Guns N’ Poses: Altruism gone awry

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Kathleen Stachowski  Other Nations

It’s been hard to miss the spectacle: The Donald’s two sons and a whole passel of dead African animals. A short video of trophy still shots includes one Son of a Trump holding a knife and an elephant’s tail.  The hunt was arranged through Hunting Legends (motto: “Legends are forged in the crucible of Africa’s wild places.  The legend within answers to the call of your hunter’s spirit. Don’t just be…be the legend”). Apparently the company is feeling the sting of criticism from legitimate conservationists, given this defensive post. (Sorry, but “The Trumps hunt Africa” page is password protected.)

Trophy hunters routinely attempt to cloak their ego trips in a facade of altruism, claiming that the dollars spent help native communities–and that natives are the beneficiaries of the meat. Said Donald, Jr.: “I can assure you it was not wasteful – the villagers were so happy for the meat which they don’t often get to eat.” He tweeted that the hunts control animal populations and the money spent contributes to conservation. But from the UK Telegraph comes this:

Johnny Rodriquez, of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said the Matetsi reserve, near Victoria Falls, where the men hunted was sparsely populated so the meat was unlikely to benefit anyone. “Because of the state of the country, there is also very little transparency about where the money these hunters spend goes,” he added. “If they want to help Zimbabwe, there are many better ways to do so.”

Matthew Scully, in his excellent book Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, offers up a scathing chapter on Safari Club International (SCI) and its mission of altruism, suggesting that trophy hunters need “to feel themselves a part of some grand and glorious purpose beyond mere butchery,” a need he attributes to Theodore Roosevelt:

It’s a very American thing. British and German hunters had been in Africa long before T.R. got there, filling their own safari journals with breathless romantic drivel but sparing us, at least, any pretense of altruism. To Roosevelt we owe the notion of the safari as a form of public service and the rich American trophy hunter as a sort of missionary, there to uplift the natives and instruct them in the ways of game management. ~M. Scully

SCI goes so far as to claim that African wildlife is of value to humans only because hunters have “created” that value!

“THERE ARE ETHICAL HUNTERS OUT HERE – BELIEVE IT OR NOT,” claims Hunting Legends at the aforementioned post. “Yes, we even hunt elephant. Elephant which are destroying their own habitat and killing themselves. If not controlled these very same elephants would have absolutely nothing to eat. They are destroying themselves, only because their (sic) are to (sic) many of them!”

What do overcrowded, underfunded Zimbabwean prisons have to do with wild pachyderms? Just last year the government suggested feeding elephant meat to prisoners, attempting to reinforce the notion of elephant overpopulation by placing their numbers at 100,000. Conservationists dispute this number, claiming fewer than 35,000 elephants remain and that a state-sponsored cull would be misguided.

Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force slammed the proposal, arguing that the move would result in the extinction of elephants and in the long result in the “killing” of the tourism industry.

He said: “This is the most dangerous thing that they will be doing if approved. One of the biggest foreign currency earners in the country is tourism. How then can we steal from our own heritage? Why are we selling our future heritage down the drain? We should be looking after these intelligent animals so that they are not killed. Government should actually be putting in harsh laws to protect these animals.” Zimbabwe Independent

To understand the political and social climate in which Zimbabweans are attempting to protect animals, visit the task force website. The home page is titled “Zimbabwe’s Tragedy.” You’ll see why. It’s an uphill battle with numerous fronts, and likely no one is looking to “be the legend.” In this case, genuine altruism comes not from the barrel of a gun but from a strong backbone, a courageous voice, and the intestinal fortitude to stand up for animals against overwhelming odds.

13 Responses

  1. This is an oversimplification of the subject.

    I’ll admit, even as a hunter myself, big-dollar trophy and Safari hunting always struck me as a wasteful pastime for chest-puffing rich playboys.

    However, when I allowed myself to visit at length with some such hunters as well as read more about it, I found the subject is more complex than my own biased preconceptions made it out to be. And the good trophy hunters do — in protecting habitat and rare species, is undeniable.

    A few years ago, Mother Jones (hardly your typical “outdoor and hunting” press) did a very well researched and even-handed article on how hunters helped conserve rare wild sheep.

    It’s always easy to cherry pick the worst examples of something and snipe from the sidelines — and I did that for years against trophy and Safari hunters.

