Sunday, August 2, 2015

Stuck Between the Dentist and the Deep Blue Sea

This is a monumental fuckup. A meaningless
Monumental fuckup....
So, just from a starting point, we can agree that Walter Palmer is a pathetic loser, a man with no male genitalia, a criminal mastermind and a sociopathic killer of the first order. Or maybe not. Maybe the question is more nuanced and complicated than the knee-jerk reaction is giving it credit for. I know, the very thought that maybe Cecil's killer might have been anything but some historical combination of Adolf Hitler and Ted Bundy makes you uncomfortable, but perhaps there is something to be learned by thinking through the lessons of this event in deeper detail.

The questions are there, whether we choose to engage with them or not. Why do people hunt these magnificent animals? Why do African governments provide permitted hunting in their countries?  Did Walter Palmer break the law? If he didn't break the law, was what he did ok? And what about that 40 hour stalk after the initial shooting? Wasn't that the worst thing ever?

I'm not sure I can answer every one of those questions, but the grey areas so massively outnumber the black and white conclusions I've seen on the internet that I've got to try. Let's start with our friend the dentist. The man everyone knows is the second coming of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein. It seems pretty clear that he did some things that are either illegal or at least outside the realm of legitimate African big game hunting. So if we start from the premise that this guy - or his guide, or both - cut corners in order to get a trophy Lion, then the whole conversation is pointless. He's a bad guy, a criminal, and what he did has nothing to tell us about legal hunting in Africa.

At the end of the day,  hunting is one of those things - like abortions and pickup trucks - that are value neutral. If you don't think they are good, or right, that's perfectly fine. Don't participate. But standing up and declaring that anyone that disagrees with you is evil and should be shunned, or worse, makes you just another extremist, no different than the Westboro Baptist Church.

You don't have to love hunting, or be interested in hunting, or even be slightly positive about hunting. You just have to understand a genuine fact, even if you find it distasteful or outside of your belief system. The hunters care deeply about the conservation of the species - they WANT to be able to hunt them again in the future. If you deny that, you are dishonest and closed-minded. Why do I make such a big point of this argument? Because there are so many 'true believers' on the internet who cannot integrate their worldview with reality. Which is funny - their policy positions are legitimate, but they become ludicrous and illegitimate as soon as they deny reality.

Two things remain true regardless of the level of spittle flecked ideological denial. First, the primary threats to large African species are habitat loss and poaching. Particularly poaching. Elephant ivory, Rhino horn, Bear liver - these are things that have ridiculous value on the global market, and there are local people with modern weapons - AKs, even RPGs - that will slaughter large numbers to generate as much near-term revenue as possible. And second, licensed, permitted, regulated hunting is designed from the ground up to preserve the species and conserve the ecosystem. The animals that can be hunted are old and outside the growth of the herd, and those same regulations prevent the taking of young breeding populations.

Finally, let's address the aftermath of the hunt. The dentist only wounded the lion, and then spent two days following the wounded animal, until he could finally track him down and finish him off. Isn't this proof of his cold-hearted brutality? Actually, no. Remember, sometimes surgeons mess up. Sometimes Serena Williams misses a shot. Hunting is hard, and while hunters are generally very good about taking good, clean shots, the tiniest error or change in environmental conditions can cause your shot to go awry. That's always been part of the the reality of the hunter, and hunting 101 speaks to this very question before all others. Take a good shot, and never, NEVER let a wounded animal go off to die alone. A cruel, self-interested hunter might shrug his shoulders and say, 'oh well, we missed that one, fuck him, let's start over and try again'. That simply NEVER happens. Hunters dig in and track their targets, and sometimes, when those targets are Cape Buffalo or something similarly dangerous, this is the most frightening part of the hunt. Let me know when you're prepared to go into a dense forest to follow a wounded Grizzly Bear. I'll be six paces behind you.


  1. And second, licensed, permitted, regulated hunting is designed from the ground up to preserve the species and conserve the ecosystem.

    But that isn't what is happening in Africa.

    The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that trophy-hunting tourists legally kill some 600 lions each year. Jane Smart, the global director of IUCN's Biodiversity Conservation Group, said in an interview that the 600 figure is several years old and the actual number is probably a little bit higher than that. Given that there are only about 30,000 lions left in Africa, this represents an annual loss of roughly 2 percent of the total lion population to legal hunting, and a considerably larger share of the population of healthy adult male lions, which hunters typically prize.

    American tourists -- wealthy ones, given the high costs involved -- account for the majority of lions killed for sport in Africa. A 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that between 1999 and 2008, Americans brought home lion "trophies" -- heads, pelts and whatnot -- representing 64 percent of all African lions killed for sport during that period. And that number is rising: "Of these trophies, the number imported into the U.S. in 2008 was larger than any other year in the decade studied and more than twice the number in 1999," the report found.

  2. Again, hunters and their related organizations are a KEY part of a conservation regimen. No hunter wants to hunt species into extinction - that would be utterly self-defeating - and a belief that hunters are NOT deeply involved in conservation efforts only indicates you've never actually met one. Those expensive permits and tags are what funds the game preserves, the anti-poaching efforts and the ongoing species conservation research. The 600 number you cite represents $30-50 million dollars in revenue, and that's a single species. Of course, these are grossly corrupt kleptocracies, and much of those funds are siphoned off, but that's never been viewed as a reason to just give up on any program, and it isn't a reason to give up on this one either....