Recently I have seen a lot of media attention on animal welfare and about the treatment of animals, stories and articles examining certain situations in regards to their treatment of the animals in question; one story in particular, from Russia, caught my eye – it was a story about a dog shelter that was set to be closed down, there was not enough money going into it and so it could no longer continue to operate, this then inspired someone to launch a Facebook campaign to try and rehome those dogs in the shelter before they were put down as a result of their being not enough resources to rehouse or look after them.
It was a story that got me thinking about animals and about the human relationship with them; many of us have pets: cats and dogs and fish that we love very much, but the human and animal relationship is one that goes far deeper than that and it was this deep relationship that I wanted to look at; whether it was the prehistoric hunter-gatherer-caveman relationship with animals or the modern domestic cats-and-dogs relationship there has long been interaction there and the truth behind animals in modern society is one of our, well-known to a certain extent, topics that I would like to delve into just a little deeper.
Maybe the first thing that we need to look at to introduce our topic is the historical beginning of our relationship with the animals that we know best: the domestic pets. As you can probably imagine, the domestication of animals is, as the name suggests, a human inspired and led process that began about 30,000 years ago in Eurasia, what was once the joined landmass of Europe and Asia, with the Gray Wolf. When this process began there was, probably, no ulterior motive behind it save to further the human potential of the time; Gray Wolves were the top of the wild food chain, the pinnacle of hunters and it was this talent that human beings wanted to harness, and so, over the years, people would train these wolves into tame beasts that could help, protect and track for the good of humanity. But the changes did not end there; over hundreds, and thousands of years this initial human reaction has acted as a catalyst for a great number of evolutionary changes within the canine society; from the initial Gray Wolf a great number of dog breeds have emerged so varied and different that for many of them it is almost impossible to see; for example, how many of us would truly believe that somewhere along the line the Pug is related to any form of wolf? But it is true, so long and rich is the historical joining of man and dog that they have probably impacted upon one another in ways that perhaps are not yet apparent, and it is this long and mutually productive relationship that has resulted in dog’s position as ‘man’s best friend’.
…however many new mouths to feed there is an animal or two that needs to be bred and killed in order to feed the new mouths…
So there is one side of the story: the furry family member whose wagging tail and ears have long been the figure of comfort in the homes of people the world over, but then there is also the side of domestic animals that is concerned with the sustaining of human life. We, as a race, are a population that is expanding at a staggering rate, and for every however many new mouths to feed there is an animal or two that needs to be bred and killed in order to feed the new mouths. The first of these animals was the bi-purposed sheep – the giver of both meat and wool, and with their domestication came evolutionary changes just as came with the domestication of the wolf, and so it was with the boar, now the pig, and with goats and with chickens; with each stage of human societal evolution there came a new animal ready to be bred and butchered for the provision of food or clothing to the ever-growing population. But I am not writing to speak out against this balance of breeding and feeding; I am not a vegetarian, nor am I an animal rights activist, and so for me to preach about the treatment of these animals would be a hypocrisy. But I am presenting this side of the story; the side concerned with the domestic uses of animals, as juxtaposition to the other side of animal life – animals in the wild. And so here I introduce the real story in this article, from the story of dogs in Russia my mind wondered onward until I reached a topic that is both similar and very different.
Many of you will have heard of it, perhaps some of you have seen it or happen, or been involved in the sport in some way, but the topic I want to examine, the sport I want to discuss is ‘Big Game Hunting’. For those of you who do not know, traditionally Big Game Hunting is the title given to the sport of tracking and killing Africa’s ‘Big Five’: the Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino; these five were, historically the basis for many hunts and safaris in Africa, but of course, along with these animals came a whole catalogue of other animals that were affected: Zebra, Gazelle, Bears, Moose and Bison all eventually fell victim to a growing sport that was concerned entirely with the taking of animal lives. And beyond this still active list there is a back catalogue as well: the Dodo and the Black Rhino and a whole load of other animals that have been driven to extinction by man’s insatiable thirst for death.
…this is a difficult concept to tackle…
Big Game Hunting, in the modern sense that we understand, has always been a rich man’s sport; it began, in earnest, during the days of Empire, when British gentlemen were able to travel across the plains of India and Africa and hunt under the sovereign’s protection. It is a different beast in the modern world, but the financial side of it remains the same; if you Google the title you will find that there are countless sites dedicated to the sports and if you enter any one of these sites then you can find prices for hunting holidays; my own short search offered me a number of options ranging from the cheaper, less rare animal hunts (normally between 5 and 10 thousand), on to the more expensive and rarer animal hunts (lions were going for about 25 thousand). In itself this is a difficult concept to tackle – the idea of one animal being worth more than the other, and the idea of paying to end a life is one that strikes me particularly as disgusting.