    It’s another to set aside your notions and actually learn about it.

  2. To Hal: Who do you think you are kidding? I have been around hunters. Hunters do not go after the weak and sick of a species; they go after the biggest and strongest they can find, and thus weaken the gene pool. So please, spare us the romantic notions of trophy hunters protecting habitat and rare species.

    BTW, any type of recreational killing is sick, and people who do that need to be confined and treated for abnormal behavior. If you have to kill a sentient, intelligent being to show that you are brave, or a man, then I feel very sorry for you. And I will stand up for the animals and fight you on their behalf.

  3. Phoebe,

    I question both the extent and depth of your experience with hunters. Not to mention, wildlife biologists, game wardens and other experts.

    Your first assertion is an ill-informed cliche. First of all, just wanting to find a trophy class animal is a far cry from actually getting to within striking distance of one. Most hunters never even see such animals. They don’t get that big by being stupid or making themselves easy to find during hunting season.
    To assume the mass of hunters are out there killing the biggest and best simply has no basis in reality.

    Secondly, by the time such an animal reaches the advanced age at which a serious trophy hunter might be interested in taking it, he is probably well past his prime. He has already had numerous mating seasons during which to pass on his superior genes, and not likely to live much longer anyway.

    Past that, your armchair psychology is duly noted, and dismissed.

  4. Early this month, a truly great man, a legend in the African conservation community, passed away. But the good he has done for the earth and its inhabitants will never depart.

    Even though Lawrence Anthony left this world miles away from Thula Thula, where his beloved elephants roamed free, the members of both herds at his sanctuary knew he had died. All of them walked 12 hours to his house, where they stood vigil for two days, mourning the loss of their dear friend.

    I would like to quote from Chapter 42 of Anthony’s book, THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER: MY LIFE WITH THE HERD IN THE AFRICAN WILD:

    “They say you get out of life what you put in, but that is only true if you can understand what it is that you are getting. As Nana’s and Frankie’s trunks snaked out to me over the fence, it dawned that they had given me so much more than I had given them. In saving their lives, the repayment I have received from them was immeasurable.

    “From Nana, the glorious matriarch, I learned how much family means. I learned just how much wise leadership, selfless discipline and tough unconditional love is the core of the family unit. I learned how important one’s own flesh and blood actually is when the dice are loaded against you.

    “From Frankie, the feisty aunt, I learned that loyalty to one’s group is paramount. Frankie would have laid down her life in a blink for her herd. To her, nothing was more important – there was no question about this being a ‘greater love.’ And the love and respect she received in return for her courage was absolute.

    “From Nandi, I learned about dignity and how much a real mother cares; how she was prepared to stand over her deformed baby for days without food or water, trying right until the end, refusing to surrender until the last breath had been gasped.

    “From Mandla, I saw how tough it can be for a baby to grow up on the run in a hostile world and how his devoted mother and aunts ensured he made it as best he could. Since Mnumzane’s death, he had reached puberty and was about to be kicked out of the herd, as nature decreed, and would have new challenges to face.

    “From Marula and Mabula, Frankie’s children, I saw firsthand what good parenting can achieve despite adverse circumstances. These beautiful, well-behaved children would be what we in human terms would call ‘good citizens’ – something often in short supply in our world. They saw how their mother and aunt treated me, and in return, they accorded me the respect one would give to a distinguished relative. I loved them for that.

    “From ET I learned forgiveness. I had managed to reach out to her through her heartbreak and distrust, but only because she had let me. Somewhere along the way she had recovered her life and in the process taught me how to forgive, as she had forgiven humans for the horrors they had visited on her own family before she came to us. She had given birth while I was away and was standing close by looking at me, proudly showing off her baby. I made a special fuss of her.

    “And, of course, there had been Mnumzane, my big boy who had become one of my dearest friends. Like anyone, there are things I regret in life – and to me the biggest one is that I did not somehow guess that an excruciating tooth infection had been the cause of him going ‘rogue.’ I console myself knowing that no other game ranger would likely have worked that one out either. Indeed, he would have been shot out of hand a lot earlier on most other reserves.

    “But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.”

    Please read the tributes to this gentle man; they are a worthwhile investment of your time, unlike anything The Donald or his sons will ever say on this subject:

  5. BlessUsAll–that’s quite beautiful. And I DID read the tributes…thank you. Yet the greatest tribute was from the elephants themselves. Phoebe, you are so right about recreational killing…thanks.

