20 March 2012

Bloody stupid

The Trumps' brutal safari snaps have no place in a modern conscious world.


Repulsed as I am by the Trumps and their safari snaps (steel yourself and look if you haven't yet), I must admit it's also satisfying that they've become sport hunting's current poster boys.

Who better to exemplify the crass, bought experience of fake adventure and real gore than the scions of Donald, himself exemplifying the crass world of cut-throat capitalism.

Open any hunting magazine or website and you'll seehunters striking similar gleeful, sometimes weirdly intimate poses with their kill – as if the animal were only sleeping and they're about to rouse it with an affectionate pat on the head.

They're stuck in time with Buffalo Bill, when the photo-portrait of hunter and victim was a kind of trophy like a head mounted on the wall: proof of prowess, courage, manhood.

But 100, even 50 years ago, people didn't know that the very impulses that have always driven certain kinds of hunting – voracious hunger for conquest and commodification of nature – would one day lead to a world on the brink of environmental collapse. There may have been critics of such behaviour and attitudes then too, but the crisis had not yet hit.

How endless the world must have seemed, its wild places still vast and teeming with fierce life.

But humans now, especially those well-educated, well-heeled and with a high degree of choice, have no excuse for not knowing. A photo from 1900 of a hunter posing with his prey (or her prey, there have always been avid huntresses too) may be distasteful, but its impact is muted. These past slayers are to us like naughty kids bound to end up bad: they were cruel and careless, but they didn't really know what they were doing.

An almost identical picture these days is a complete affront (or should be). In a time of rapid mass extinction, these gloating trophy-photos are, at the very least, in horrendously bad taste. The associations are not (or should not be) with Hemingway-esque romance, but with loss and outrage – much as we feel when faced with yet another image of a de-horned rhino.

Such images also suggest a mindset that is no less than pathological. In order to kill and not suffer psychologically as many of us do just viewing pictures of the act – worse, to relish the act, as the Trump young bloods clearly do – you need to distance and divorce yourself from the animal and any thoughts that it might experience pain and fear, that it is in any way a fellow creature a lot like you.

You need to suppress feelings of empathy, which means, essentially, to emulate a psychopath.

Pro-hunting advocates will argue that I'm being sentimental and impractical here in a way that actually endangers species protection. They'll say that the money brought in from hunting safaris and licences (and in some cases sale of animal meat and parts) goes towards conservation and wildlife management, nowhere needed more desperately than in poor countries, and that the animals killed by responsible hunters are surplus nuisance ones anyway.

Well, my answer is that, however badly we may need money for conservation, some things should not be for sale because the price we pay in compromising our ethics and our psyches is simply too high.

There are other ways to “make conservation pay”, like photo safaris; there are other ways to reduce overpopulation in reserves (which, let's not forget, are artificial constructions of our own making), like sterilisation. And if culling is unavoidable, let it be done with sobriety and respect, and never as entertainment.

Hunting for fun has no place in 2012 because, apart from all the reasons it's bad for animals, it's bad for us: it celebrates being callous and violent when our fate depends on instilling our species, especially the young, with a sense of deep connection and reverence for the natural, living world.

(Olivia Rose-Innes, Health24, March 2012)


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