BY MARK CRUDGINGTON
Lord Goldsmith wants trophy hunting banned because he finds the idea of it, as well as photos of hunters posing with dead animals, repulsive. This is a call echoed and endorsed by celebrities such as Ricky Gervais, Peter Egan, Chris Packham and even the explorer Ranulph Fiennes. Lord Goldsmith claims trophy hunting is helping species extinction as well as damaging some environments without providing substantive evidence to support his claims.
However, the main claim by all these worthies is that banning the import of hunting trophies will lead to the end of trophy hunting and primarily to a greater number and diversity of game animals in Africa, as well as saving such animals from a “horrible death” which seems to be a mainstay of the argument put forward by opponents of trophy hunting. They fail to state, however, how the death of an animal from a well-aimed bullet should be regarded as more “horrible” than being caught by a large predator and suffocated, than being hit by a motor vehicle and left to linger in the bush, than being caught in a snare or trap laid by a “commercial” poacher and dying slowly or than getting caught by pack hunters such as hyenas and being possibly disembowelled and eaten alive.
The killing of animals has become removed from the experience of most modern humans in the “privileged, civilised, Western world”, yet all of those countries still authorise the killing/slaughter of billions of birds and animals, from domestic herds/flocks, whose body parts are sold in ways that further remove the reality of that slaughter from the ‘civilised’ consciousness. The skins of many of those food animals are turned into leather and other body parts are used for a variety of products to satisfy human needs /vanity, as well as ensuring that no part is wasted, as occurs in nature.
Another claim made by Lord Goldsmith and his acolytes is that people who choose to hunt “enjoy” killing animals. If that were the case, surely hunters would choose to work in slaughterhouses or buy domestic animals and kill them in ways that satisfied a need for what Gervais and the others call “sick entertainment”? A far cheaper and easier route to “sick entertainment” than undergoing the real rigours and occasional privations involved in true hunting.
My understanding, based on more than 55 years of being a hunter, is that people hunt to experience a deep-seated genetic drive which is to experience the challenge of out-witting a “prey” animal in its own environment and to ensure as quick and clean a kill as possible in order to end up with a supply of meat or to help maintain a balance of wildlife in the modern, very constrained natural environment. Whilst this may seem abhorrent to the likes of Lord Goldsmith, it does not mean that hunting is wrong or unsustainable. There are many things found “abhorrent” by people of all creeds, colours and genders, yet unilateral abhorrence alone can never be a reason for stopping or banning something. If it was, I dare say the majority of the world population would all be confined in straight-jackets and allowed to do nothing at all.
The reality is that those who hunt are enacting a deep seated genetic “scar of evolution”, to quote Elaine Morgan, that helped us survive for several million years. Because our ancestors were hunter gatherers, there is perhaps some equal evolutionary scar to gather or nurture rather than to hunt, resulting in a lack of understanding of those who do hunt? In the 21st century the need to hunt has become more ritualised and controlled like many things in the human psyche.
The result of this long-standing ritual and control is that there are carefully defined seasons where female or breeding birds and animals cannot be legally hunted and there are, especially in Africa, game departments that set quotas for numbers, sex and age that can be hunted, all done with scientific rigour and the full force of the law. In wild areas that can be hunted, animal populations can be shown to be stable compared to areas where legal hunting is banned. If (as the cabal who want to ban trophy hunting claim) hunters only want to kill for pleasure, then it is not reasonable to assume that hunters would behave in a more “natural way”, like wild hunting dogs, hyenas, wolves and other large Carnivora, by catching the youngest and weakest prey and to start eating or tearing victims to pieces before they are killed? There are plenty of films of lions, for example, where a pride starts eating a prey animal whilst it is demonstrably still alive whilst being suffocated by the lion that caught it. Such films are often shown and presumably viewed by those who claim an interest in nature, but do they suggest that lions enjoy the experience? Maybe the anti-hunters would agree that even primitive and less efficient weapons such as spears or bows and arrows would provide a better animal death than the horrible “natural death”? (Not to mention the “primitive weapon” furore that erupted recently over the killing of an old lion (who didn’t know he had been named Cecil) by an American dentist using a powerful, modern bow and arrow.)
Lord Goldsmith and his old cronies find the sight of taxidermy or photos of hunters with dead animals repulsive. Indeed, because the very idea of hunting and killing something is so repulsive to them, they automatically describe hunters in emotive terms such as “degenerate”, “psychotic”, or “murderous”. I could equally argue that there are many countrymen and women who find Lord Goldsmith and his friends, with their inherited wealth and dictatorial proclamations, to be just as repulsive.
In fact, the banning of the import of taxidermy related to hunting will have zero effect on the demand for hunting trips. Hunters go on such trips for the lived experience. If a memento is required, then photographs will still be taken. I imagine photography cannot be banned. So, what are all these worthies hoping to achieve? The “trophy” is not the whole object of the hunt – it is the hunting that is the focus for a true hunter. Any trophy is merely kept as a memento or fond memory. In many cases, taxidermy is a specimen that can be used for scientific and genetic study, leading to the improvement of the hunted animals, as a species, by careful selective hunting and culling.