  6. Hal, no one thinks you are a good person for what you bring to the world by hunting (a.k.a. murdering) . You can try and rationalize it as much as you want but the truth is that we all know what you are, no good at all.

  7. Yes, thank you BlessUsAll for such beautiful quotes and the link to the article. It is no wonder that the likes of the Trumps, Hal and others who “take” want to dismiss the remarkable depth of these beings they consider “game”. To recognize otherwise would dismiss their vile acts for just what they are – Cold, ruthless, blood-lust.

    To find enjoyment in killing anyOne is a dirty, ugly hobby that needs to be renounced every chance we get. The macho-glory is all in their fat heads.

  8. Hal, you question Phoebe’s experience with hunting, but your own commentary shows a striking ignorance of deer biology, as well as misinformation about the bucks that hunters tend to target. You write, “… by the time such an animal reaches the advanced age at which a serious trophy hunter might be interested in taking it, he is probably well past his prime. He has already had numerous mating seasons during which to pass on his superior genes, and not likely to live much longer anyway.”

    This comment is inaccurate. If you are a hunter, then you well know that B&C-rated bucks can be, and often are, just a few years old. In fact, because the “rack” on a three-year-old buck can be so impressive to the trophy hunter, it’s often difficult for hunters to pass up this younger animal, even when it’s been suggested they do — to allow the animal to grow. Experienced hunters also know that a buck’s passage into the middle years makes him a bit smarter. So, younger, less savvy animals (with ample antlers) are often killed more easily.

    I’m sorry, but generally speaking, hunters do not target starving deer, or deer with chronic wasting disease. So, one can easily deduce that hunters target robust deer for various reasons and, in the case of antler acquisition, that often means a buck that hasn’t remotely achieved “prime.” In fact, due in part to hunting, many bucks never make it to their third year.

    Finally, you said, “to assume the mass of hunters are out there killing the biggest and best simply has no basis in reality.” Of course it does. If you’ve been around hunting and know hunters — if you read hunting journals, if you follow hunting blogs and understand the criteria for antler ratings and so forth, yes, there is ample reason for people to conclude that hunters are out there striving to kill the best, even if they are thwarted in those efforts at times.

  9. Ingrid,

    Some of what you say is accurate, but overall, I think your assertions still ring hollow.

    Much of it might be circumstantial. What might hold true for deer back East or down South — on small “hunt club” plots with few, if any, predators — will not hold true out here in Wyoming — with vast tracts of habitat, and numerous predators.

    The cliche that hunters take only the best animals, and the biology suffers as a result does not seem to be a wide concern outside of individuals or organizations who have an axe to grind against hunting.

    Most conservation organizations — the Nature Conservancy is but one example — recognize the contributions of hunters, and often work closely with them.

    Furthermore, the notions that four-legged predators don’t also take their share of the biggest and most healthy cervids is pure bunk.

    An experienced mountain lion is more than able to take any deer she pleases. And a large buck — which is far more likely to be off by himself when the mating season isn’t on — makes a juicy target for her.

    Ditto for large, dominant bull elk –who retreat to solitude after the rut, thereby becoming better targets for wolves, cats or grizzlies.

    I’m dubious as to your assertions regarding what makes a trophy animal.

    Have you looked at the B&C minimum scores? We’re not talking about what looks “big” to the average Joe or untrained eye. No, these are animals which, again, most hunters never even see. Animals that are truly exceptional, and which no, will not usually reach those sizes until a well advanced age.

    Just a couple of examples, the awards category minimum for a non-typical whitetail deer is 185 inches, a typical, 160. For All-time book records, the minimums are 170 typical, 195 non-typical.

    For a typical mule deer, its 180 for awards, 190 for all-time. Non-typical, 215 for awards, 230 for all-time.

    If you know as much about deer as you’re trying to claim you do, then you understand just how huge those antler sizes must be.

    I think we’re using different definitions of “trophy hunter.” The guys holding out for a B&C book buck, and nothing less, aren’t out there shooting three-year-old deer.

    And bear in mind, those hunters who take the time to post articles in hunting journals also tend to be those who also had the spare time and money to hold out for the most coveted tags in the most coveted areas, and scout for days, and then hunt for days, for the biggest animal they could find.

