “Because there is no wrong, there is no right, and I sleep very well at night.”

Hunting appears to be one of those subjects that is so divisive, it truly “draws that line in the sand”. It is a dare of debate; and not a friendly and spirited debate that concludes with both sides shaking hands and wishing each other a nice ‘rest of the evening’. And in fact, if one side did extend a hand in friendship, the other side would be suspicious as to what weapon is hidden in the other hand.

Yet at the same time, this is a subject that people must engage in active communication and debate, because the end result of this will have far-reaching consequences not only in our lifetime, but in the lifetime of our children and grandchildren. The crux of the issue is not just survival of these magnificent animals; but an environment in which they flourish and are not constantly facing “threatened” or “endangered” classification, or worse, extinction.

Photo 1

It is a sure bet that 99.99% of the animal rights groups would like to see every animal that is currently either threatened and endangered to be restored to a healthy sustainable level. At the same time, it is also a safe bet to assume that 97.5% of the hunting community also desires sustainability above threatened level – at least for certain animals. Unfortunately, this solidarity stops there because survival of these species has a very different meaning and very different intent for the two groups.

Animal advocates have a fundamental belief that animals have as much right to exist on this earth as humans. They have beating hearts, they have souls, they have feelings, they have emotions, and killing for the sake of killing is a cruel and inhumane sport. It is immoral, it is unethical. The act lacks complete compassion and is contrary to us as stewards of our planet.

The pro-hunting group desires a healthy animal population; but only to ensures an ample supply of trophy opportunities. Aside from the sample size of the population that hunts deer or elk, or similar game for food, the remainder of the hunting population simply has an insatiable desire to hunt…to kill.

WHY THAT LINE HAS BEEN DRAWN

Obviously, the fact that the two groups are polar opposites when it comes to the “trophy” animals (Have I mentioned that I hate that word?) is in itself the reason that line of demarcation is drawn. However, I believe it is more than that. The manner in which the trophy hunter touts his kill naturally generates this seething anger and venomous hate from the animal advocates directed at the hunter. The triumphant pose in a dominating position over their lifeless victim, or holding the animal up for a photo opportunity, and always exhibiting an ear-to-ear grin…as if this activity marked the highlight of their life. This over the top behavior is sure to spew hatred.

ivory
Source: One Green Planet

I compare this to a football game and the fan reaction when the opposing team scores a touchdown. If the wide receiver simply returns the football to the referee or perhaps engages in the basic spiking of the football, the fan’s reaction is generally limited to disappointment and maybe some frustration. However if that same receiver appears to be promoting his second career as a Broadway dancer wannabe, engages in a celebratory touchdown dance ritual, and attempts to show up the opponent, the fan tends to be a little more expressive of his feelings.

If these photographs of hunters in their celebratory poses were not circulated widely, and did not appear on social media pages, the anger and outrage toward the hunting community would be substantially lessened. The “pose” has essentially become a middle finger extension to the animal community, and certainly has added fuel to the fire.

Additionally, I would surmise that if the hunting community was more honest and simply acknowledged that this desire to hunt as just that…a desire to hunt, at least some within the animal community might have a tad bit more respect for this activity. However, when hunters attempt to justify the act with buzz words of “conservation”, “weeding out the weak and the old” and that they are doing it to help feed the villagers, this does nothing but generate more anger and hostility.

So, let’s simplify this entire discussion and make it as crystal clear as it can be. The hunter trophy hunts because he (or she) likes to hunt. Period.

Now, there is certainly a driver behind this hunting passion. Maybe it truly is related to a less than average appendage, or another biological shortcoming. Maybe it is related to an inferiority complex, or some other shortcoming. Maybe it is something handed down from generation to generation. Perhaps there are some hunters that truly believe that hunting provides an overall environmental benefit. Maybe the hunter feels a need to project his power over something, and in that regards, I guess killing an animal is better than beating his wife and child.

And while I attempt to give these trophy hunters the benefit of the doubt and to come up with a justifiable reason for hunting, I draw a blank. I hear some of the reasons (“I love animals so I shoot them.” or “The kill is just a small part of the entire experience.”), and they don’t make any rationale sense. I could easily write an article entitled “Why I Hunt” and just leave the page blank.

It pushes my limit to grasp the understanding of a hunter that states it is the love for animals that drives the hunter to kill the animal. That is no different from me saying that I love Lamborghinis, so I can’t wait to buy one so that I can crash it into a wall. True love is not stalking and it is not controlling. It is appreciating something or someone for whom or what they are; not trying to change them or own them. And killing something or someone definitely is not indicative of love.

But the true crux of the debate always seems to come back to the issue of conservation. Hunters tout that they are better conservationists and do more for lions and other wild animals than the animal loving / anti-hunting community. But, how does one define conservation?

According to the dictionary, conservation is defined as “the action of conserving something; in particular, preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystem, vegetation and wildlife.” The hunting community’s definition of conservation seems to only focus on “restoration” for the sake of killing.

