Thursday, September 7, 2006

75. Canned hunting not sport

When Vice-President Dick Cheney accidentally shot lawyer Harry Whittington last year, the one thing that was not missing was the humor. Columnists, comedians and cartoonists lined up to make jokes about the incident. Here are just a couple of examples:

"You know what they say, if Dick Cheney comes out of his hole and shoots an old man in the face, 6 more weeks of winter." (Jimmy Kimmel)

"Something I just found out today about the incident. Do you know that Dick Cheney tortured the guy for a half hour before he shot him?" (Jay Leno)

The jokes ranged from funny to overtly political, while the cartoons similarly varied from creative to cliché.

However, the issue also brought some much needed attention to one of the most pathetic "sports" in the world- canned hunting. The endeavor is such that it is impossible for me to find anything humorous about wealthy people living out some wretched fantasy of killing entrapped animals for fun.

During these canned hunts, "clients" pay large amounts of money to shoot animals, often exotic animals, which frequently have been raised by humans for the sole purpose of being killed. During the hunt, the animals are released into an enclosed area where the "hunter" eventually kills his or her victim(s). The success of the experience is often guaranteed. The animals, growing up with significant human contact, commonly do not even fear their attackers.

Following the incident last year, Time magazine estimated that there are over 2000 of these "canned hunt" operations throughout the world, while the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) projects that there are over 1000 facilities in the United States alone operating in 28 states. For those that enjoy participating in these hunts, and trophy hunting in general, there are organizations such as the Safari Club International (SCI). Notably, there is a significant disparity in the way some people view this organization and how this organization, of course, views itself.

The Safari Club International, from its mission statement, views itself as "the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and in promoting wildlife conservation worldwide." And, among other things, it engages in "promoting a positive image of hunters and portraying them as responsible citizens who fund wildlife conservation, education and other programs which benefit the community."

Somewhat inconsistent to this mission statement, the website features pictures of grinning hunters posing with their dead victims as well as downloadable record books to document their accomplishments. Apparently, as a part of their undertakings, Safari Club International members attempt to shoot a prescribed list of animals including the "Africa Big Five," (leopard, elephant, lion, rhino, and buffalo) and the "North American Twenty Nine" (all species of bear, bison, sheep, moose, caribou, and deer).
According to the HUSU, Safari Club International "has grown to some 40,000 trophy collectors. More than half boast an annual income of more than $100,000. The average member owns 11 rifles, six shotguns, five handguns and a bow. Two-thirds spend about one month hunting each year, and a quarter of the members more than 50 days."

Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of HUSU, describes the members of the Safari Club International this way:

"It's a perverse and destructive subculture. Thousands of animals suffer and die for the amusement of wealthy elites who have the means to pursue any form of recreation, but choose to shoot the world's rarest and most beautiful animals. There's no societal value to the exercise, just a selfish all-consuming mentality of killing, collecting, and showing off trophies. They know the price of every animal, but the value of none."

Safari Club International, similar to other organizations, use political donations to protect their "rights," often attempting to persuade legislators in regards to importing the "trophies" of endangered animals, including gorillas, cheetahs and orangutans. The HUSU reports that since the "1998 election cycle, SCI has contributed $596,696 to Republican candidates and $92,500 to Democrats."

In some ways, I cannot decide which is more appalling, the slaughter of innocent animals for entertainment, or the fact that these wealthy people are so bored that they can find nothing better to do with their time and money. Personally, I find hunting to be a deplorable activity, but I understand that in many ways it is a part of life. It is the motive of sport hunting that bothers me. And if hunting is to exist, I only wish to suggest that animals are afforded a fair opportunity of survival.

It seems that the egos of some are nurtured by investing their wealth into pretending that they accomplished something. Some of these people, perhaps like Vice President Cheney, are so conditioned for success, and "stacking the deck" in their favor, that they are not interested in risking failure.

Maybe next, wealthy, insecure people can contract with Michael Jordan to let them beat him in a game of one-on-one. And the same lack of accomplishment could be memorialized in a photo of a smirking client, next to an exhausted Michael Jordan, with the outcome proudly displayed on scoreboard in the background.