(This article first appeared in the August 2013 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
At the Bird Fair a couple of years ago I had a bizarre conversation about hunting with a very well known American writer on the natural world. He tried to explain to me the ‘spiritual nature’ of the moment of the kill. I didn’t get it then and I don’t get it now.
This idea seems common among hunters and is likened to indigenous hunter-gatherers virtually deifying the food animals they depend upon and paying homage in prayer on each game hunt. Some hunters ‘justify’ their pastime by espousing this credo without understanding the difference between living off the land out of necessity and killing things for the sport of it.
This is what I cannot come to terms with. This is why I am opposed to all forms of the ‘sport’ of hunting.
I could justify my opposition purely on conservation grounds… killing wild animals can seriously deplete their numbers. But this argument doesn’t always pass muster. Game preserves often ensure a supply of target species through good conservation. Ensuring a plentiful supply of game allows other wild things to flourish incidentally. Of course, it doesn’t hold true when ‘competitor’ species are ‘culled’. Grouse moors may have more pipits than those left to nature, but they sure as hell don’t have more Hen Harriers. Hunting preserves are full of songbirds as well as deer, but you won’t find many wolf packs
The UK shooting fraternity often argues that land managed for pheasants has benefits for many other bird species… and that argument holds a lot of water. Land is managed for wildlife that might otherwise be intensively farmed which detrimentally affects farmland species. Of course this is ultimately sophistry… it would actually be far better to organically farm and deliberately conserve and protect wildlife. Greed is the intervening variable as you can certainly make more money with a pheasant shoot than you can with an organic farm or even a traditionally farmed holding that encourages wildlife. Grouse moors are not going to create much revenue without rich people shooting the grouse.
That this pays homage to our Victorian ancestors is not readily understood. They believed that animals, along with the rest of nature were put on earth by god purely for our exploitation – a homocentric view that most of us today do not share. More and more of us believe that every living thing has as much right to exist as every other. We might wage war on bacteria because they are waging war on us, but we seek to preserve spiders and venomous snakes even although they frighten the pants off most of us.
I’m rehearsing all these arguments for a reason. Hunting cannot be argued against purely on economic grounds when that lobby points out, perfectly reasonably, that in many cases it does more good than harm.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
I need to make it clear that I am not opposed to all killing. If you are trying to preserve a species driven to the very edge of extirpation by human intervention through, say, intensive farming, you may well have to ‘control’ some predators. Many waders need grazing marshes to nest on and because most marshes have been drained and ‘improved’ you need to encourage artificially high numbers on the remaining patches of habitat. Some species such as hedgehogs can be relocated to places where they cannot decimate ground nesters by eating their eggs, but foxes, magpies and carrion crows, for example, also must be reduced in numbers and this means killing them.
Nor am I against killing domestic animals for food. I choose not to eat them, but that is about politics not animal welfare, I don’t eat meat because fewer of the world’s people would starve if land were farmed for vegetables rather than cattle.
I am opposed to killing for fun because of what it does to the human spirit.
Watch a documentary, or a fictional programme about serial killers and one thing becomes quite clear. People who kill lots of other people do it as it exercises the ultimate power. We are told that when one sees the fear burning in their victim’s eyes, and then watches the light go out, they delight in their control over their prey’s life and death. This, we are told, is often the motivation behind the predator torturing their victims… they are showing them that they have total power over them, they can let them live or make them die. Such serial killers feel like gods.
Most hunters deny that they enjoy killing and that the fun of hunting is in the chase. However, if that is the case why don’t they hunt with a paintball gun or shoot with a camera instead.
Why do they campaign to restore hunting with dogs as fox control when shooting foxes more effectively keeps down their numbers? Would there be this continuing pressure, or the blatant flouting of the law, if a drag hunt gave the foxhunters the same pleasure?
Wildfowlers and other hunters insist that they only kill for the pot… so what? If eating what you kill is sufficient justification then Hannibal Lector should not be condemned for merely keeping his larder stocked!
We can readily see the inhumanity in bear baiting and dog fighting. People who get pleasure from digging out a badger sett to watch their dogs tear the badgers apart disgust most of us. Most of us would be thrilled to go on Safari and see big game and the majestic predators of the African savannahs. But there are those who will pay £2,000 to shoot a giraffe or £15,000 to kill a lion, and many of those same people would happily see local poachers shot to stop them killing the same beasts!
The unpalatable truth is that many people enjoy killing things. They and we should face up to it. The ‘sport’ of hunting is killing for pleasure. It diminishes the human spirit and desensitises the hunter to killing and it is wrong!
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