Why do we turn the sen­si­tive act of culling into a ‘sport’?

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - News -

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.

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