The “trophy pictures” are mere records – the use of modern phone cameras has resulted in billions of “trophy ” photos being taken – selfies with celebrities, photos of exotic places visited and even photos of meals. They could all be regarded as “trophies” collected. Do they intend to ban those too?
In all areas where there is wild game, whether it be deer in Surrey, lions in Tanzania, elephants in Namibia or grouse in Scotland, the conservation of those species and populations requires human intervention and management. The most important factor in the survival of these species is to have enough wild land or habitat to exist and survive. With ever-expanding human populations in Africa, there is huge pressure on “wild ” land for development. This pressure is the cause of much negative interaction between big game and humans, usually with the human coming off worse. It results in a demand to kill the offending wild animal that, in reality, was only behaving in a natural way to a perceived threat or food item.
To protect the encroaching humans those game reserves and parks that provide suitable “wild lands” for wild game animals to maintain a viable population, in virtually all cases remove surplus animals, either by killing them or transplanting them to areas with too few of that species. Rangers have to go out and kill hundreds of big and small game animals in game parks and reserves in Africa, including in those countries that have banned sport hunting, such as Kenya. They are paid to do the job for the good of the animals, resulting in what I am sure Lord Goldsmith would describe as a “horrible death”. Other countries allow controlled sport hunting to remove a percentage of surplus animals that require culling in order to maintain a healthy balance and in the process use the revenue to support conservation elsewhere. This might typically fund rangers to do an even better job, controlling poaching that, uncontrolled and money driven, can wipe out entire species in certain areas.
We must also remember that an animal is totally unaware whether the bullet that kills it is fired by a wealthy sport hunter, an indigenous hunter looking for food, or an underpaid working ranger or a criminal poacher. It is only the worthies sitting in their ivory towers in London and elsewhere, totally removed from the reality of the African bush, who anthropomorphise about how animals ponder the motives of those who hunt them. Remember too that the majority of wild animals, especially large herbivores, are constantly hunted by predators. It is their lot in life and it’s how nature works. Being hunted is a fact of life and a constant characteristic of existence for most wild creatures, from the smallest fly to the Cape buffalo.
My experience of watching Wild Red Deer in remote parts of Scotland is that they are constantly in a state of alertness, ready to flee at the first sign of danger, whether that sign is a human or an imagined bear, wolf or lynx. I cannot find any scientific literature that shows any evidence that wild animals are aware of how they could die or if they can project, as we humans can, any pain or suffering they might experience as a consequence of being hunted or of the process of death itself by whatever cause. The thought, by Lord Goldsmith and others, that removing trophy hunting will somehow stop animals being hunted or experiencing whatever feelings they do feel when hunted, is sentimental hogwash of the most mawkish kind.
It could be argued that people who focus on such single issues as “animal rights” or a ban on trophy hunting are actually involving themselves in “virtuous conceit”, so carefully described by Sebastian Morello or as so piercingly examined by Bernard Levin in his Times piece of 1986 “Four legs better” describing, as Morello does, the more worrying aspect of such single issue focus groups, especially the way they try to portray perceived perpetrators. They describe them as “sub human” showing a similarity in their actions and beliefs to the methods used by various dictators but most prominently the Nazis, trying to engage a disinterested populace to help destroy those on whom they focus their single issue venom. When we look at the dishonesty and bile produced by such organisations as Wild Justice, the Hunt Saboteurs Association and even celebrities like Ricky Gervais, we can make the link with the philosophical arguments given by Morello and Levin.
Lord Goldsmith, Messrs Gervais, Fiennes, Packham, Egan and et al could club together and buy or lease the great areas of Africa they criticise with their conceited virtue. With such areas under their control, they could then show the world that their method of conservation works and is far better, more productive and demonstrably more lucrative than those areas that allow regulated hunting. However, to date, especially Ricky Gervais (who was given the chance to buy game farm animals in South Africa that were being auctioned), they have refused to help conserve the very thing they claim they want to.
It is also possible that they could use their wealth, celebrity and influence to act in virtuous ways towards their fellow man. When we see the dreadful hardships endured by people in deprived nations compared to the West, would it not make more sense for these “heroes” to concentrate on acting with virtue towards those less fortunate than themselves? After all, those unfortunate people could express their relief and thanks to their benefactors far better than animals who have no conscience or sentient knowledge of such displayed virtue.
Could it be that all the worthies actually have an intolerance problem with people whose beliefs differ from theirs? Like many sinister and despotic individuals and parties in history, is it possible that the hate directed towards those who choose to have a different lifestyle or belief fuels the need to portray hunters as subhuman, bestial and psychotic, a dehumanising process that allows for the destruction of lifestyles and beliefs in order to satisfy a single-minded virtue signal and a conceited feature of a group of people who do not, and have not taken the time, to learn the realities of game conservation and management in Africa or indeed elsewhere.
Mark Crudgington is a 2nd generation gunmaker, at large in Wiltshire. His company George Gibbs Ltd is nearing its 200th birthday. A passionate shot, angler, deer stalker and natural sceptic.