Petitioners around the world fumed against Bachman for "murdering an innocent lion" and "smiling next to its giant carcass." A local South African petition said that her hunt "is an absolute contradiction to the culture of conservation this country prides itself on" and is pushing to have her banned from entering South Africa again. This situation sounds eerily familiar (read: EXACTLY the same) as a recent explosion against the host of the NBC show "Under Wild Skies." Host Tony Makris harvested a large bull elephant in Botswana and endured several weeks of hate-filled aggression, culminating in the cancellation of his show from NBC (it has since been picked up by Outdoor Channel, who produced it already). During that time such phrases were flung around like "NRA-backed show host" and "elephant shot in the face." Tastefully biased, and rhetorically poetic, wouldn't you say?
To be clear, I'm not a trophy hunter. I hunt for meat. If that meat happens to be attached to a deer with some large headgear, I'm not going to be disappointed, but I won't hold my breath for one. However, unlike many other hunters, I also don't abhor the sport of trophy hunting. I get it. There's a rush, a thrill, an excitement in the chase and the kill. We were created to be energized by this; to have the adrenaline of survival pulse through our veins. The sticky part is this - were we created to kill for pleasure or for sustenance? Many people (including well-meaning and close friends of mine) would say for sustenance alone. Those same people most likely have an 8-point buck mounted on their living room wall. You see, it simply cannot be that cut and dry.
As a hunter I am ethically called to be a conservationist. The very existence of the sport I live and love and that feeds my family depends on it. The uneducated masses however view conservation very differently than those on "the inside." To them, laying down in front of a tree-destroying tractor, refusing to eat tuna to save the whales, and planting a tree in their suburban backyard is enough. For me, however, that doesn't even scrape the surface. Conservation is about knowing where the real problems lie, and getting dirty in order to fix them. That is the difference. You will rarely see an environmentalist admit that elephant over-population endangers villages. Or that lion-overpopulation destroys the livelihood of local farmers and their herds. Why? Because by that logic, the only rational conclusion is that a certain number of that species need to be removed in order to bring balance. And to your typical "environmentalist" (read: hippie-pot-smoking-liberal-tree-hugger), that removal is evil. I mean, how could there be a such thing as too many cute elephants? Or majestic lions? It's a "head-in-the-sand" mentality that is far too prevalent among today's "concerned" communities.
Lets bring it a little closer to home. A few years ago the wolf population in certain northwestern states was decreasing. So, ignoring the loud protests of the people who actually knew what they were talking about (and who had the data to back it up) this well-intentioned and over-funded group convinced the US Government to put wolves on the endangered species list until they repopulated to an "acceptable" number. The problem is, realistically that number should vary based on state, region, climate, etc. It didn't. It was a flat out, pie-in-the-sky number. The law was passed and hunting of wolves was outlawed. After a few years the wolf population was naturally on the rise, but not equally across the states. Ignoring the pleading of the educated, the wolves were kept on the no-hunt list and become overpopulated in 70% of the states they were outlawed in. Rancher's herds suffered and the elk population was decimated, as were other species that the wolves fed on. These environmentalists didn't look at the broad impact of their opinions - the reproductive rate of wolves, the local farming communities and those that depended on the meat of the elk the wolves were decimating - they just wanted to protect those cute, fuzzy wolves...and lives were ruined.
Now, back to Africa and trophy hunting. Today's uneducated, blog-happy environmentalists would have you believe that these docile, harmless elephants, or regal, kindly lions are but mere observers, content to serve as models in our photo-safaris. The fact is, that just like the northwestern wolves, over-population is real, dangerous, and can destroy lives and livelihood. One of the most effective ways to control over-population is through responsible hunting conservation. Now, I will issue a caveat: I am not talking about high-fenced, exotic hunting. I'm talking about wild, fair-chase land management. Outspoken and educated bloggers can hate me all they want, but we have decades and decades of data to support the fact that responsible land management includes ethical hunting programs, and disagree as they may, those programs can include trophy hunting. Now, here's why:
Hunters (yes, trophy hunters) spend between $15,000-50,000 on their hunts. That money is poured DIRECTLY into the local economy where they are hunting. Those dollars go to fund anti-poaching programs, environmental education, land management practices, herd sustainability studies and more. They also hire local hunting guides and staff (typically 15-20 each), employing many locals who would otherwise have no job. The hunters donate 100% of the meat back to the local villages, providing thousands of pounds of free protein to populations who rarely if ever see it, and certainly could not afford it. In the case of the elephant hunt, the ivory is forbidden from being exported out of the country, and must be surrendered to the government anyway (to be stored in large storehouses and be used in the corrupt ivory trade, but thats for a different story). Lastly, the hunts mentioned (and many like it) are 100% fair-chase, meaning these creatures part of the local wild population that torment and destroy the livelihood of local farmers who are trying to feed their family. Wildlife counts are taken, the number of animals that can be harvested to bring the population back into check are tallied, and tags and licenses are legally purchased by the hunters - all in the name of conservation. Out of all of this, the hunter walks away with just one thing - a trophy. A decoration. Maybe a story, but not much else. I would argue that these hunters (trophy and otherwise) are pouring back into the local population ten times more than what they are removing from it. They are far from the unethical poachers that the blogosphere makes them out to be. They are ambassadors for conservation. Real conservation.
Whether you agree with trophy hunting or not, its hard to battle the logic that responsible and ethical hunting is at the very core of conservation. Oh, the meat may not be filling your personal freezer, but that doesn't make it any less important. If environmentalists have gotten anything right over the years, it's this: man has indeed impacted our planet. And as a result, we are now responsible to manage the resources that we have direct impact over. Whether that is grabbing a .30-30 and filling your deep freeze with venison, or sustaining a local village 6,000 miles away, it's all part of conservation. True conservation - not sugar-coated, hug a tree conservation, but the real stuff. The stuff that changes lives and has lasting impact. So yes, I support trophy hunting, not because its my particular cup of tea, but because responsible and ethical hunting in every way leads to a healthier environment - even if its not your own.