    For most of the rest of us, it’s still a matter of running out in the afternoon after work or on a weekend to get some steaks for the freezer.

    Now, I have no doubt that hunting by people in modern times has a different dynamic, and therefor different effect, than wild predators or pure meat hunting only. But I don’t think the effects are nearly as grave as anti-hunters try to make it out to be.

  10. First, Hal, you’re right. We’re using different definitions of “trophy.” You’re talking about record-breaking “racks” and bucks. “Trophy” doesn’t imply world record. It simply means that points are noted, and there is clearly a bias toward larger, bigger deer. Boone and Crockett has a rating system to score all trophies. As I said, hunters may not always see or get the “monster” buck, but it’s a long haul to the end of that argument if you think you can convince anyone that’s not a driving force in buck fever, which, as you know, is making a lot of guys (and some women) itch, once fall rolls around.

    But, I’m not trying to make a distinction between hunters and “trophy hunters” because I think it’s a precarious argument and designation. First, many hunters who are trying for a big buck won’t call themselves trophy hunters, even if a nice wall-mounted rack is their intended goal. They will always argue that they eat the meat, so there’s no way it could be “trophy” hunting. It’s the same defense the Trump brothers are using which, in their particular case, is pretty dubious. It’s an ends-justifying-the-means rationale … “I eat it, therefore what I do to that animal before he or she becomes meat is all fine.”

    As far as your argument about natural predators, first, you’re employing a logical fallacy in defense of human hunters — “Tu quoque” — the “something else causes harm so I am justified in causing harm myself” fallacy. But, putting that aside, along with recreational motivations, there are studies to show, for instance, in the case of wolves in Idaho, that their take was overstated. In at least one substantiated case/area where wolves were blamed for reduced elk numbers, it was actually human predation that caused the decline for which the wolves were scapegoated. Furthermore, there is much more evidence to support that non-human predators take more sick, injured and older animals. This is simply not the case with human predation, which I distinguish from “natural” for many reasons, but the primary one being that human hunting is undertaken with such elaborate artifice, it’s impossible to compare with the process of what I witness in natural predation.

    I’m a wildlife photographer and also licensed as a wildlife rehabilitator, so I spend a lot of time with wildlife and in the field. My experience doesn’t come from reading hunting journals, although I do read a lot about hunting and have interacted with many hunters over the years. I can assure you the processes of predation are so different as to be distinct. Add to that the true imperative of starvation and survival for non-human predators, the variety of defenses prey have developed for their natural predators and so forth, and I guarantee you that not only are the effects different, but the numbers constitute an entirely different process. Consider, that by some estimates (including a South Dakota game study) upwards of four million waterfowl are sailed, crippled and left injured and not retrieved by hunters every year, and that facet alone distinguishes human predation as a more damaging and less justifiable. Compare that with a 40-60 percent first-year mortality for raptors in the wild, owing to their inability to get prey (along with other factors) and you come up with an equation that doesn’t quite match your characterization of human hunting in equivalency terms, as you’d like to argue.

  11. ingrid,

    Please don’t jump to conclusions. I never said natural predators are bad or harmful.

    I was merely noting that that old argument that “hunters take only the best animals, while predators take sick and weak” is a gross over-simplification.

    I’m all for predators, and have never seen them as “bad” or “competition.” The anti-wolf sentiment among some hunters is hysterical.

    I also don’t deny any of your assertions about human sport hunting. As I said in my previous post — most certainly, the dynamics are different than predator or pure meat hunting.

    I disagree only with the implication that it’s intrinsically bad or harmful to wildlife. No system is perfect, and hunting, like many other things can be and has been corrupted by special interests, money and politics. I’m sure in some places, sport hunting is poorly managed, done for all the wrong reasons, and does terrible harm.

    I’m glad you know a thing or two about wildlife. But I’m not exactly ignorant myself. My work puts me into regular contact with wildlife and conservation experts from a huge range of government bodies and private interest groups. I know of virtually no experts or conservationists who are staunch anti-hunters. They might have problems with certain instances of how hunting is done, but never the general principle.

    I still hunt primarily for the meat. We’ve got four children at home. Trust me, it goes to good use.

    As for the “trophy” aspect. Well, I’ve gotten good enough at hunting, I’ll sometimes pass deer up, because I sometimes feel a certain situation is just too easy — so to speak.

