Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

Have rifle, will shoot

Visiting Konopiste Castle — situated about 40km outside Prague — is historically informative and interesting on one level and nauseating on another. Bought by Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1887 — yes, the same one whose assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 triggered World War I — the castle became far more than an occasional retreat for Franz Ferdinand and his wife, given that she was unpopular in aristocratic circles.

The archduke stocked the castle’s many rooms with fine furniture, Meissen porcelain, arms and armour, as well as many beautiful (and some not so beautiful) works of art. But these were not the only things Ferdinand collected. Lining the walls of what is called the great hunting hall are hundreds of hunting trophies, all bagged personally by Ferdinand. He was a taxidermist’s dream.

Before becoming hunting trophies, these stuffed and mounted heads — and in some cases animals stuffed in their entirety after being shot — were all magnificent animals and birds roaming the forests of Bohemia, which is today a province of the Czech Republic. His evidently obsessive hunting was not restricted to Bohemia, however. It took him as far afield as India, judging by the tiger among the supposed trophies.

Although it boggles the mind, Franz Ferdinand is credited with having personally accounted for approximately 300 000 animals in the course of his hunting career. The pride on his part, for having asserted the technological superiority of human beings over other animals, is evident in the fact that all the trophies displayed at the castle are punctuated by inscriptions denoting, “number 3000″, “number 5000″, “9000”, and so on, ad nauseam.

To be sure, around the turn of the 19th century, people evidently had no reason for suspecting that the decimation of animals in the wild through unrestrained hunting could possibly have an impact on the future of the species concerned. There seems to have been an implicit belief in the endless, inexhaustible bounty of nature, which was believed to be there especially for human “use” and entertainment. There are accounts of hunters killing thousands of animals in one day in Africa and just letting the carcasses lie there to rot.

In hunter-gatherer times, 150 000 years ago, hunting was probably justified for survival because humans got essential iron from red meat (given that plant iron is far less easily chelated by the human digestive system). In the present era iron is easily ingested in the form of supplements, if necessary. There are precious few communities left in the world who are dependent on hunting for survival.

Besides, we should know better — there are many animal species whose continued existence is endangered by their being hunted for various reasons. In some cases it is simply the supposed “thrill” of the kill that motivates hunters to aim their high-powered hunting rifles at animals with hardly any means of defence (academic colleagues of mine have testified to possessing this atavistic urge) in other cases it is the profit motive that lies behind hunting certain animals.

The most invidious of these are well-known: rhino poaching for the sake of dehorning them and selling their horns at huge amounts to superstitious people for supposedly medicinal purposes; tiger hunting for similar reasons, and, of course, as has come to light, the killing of lions for using their bones and other organs for a variety of purposes, spurred by the belief that these body parts possess curative properties not attainable elsewhere.

It has to be added that, in the latter case, the hunting involved is not of the traditional kind, where the animal presumably has a remote chance of getting away — in the wilderness, that is. The profit motive has changed all that. Franz Ferdinand may still have been motivated by the pride of showing off his “trophies” (which in the new context of an endangered nature are viewed as reason for shame) but most of the so-called “hunters” who make their way to African shores in search of lion as “trophies” are no more than rich murderers who pay large amounts for the opportunity to shoot lion safely “contained” in camps.

This is the phenomenon known as “canned hunting”, of course, which is a huge source of income for “predator breeders”. An ironic name considering that humans are the most “successful” predators on the planet, at the cost of other species. A few years ago the minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk proposed (or passed, I’m not sure) legislation, which has since been successfully challenged by predator breeders, that prevented animals from being sent into an encampment virtually immediately after being bred in captivity. The animals would need to be released into the open for at least two years before they could be hunted.

How the minister could condone canned hunting under ANY circumstances boggles the mind, of course, until one remembers that huge amounts of money are involved. Money paid by the pseudo-hunters who come here to shoot these magnificent animals under conditions that pose no threat to themselves. I wonder what the chances are to level the playing fields a bit, by, for instance, making such trophy collection conditional upon the so-called “hunters” entering the camp where the lions are, and having to stalk them among plenty of bushes. Even better: arm them with bows and arrows, just to test their resolve.

This mindset that impels grown men — probably “pillars” of patriarchal society, too — to end the lives of some of nature’s most beautiful creatures has a lot to do with the “boys-and-their-toys” syndrome, of course. I am talking specifically of the “have-gun, must-shoot” mentality, so well captured in the best film ever directed by Kevin Costner, to wit, Dances with Wolves. Remember the scene-sequence where Costner’s character, the eponymous “Dances with Wolves”, has just been arrested for desertion by American soldiers. They are in the process of taking him back with them when the wolf he had befriended, and to which he owes his name among Native Americans, follows them at a distance. What the soldiers do when they notice the wolf is predictable: “have rifle, will shoot”. And they do.

