The Hunting Dilemma

In fairness, the title is a mistake; there is no dilemma about hunting. Not for me, anyway.

Hunting for commercial greed has no place in modern society. Magnificent wild animals across North America, Africa, and Asia are gunned down in the forest or savannah, torn from their watery homes, all to sell their parts or the products made from them to those who collect and admire death.

Hunting for food has led to the depletion of species across the globe, with no more profound an example than the bushmeat hunters in the forests of west and central Africa. What was once a small-scale, localized subsistence hunt has now become big business. Big business in the smoked flesh and body parts of chimpanzees or gorillas; huge swathes of forest destroyed by foreign timber companies, exposing imperiled wildlife no longer able to hide in the protective canopy of their gardens of Eden; timber workers killing to bring body parts to sell in city centers.

Hunting for so-called sport is perhaps the most egregious of all. There are still people in this world who derive pleasure from killing, sensation from slaughter. They want to kill the "big five" species in Africa (African elephant, African lion, African leopard, black rhinoceros, and white rhinoceros); they want to kill the different bear species of the world; they want to hunt the leopard in Zambia, and the markhor in Pakistan, and the lion in Tanzania, and the elephant in Mozambique. They are rough and rugged warriors venturing into far-off lands to stalk their prey with their weapons of choice. They kill. They justify. They bring back their "trophy" to adorn the floor in the den or the wall of the family room.

There is no dilemma about hunting. It is a perverse and brutal bloodlust that leaves the world poorer and deprived as long as this masochistic enterprise continues.

What was once an unchallengeable bedrock of American society, defining our defiant spirit by conjuring the passion and necessity of the past, is now a relic: a shameful and unnecessary endeavor.

On May 4, I had the pleasure of exploring these issues in New York City during a national debate hosted by the fine people of Intelligence Squared. The topic was Hunters Conserve Wildlife, and my partner, Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, and I spent 90 minutes dismantling the hunting myth. It's worth a watch if you care about the animals snuffed away from the world by the hunters' bullets and arrows.

I won't rehash all of the details of the arguments here; that would take away the fun of the competition that you can see for yourself. But, it's worth considering how the hunting apologist approaches this very sensitive but important topic.

What the hunting industry wants you to believe is that the motion of the debate--"hunters conserve wildlife"--has just one more word added to it: "if." They want you to believe that hunters conserve wildlife if hunting is done in countries where the government is not rife with corruption and where hunt seasons are established based on the most sound, biological, and scientific information available. They want you to believe that hunters conserve wildlife if every hunter is a lawful hunter who respects bag limits and hunt seasons, and never takes an animal he or she shouldn't. They want you to believe that hunters conserve wildlife if every dollar paid for the privilege of these thrill-kills is poured back into conservation and local community development. And, they want you to believe that hunters conserve wildlife if no species is ever over-hunted to the point of peril--that hunters always kill just the right number of animals to allow hunting to persist in perpetuity.

We know better.

We know the reality; hunters don't conserve wildlife. Hunters destroy wildlife and forever deplete the natural world. Bird-watchers conserve wildlife. Whale-watchers conserve wildlife. Ecotourists on photographic safaris conserve wildlife. Animal advocates like you conserve wildlife.

Self-justification is a dangerous thing. The hunter tries so desperately to find a good enough excuse to engage in the inexcusable. They say that it's about wildlife management. That deer will starve. That hunters are part of the natural world. That hunters are law-abiding, unlike poachers. That hunters feed people with the meat from their kills. And, on it goes.

However, self-reflection is a powerful thing. It's time to lay bare the hunters' arguments, one at a time. Show a more peaceful world in which humans and wildlife thrive together. Where communities are enriched without the carnage. Where economic development is truly sustainable because living wildlife pay their way year after year, generation after generation.

The hunter wants to hunt. I get it. But, civilization has advanced to a place in 2016 where self-justifying excuses don't cut it.

For so many people, what was once a given now presents a dilemma. We are inexorably moving toward a world where elephants don't perform in circuses and orcas don't perform in cement tanks; where biomedical research is not conducted on chimpanzees, our closest relatives; where non-animal alternatives exist for every form of meat available; and where our children grow up knowing that we have a responsibility to protect--not pilfer--the natural world.

We can have a healthy debate about important subjects. We can respect various positions. At the end of the day, however, where hunting is concerned, we should err on the side of compassion and conservation simultaneously.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,