Friday, April 17, 2015

On giraffes, trophy hunting and social media.

Good day all. It has been a while. I have been busy, but there is something going on social media that I had to speak about.
Ricky Gervais posted a photo of a young lady posing with a dead giraffe to his twitter. Captioned with the text "What must've happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?"
Humans are complicated things. We are very tribal, and we are prone to apophenia (recognizing a pattern where there is none). It takes a lot of cognitive effort to avoid making snap judgements about people based on "tribal" lines.
I generally sit in the middle of the two tribes: protect animals from needless harm, not all harm is needless; proper hunting and management is a net positive for the species.
I don't know that Gervais is guilty of tribalism, but I was. 
I think trophy hunting is unconscionable. Killing an animal that does not consider humans a predator to be avoided is not hunting it is just killing. Killing animals that are not food to hang one on your wall is even worse. Killing needs to have a purpose: harvest food, protect specific people or livestock (not just wolves eat cattle so kill all wolves, but that wolf is attacking that cow and must be killed).
My first thought with the woman and the giraffe was in agreement with Gervais. Giraffes don't worry about getting within 20-40 yards of a human (effective killing distance of a modern bow). In this case the picture didn't tell the full story. So now I'm conflicted. On one hand that animal was kicked out of it's herd. It was old, and was on the way to the grave. It fed a large number of people. All of which I am in favor of.. however.. this kill still leaves me feeling sick. It's just not hunting. Sure, if a ranger had shot it, and posted no pictures, I'd be all in favor, that is game management and sometimes it's ugly. I recognize the ridiculous sum this woman paid to shoot this thing went to manage a large game preserve for a long time so the net was positive (her other big game hunts in Africa are a different story).
I still think she's foolish. The same way I would think someone foolish for bragging that they had drove around the block. I recognize that when you first learn to drive this is hard, but once you've been around the block a few times it's just not all that impressive. This woman has 30 years of hunting under her belt.
For Gervais, he sees hunting as evil full stop, and while I think he's witty and smart most of the time, this is a childish view. I watched a video last week. I often seek out opinions contrary to my own just to keep honest. It was from a pro-vegan YouTube channel. This person's response to hunting as a means of  herd management was "there's already a mechanism for that, it's called NATURE!" Which sounds good on a YouTube video, but in practice it's actually quite horrible. I don't know if Gervais believes this to be true, he hasn't expressly said his thoughts on the subject, so lets use this as the contrary position.
Nature is an excellent corrective mechanism, but she is brutal. Animals in the wild (including humans) starve, die of exposure, disease, predation, or accidental injury. Overpopulated animals generally die of the combined effects of these.
The mouth to food ratio goes too high, and animals slowly starve. All of them starve, not all of them die, but all of them starve. The ones who get enough calories to live have compromised immune systems, many of them sicken and die. The ones who sicken but don't die are less able to migrate on proper timelines, so they are more at risk of getting caught in weather, or being unable to find water and they die of exposure. Others weakened by starvation and/or disease are not able to run from, detect or fight off predatory animals (including humans)and more of them are killed.
Most predators kill by attrition. A few don't (brown bears, humans with modern weapons). Canines especially, will harass and injure a prey animal to exhaustion, then drag it to the ground by force of numbers, and just eat it to death. It's a terrible reality.
Modern hunting comes in two basic varieties: gun and archery. Gun shot prey animals generally go in to immediate shock. It's harsh, but immediate. Modern bows push a razor sharp arrow all the way through the animal, it's more painful* and less immediate than a gun shot, but there is less shock, and the animal gets the dignity of running off, laying down in a quiet spot to die in peace. If I had to die not of old age, or disease, I would prefer that to exposure, starvation, or being consumed alive by a pack of coyotes.
I just don't think hunting is evil, but just killing animals because you want to kill things is. There is a difference and for folks who don't inherently understand the difference, I fear I'm not eloquent enough to explain the difference. This woman for instance clearly doesn't understand. Does she think all hawks should altruistically starve to death? A person who would insert themselves so forcefully into the food chain (livestock are a bit different as that is one's property and livelyhood but still I think ranchers kill too many predators.. back on track) she is wrong. Ducks and raptors exist in the same food chain, and what this woman did is reprehensible. Even if the raptor was wild, she killed a rare, endangered, animal to try (and fail) to save an animal that is prolific.
Things just not simple. We are in the food chain. Even if you don't eat animals, the space you take up, resources you use all are a factor in the food web. The days when humans could let the wild spaces be wild and just react are long gone. Our population is too dense. Management is required, however management is not indiscriminate killing of any and all animals because they look cool, or because it is fun. Taking a life is no small act, it has gravity and people who treat it lightly are reprehensible, but people who pretend that it is unnecessary are short sighted and childish.
This is not a binary issue, it requires thought of a level with which most folks are pretty uncomfortable, but we're all capable of it. Don't snap to conemn or defend someone just because generally you agree/disagree with their position. You may end up in the wrong.

*a number of folks I know have reported cutting themselves on hunting broadheads and being completely unaware until they felt the blood. Deep cuts from very sharp implements are not that painful, but I don't have conclusive data.

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