This explanation suggests that hunters spend a significant sum of money for the right to kill these animals, and that money in turn is invested into the local economies. That local investment will encourage the local community to protect the lions and leopards and help them to view these animals as revenue sources rather than livestock threats and their way of life. And the second part of this argument is that by targeting and killing the older and weaker animals, this ensures survival of the species.

trophy hunting black rhinos copy

Okay, I get it. In theory (a word that needs to be triple underscored, bolded, italicized, quoted and in a 48 Font), this has some validity. As much as the rest of the world loves the beauty, grace and awesomeness of the majestic lion or the leopard or the elephant, many of the African natives simply see these creatures as a nuisance; damaging and destroying crops or livestock or threatening human life. It is difficult for us to put ourselves in the position of these simple farmers and ranchers. However, if you have ever had a squirrel in your attic, or a neighbor with a dog that barks all night along, you can somewhat understand this attitude toward these wild creatures.

So, if the local community was a benefactor of this hunting revenue, that money could be invested in fencing to keep the lion or the elephant away from the crops. It could be an incentive for the local people; that rather to shoot or poison the animals, to actually look after them. Or the money could be utilized to hire additional rangers to fight off the poachers.

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that this money does not make it down to the community levels; and if it does, it is such a nominal amount, it accomplishes none of the above. There have been a number of studies on this subject, and only about 3% of the total hunting revenues actually benefit the local communities. Perhaps this has to do with the amount of corruption existing in many of these African countries. If the government leaders operated more honest and open governments, more money would funnel down to the local communities. Unfortunately today, that revenue is no more than an occasional drip of a leaky faucet. Theory is not reality. It does not work.

The hunter also suggests that he (or she) must take a God-like role in nature, and that somehow he (or she) is playing the hero because he targets the old, the weak and the sick. And in doing so, this strengthens the remaining herd and ensures its survival. Well of course. Eliminating the old, weak and sick does help preserve the remaining herd; because this is exactly what nature does and the ecosystem quite frankly, does not need our help. It operates perfectly without us.

Within the lion community, the male lion will run a pride until he is usurped by a nomadic lion who has challenged his authority. He will beat either back the challenger and continue to rule, or the nomadic lion will prove the stronger; take over the pride; and the older, male lion will be banished from his rule. At that point in time, he will live out his remaining years in isolation or perhaps team up with another nomadic lion and jointly challenge leadership of another pride.

Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory is clearly at play within the lion community, as with all other animals in the natural world. The oldest, sickest, and weakest will be left behind and will die through natural causes. This may be difficult for us to accept, because we feel compassion for those who are sick and frail and elderly; and generally, we take care of our weak. While animals also have compassion, the animal species also has an innate understanding that the entire species will be under constant threat of survival if the weak and sick are not weeded out.

This is how the ecosystem was designed and quite frankly, without man in the mix, it works perfectly. There is not a need for the hunting community to insert themselves into this process. Additionally, how many hunters, if completely honest, would agree that they seek the largest rack, the largest mane, the biggest tusks…not the smallest rack, the smallest mane, and the smallest tusks. Targeting the old, weak and sick is completely contrary to the “thrill of the hunt” and the adrenalin and emotional highs that supposedly drive this sport. This argument is completely without merit and needs to be eliminated from the conversation entirely.

If there needs to be final “nail in the coffin” proof to the fact that the hunter is not a conservationist, this may be answered in an article that was just published by Bloomberg Business.com entitled “Lion Heads Arrive in Record Numbers as U.S. Considers Crackdown”.

As the African lion population continues the dramatic and downward spiral, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has been pressured to designate the lion as a threatened species, if not endangered status. We will not get into the details as to why the US FWS has dragged their feet for so long on this issue, or the fact that certain US FWS officials are too closely aligned to Safari Club International and other hunting organizations to effectively govern without an obvious conflict of interest; although this certainly would be an eye-opening subject to expose.

Very shortly, the US FWS will be making this determination, and threatened species status would effectively make it illegal to transport any part of the lion into the United States. Although this act would not prevent a hunter from hunting lions, he would no longer be able to transport the trophy into the country. And given that approximately 60% of lions killed in Africa are killed by U.S. citizens, ban the shipment of lion trophies, and the number of hunters making that trip to Africa will drop significantly.
But according to this article and the US FWS, Americans imported a record 745 African lions as trophies in 2014; up 70 percent since 2011 and more than double the total in 2000.

As noted by Aaron Neilson, an African safari broker based in Colorado noted “Guys fearing that I’ll never get my opportunity to get a lion, they’re getting it while the getting’s good. The overall consensus among everybody selling lion hunts has been, ‘Man, get it now.”

This simple and succinct statement sums it up. The hunter cares nothing about conservation. The hunter cares about his trophy. That’s it. Certainly, if hunters were concerned about the plight of the lion; rather than intensifying their efforts to go shoot one, they should be voluntarily backing down and giving the lion population an opportunity to recover. This is the opposite of conservation.

Graph 1

The bottom line is this: the population of the big cats has dropped significantly in the last 50 years; and at the current rate, they will all become extinct. And to be fair, aside from natural factors such as disease and starvation (which should have a nominal bearing on the overall species count), poaching and loss of habitat are probably bigger contributors to the population loss than hunting. That said, losing 600 to 700 male lions every year to trophy hunting is a statistic that cannot sustain this population.

Hunters will continue to argue themselves as conservationists. However, there is one very simple way of proving this. Ban all trophy hunting activity for a period of five years. At the end of that five-year period, let’s take a look at the lion, leopard and cheetah populations. If these populations have continued to decline at the same rate, this will prove that trophy hunting does not have a negative impact on these animals. However, if these species show stabilization and recovery, then this proves otherwise. Something tells me that the hunting organizations will never go for this idea because they already know what the answer will yield. What do you think?

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