You will have almost certainly have heard of some of the things that I have so far mentioned, and there is a very strong chance that you will have heard of the oppositions to hunting as well. But there is something that you may not have heard of, during my searches I found a site dedicated to the shipping of animals from their homes in Africa to the USA so that they could be hunted for scores; the site awarded certain animals certain amounts of points and once the hunter had reached a certain number of points they were a part of the club. The site and service had been copyrighted and trademarked through American law and there was also a footnote explaining that parts of the proceeds went to the government. My main issue here is that it seems to me that a service based upon the distress and killing of animals had, in effect, been granted a seal of approval by the US government – the American government was making money from a company that awarded buyers points based on the animals that they had killed and based on the rarity of the animals that they had killed. Trophy Hunting, as this site could easily be called an advocator of, is the killing of animals for trophies – taxidermy and the taking of hides is a part of this and, in my opinion, the gaining of points from the killing of animals is definitely a new form Trophy Hunting.
…we cannot confuse Big Game and Trophy Hunting with Poaching…
But when we are looking at this topic we cannot confuse Big Game and Trophy Hunting with Poaching; the former of the two does not necessarily include illicit activities, although both can be carried out illegally, whereas the latter is always an illegal activity. But, my argument is, where is the line drawn? If one government will legalise the above website, as the USA has done, what if another country will not? To me it seems obvious that even within the USA approved site there are examples of illegal activity – several of the animals, including the White Rhino, the African Elephant and the Hippopotamus are protected species that according to international laws should be protected; so what is the case with Big Game Hunting and where does the hunt turn into a poach? You will, no doubt, have seen the adverts on TV where tigers and pandas and chimpanzees are shown to be endangered; you will have heard the cries for money and for aid and, for the most, part these adverts are necessary because of hunting and poaching across the world.
Actor, Tom Hardy, recently presented a show, Poaching Wars, about the poaching crisis. He said of his reason for making the show that: “Like most of us I have a love for Africa’s magnificent animals. As a result I find it hard to stomach the poaching crisis sweeping the continent and pushing these amazing animals to the edge of extinction. Without doubt the rhino and the elephant are facing extinction well within our lifetime and the war on poaching is being lost. I’m making these documentaries because it’s something practical I can do to ask some questions that need to be asked.” And perhaps it is this kind of publicity that will be the turning point in the on-going fight between activists and those who want to hunt?
…some of the rich will pay to kill and some of the poor will be paid to kill…
It is difficult to see a clear picture of hunting; the constant barrage of political, economic and scientific issues, combined with the cross-national transportation of both product and tourists means that the industry is one that is always moving and very difficult to pinpoint. The fact that the industry itself is not limited only adds to the problem; for every hunter that is willing to kill a rhino for its horn there are probably three or four more who are willing to pay a great deal of money for it. And so the cycle continues; some of the rich will pay to kill and some of the poor will be paid to kill – if the difference between living and dying depended on your killing of a wild animal, then could you do it? Add to this that the sport is one that is multi-faceted and would be difficult to curb (in the 1990s the amount of legal hunting in the USA was, in fact, equalled by the amount of illegal hunting); so perhaps the solution lies in controlling the situation? One government claims that by controlling and allowing for hunting to take place they take a financial income that serves to help both the animals and the country’s society. But would this work anywhere else? The delicate balance might be completely destroyed by one poacher unwilling to follow the rules and by one rich client willing to pay more for more than he is legally allowed.
So my conclusion here perhaps has to be unclear; as a sport the future of Big Game and Trophy Hunting is one that is unlikely to be disturbed, there is too much money in it and with governments allowing it to happen with their permission there is also too much high-level interest in it. So maybe the best question to ask is: how far will the situation escalate and what will be the end result? Perhaps in years to come we can look back and say that we managed to save the White Rhino, but until we can say that then we cannot say for sure that that has happened. So for now perhaps our best solution is to simply be aware, to remember; remember that somewhere out there an animal is being killed for its horn or tusk, remember that somewhere out there is a starving man who is killing an animal to sell its tusk so that he can feed himself and his family. When you see stories about dogs in Russia or adverts about tigers in danger, then perhaps we can all remember that the problem exists and somehow, someday we need to make a change. Maybe in the years to come we can all stand together and, as one, we can make a difference and save the lives of those animals who fall victim to the whims of the rich, the vain, the hungry and the poor.