NBC Sports Network was forced to respond to a flurry of criticism this week, after the internet caught wind of a show that depicts safari hunting for big game in Africa.
On Sunday, an episode of the National Rifle Association-sponsored "Under Wild Skies" aired, showing NRA lobbyist and host Tony Makris shooting and killing an elephant, and then celebrating over champagne. The spectacle sparked vocal backlash, with criticism on social media and a petition at Causes.com that has since received more than 50,000 signatures.
In a statement released to the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, NBC Sports noted the legality of the hunt, but said it would take into account the sensitive nature of the content.
"We've listened to our viewers and will not air that particular episode of 'Under Wild Skies' again. We're also taking a close look at our internal standards as part of this process because this content should not have aired," the network said. "While this form of hunting is legal, we understand that many viewers find it objectionable. As a result we are taking an aggressive approach towards objectionable content within future episodes of 'Under Wild Skies' and other series."
So, NBC will not re-run the episode of "Under Wild Skies" that shows Makris shooting the elephant. But the network's claim that the "content should not have aired" seems strange, considering the program is entirely dedicated to the hunting of large African mammals, including lions, rhinos, leopards and other animals that many of the show's critics would likely find objectionable.
Makris, a public relations strategist for the NRA for decades, recently responded to the criticism on an NRA program. In an exchange captured by Media Matters, he claimed that he hunts elephants because he hunts all animals. Makris said that those who were fine with him hunting ducks and squirrels but believed killing elephants was wrong were practicing "animal racism."
"And they said, 'but [elephants are] so big and special and they're smarter,'" Makris recalled of a recent discussion with a detractor. "And I went, 'you know, Hitler would have said the same thing.'"
Elephant hunts like the one Makris was on aren't unusual. Many African nations charge hefty fees to allow Western hunters to come on big game safaris. The money is supposed to help fund the preserves and pay the staff who manage them. While supporters of the system claim the specific animals are carefully vetted before being killed, this is not always the case. In 2010, a beloved elephant was shot dead by an American hunter after straying out of its sanctuary and onto hunting grounds.
The approach to legal elephant hunting could soon be changing in parts of the continent. Citing concerns over declining elephant and other wildlife populations, a ban on all commercial hunting on public lands is set to go into effect in Botswana by January 2014.