    Yes, a good set of antlers is nice. But all the steaks taste the same.

    As to high dollar trophy or Safari hunting purely for the thrill and bragging rights — I’ve said all along, I’m not particularly comfortable with it.

    I have merely noted that after learning more, and visiting with such hunters, I realized that things were more complicated than I had previously been willing to admit.

    Complexity tends to vex strident or extreme views. Yes, hunters sometimes have trouble dealing with that. But I still contend, anti-hunters are worse in that regard, and often play on ignorance and over-simplification.

  12. Hal, your comments are noted, and I appreciate the civil discourse. I realize you have a history here with other readers, which I lack, based on my new arrival at this site. As such, I realize I cannot fully grasp the complexities of your perspective through this limited exchange.

    Just two follow up notes to your comments. First, with respect to predators. You were arguing that the role of predators is too simplified — as taking the sick or weak. I presented a counter argument, that a predator’s “share” of healthy prey is not nearly what it’s presented to be, especially by the vocal anti-predator voices we both know well. My point was not “jumping to conclusions,” as you suggest, but rather addressing a point that you yourself oversimplified, in your effort to debunk an oversimplification.

    Second, you contend that “I know of virtually no experts or conservationists who are staunch anti-hunters.” I’m aware of the broad and often inaccurate brush used to paint “antis.” Just because a “conservationist” doesn’t fit this particular profile, doesn’t mean they accept hunting in its many forms. I won’t argue that aren’t conservationists who support hunting. Clearly, there are. But there are also many people employed in fields related to conservation who cannot take staunch stand against hunting, so there are professional considerations. Or, they are more nuanced in their opposition, owing to the overarching wildlife management paradigm that almost always includes hunting.

    It’s also not clear what you mean when you say “conservationist.” Are you talking about game-affiliated officials who are conservationists but hunters themselves? Or biologists working in the interest of organizations that officially sanction hunting? Most hunters will also call themselves “conservationists,” as another example, so it’s a murky designation. The term covers a wide swath of profession and avocation, and there are plenty of those involved in conservation who have significant issues with at least some forms of hunting, if not all. In other cases, there is strong pressure to identify with hunting interests, owing to the power they exert. The truth is that hunting interests dominate discussions of land use, resource allocation, and wildlife management, and there is virtually no way to be a “staunch anti-hunter” and remain engaged in these pursuits. You may know of “virtually no” experts who oppose hunting on various grounds, but that’s an admittedly anecdotal sampling of a diverse group of people.

  13. Ingrid,
    “Conservationist” is indeed a broad term. Your assertion that many in those fields have to be “politically correct” about hunting is acknowledge, and I think it holds true.

    Some of the professionals I know work for Game and Fish Departments. So, yes, those are the types who are going to favor hunting anyway. But trust me, out of public and off the record, they will be the first to criticize how hunting is somehow done.

    Others I’ve known are biologists or other specialists working with land conservation and wilderness preservation advocacy groups. They will be quicker to criticize the Game and Fish, or Joe-sixpack, big 4×4 truck, predator-hating type hunters.

    Bear in mind, the godfather of conservation as we know it today, Aldo Leopold, was a dedicated outdoorsman and hunter. As my father did, I try to mold myself after his example.

    Now, yes, hunters love to throw around the “conservation” label, just like political liberals love to trumpet “tolerance” and conservatives, “liberty.” In each case, the party in question could very well be talking out their backside, if one takes a close an earnest look at what they actually do, support or advocate.

    For example, hunter’s clubs promoting predator killing derbies and calling it “conservation” is ludicrous and offensive, in my opinion.

    I’m not against some measured, prudent, fair chase hunting of predators, including wolves. But I think that many in the hunting community have it drilled in their head that predators are the “enemy.”
    And that’s sad.

    Still, many hunters really are conservationists, in the truest sense, and in the tradition of Leopold. I think that is sometimes lost on anti-hunters, who, again, try to cast us all in the mold of that belligerent guy in the big 4×4, braying about how wolves and coyotes have no right under Heaven to kill “his” deer and elk.

    Indeed, it’s hunters who can be the biggest critics of other hunters. We’re not all one big monolithic club.

    Personally, I think some try to see a divide between hunters and environmentalists, which is often very blurry — or not there at all.

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