Why do we turn the sensitive act of culling into a ‘sport’?
By definition, sport requires voluntary participation, writes Mario Du Preez
Hunting. This is probably one of the most difficult topics to write about. It is easy to picture, though especially with the advent of social media postings: the camouflaged killer, clutching a high-calibre rifle, pompously kneeling besides the bloodied, lifeless carcass of his or her quarry. The smiling eyes of the predator starkly contrasted with the glassy eyes of the prey staring vacantly into eternity.
This very scene confronted many in the UK this past week, and in fact, many around the globe. American hunter and YouTube presenter, Larysa Switlyk, caused outrage as online photographs emerged of her posing with a wild mountain goat that she had shot and killed on the Inner Hebridean Island of Islay. The presenter of Larysa Unleashed and her hunting buddies spent two weeks in Scotland, including the sojourn to the island, which produced a haul of four stags, a sheep, and two goats.
The public were so incensed by this callous, gratuitous, vulgar display that some even sent her death threats via Twitter (not to be condoned, of course). In fact, more than 12, 000 individuals commented on the posted image.
The online retorts have apparently driven Ms Switlyk into a form of self-imposed exile. But low and behold, this exile does not equate to some kind of purgatory or even moments of deep introspection but to another killing trip. A message posted on Instagram and Twitter included a photograph of the intransigent professional hunter standing next to a small seaplane abutted by the following words: “My ride has arrived – I’m headed out on a bush plane for my next hunting adventure and will be out of service for two weeks”.
She then embarks on a journey laden with irony, viz: “…disconnecting from this media-driven world and connecting back with nature. Hopefully that will give enough time for all the ignorant people out there sending me death threats to get educated on hunting and conservation.” With this post, a defiant postscript if ever there were one, Ms Switlyk elicited another 1,000 comments on Twitter – the gist of the commentators’ sentiments: please do not return to Scotland. Fair enough, I am sure she won’t.
In the interest of impartiality, one could argue the public outcry is disproportionately severe. Some may even suggest the media coverage of the incident is sensationalist and too anthropomorphic in nature (turning wild animals into Disney characters). But we should remember this incident comes hot on the heels of the slaughter of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, a large elephant bull in Namibia, and a giraffe in South Africa, and so on. Unfortunately, opinion pieces rarely afford the writer the luxury of remaining totally impartial. So, where do I stand on the issue of hunting, generally, and trophy hunting, specifically?
To my mind, I think Henry David Thoreau said it best, from Walden: “No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature which holds its life by the same tenure he does. The hare in its extremity cries like a child.” He goes on to write: “But I see that if I were to live in a wilderness, I should become … a fisher and hunter in earnest.”
I believe earnestness (read: with purpose) is the crux of this ethical debate for me. This reminds me of the Khoisan, Sub-Saharan Africa’s first peoples, who hunted and killed in order to eat. Their hunting was justified by need, and what’s more, they consumed the entire animal, every horn, every sinew, every intestine. Every kill was and still is, to this day, punctuated by moments of deep reverence, respect and gratitude. And as the ultimate lesson in sustainability, they never took more from nature than what they needed.
Unfortunately, hunting in many cases has descended to the level of mere fun. This is confirmed by what the hunter tweeted from her @LSwitlyk account: “Such a fun hunt!!”. And here I would like to quote Joseph Wood Krutch: “I think hunting is bad for hunters because killing for pleasure tends to brutalise those who do it.” Some even call it sport. This is not a sport. Sport by definition requires voluntary participation and that those of relatively equal strength or guile be pitted against each other. Many point out the unfairness: a defenceless animal pitted against a guntoting, highly-evolved (maybe not), cunning homo sapiens. The pro American hunter bragged about the “perfect 200-yard shot”. A fair contest? Not on your life.
According to the Scottish government, ‘appropriate’ culling of some wild animals, such as goats and deer, is not illegal. Who can argue with the fact that, sans natural predators, culling becomes a biological necessity. But I guess what most of us would like to see is humane culling without it becoming a media spectacle. Why put this highly sensitive act on display? Even worse, why turn it into a ‘sport’? Maybe, it’s time we abandoned this cruel, narrow, homocentric human attitude towards other living things. Otherwise, it may become impossible to recover the somewhat lost connection between ourselves and other living creatures.