I remember reading an article on the first Gulf War — the one presided over by US president Bush senior — which argued that one of the main reasons for starting the war was the fact that the generals in the US military needed a “real-world” arena to test the latest armaments such as smart bombs and “surgical” strikes. This is essentially the same kind of mentality you find on the part of those who participate in canned hunting. And such people think of themselves as civilised. If this is what civilisation means, I tend to agree with all those critics of civilisation who see in its fruits signs of deterioration masquerading as progress.

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    • Balt Verhagen

      Thank you for this contribution, Bert.

      You raise the issue of technology ultimately overwhelming the living earth.

      In traditional north American Indian culture there was a belief that man is part of the earth and that you cannot harm any part of her without hurting yourself. Not 150000 years ago but into modern times they would first pray before slaughtering the carcases of animals killed for food. They asked for forgiveness for having violated, through necessity, the injunction: thou shalt not kill.

      This was not motivated by Judeo-Christian injunction. It grew out of an intuitive, holistic world view, a world view being crowded out by the increasing capabilities that technology has put into peoples’ hands. Ah, we are now concerned about the environment, but it has become a conscious effort – it has ceased to be part of our innate culture.

      Will we ever be able to find our spiritual way back?

    • Richard

      Society is full of dirty little corners, like prostitution and hunting. Both are inescapable parts of human nature, and banning them can only ever push them underground. Better by far to give them limited and controlled expression, surely? Imagine, for example, the consequences of larger-scale illegal hunting (such as poaching), which would be undertaken by all hunters, not simply those out for bits and pieces to sell to China. One must be pragmatic: human beings are what they are, and (most unfortunately) idealism gets one nowhere. The road to perdition, as they say…

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Richard:
      That’s exactly right. This is what happened in the Kruger National Park, before it was owned and regulated. People just shot for fun and for the pot without much concern for longevity and conservation. Same thing happened to the dodo (classic tragedy of the commons where it’s in everyone’s benefit to exploit a resource but everyone’s long term risk is not immediately evident). Unfortunately, nobody stood up to the plate to accept ownership of the dodo before it was too late.

      The reason why hunters hate poachers is that most hunters are actually wild life fanatics and love being in the great outdoors. They have incentive to protect their game as well as its environment, whereas poachers are per definition not phased by hunting regulations and permits.

      Hunting regulation does not prevent poaching, but the game that does get hunted on privately owned game farms is in less danger of going extinct than say the rhino whose trade is illegal. Legal trade and hunting can at least offset the adverse effects of poaching, whereas where everything is outlawed, we’d only have poachers.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/McEwansholic Guinnessholic

      The problem with ‘Greenies’, ‘Social Progressives’ and other euphemistic descriptions of Left wingers is that they refuse to adapt with the times. If they had their Occupy-Wall-Street way, we’d still have typewriter repairmen, buggy whip manufacturers and of course monocle makers.

      The only ‘progression’ I can ever see coming from the closet Marxists is their shift to becoming social Luddites. Bert’s unwavering belief that there simply cannot be any good coming from canned hunting under ANY circumstances is really quite A-typical of his political ilk.

      The truth is that the hunters and those who cater to them in this new form are the ones adapting to modern times, and – thanks to the wonder of the profit motive – have rendered preservation of rare species an economically viable industry. With all of Africa’s abundance of wildlife they couldn’t (as a collective I might add) save the oryx. It took a Texas rancher to invest his own time, money, land and resources to save the animal from extinction and now thriving so much they’re being exported BACK to Africa. But, in order to save them he had to turn his ranch into a canned hunting area.

      Bert, your slight of hand has not gone unnoticed. Grouping organised, conservative minded investors of ‘canned hunting’ with the illegal poachers out there is unconscionable. One preserves and actually grows herds, the other slaughters.

    • http://Newstime Paul Whelan

      The problem is that any strict application of ‘principle’ cannot fit every circumstance. Like it or not, we so often simply have to muddle along.

      For instance, I am unhesitatingly in favour of the ruthless extermination of two divinely ordained living species: the mosquito and the common house fly.

      If someone posts proof that this would inevitably lead to the end of all life on the planet, I still ask for us all to sit down and weigh the pros and cons together.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The trouble is also that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”.

      The French eat horses, frogs and snails; the Japanese eat whales and dolphins; the Chinese and other Asiatics eat cats and dogs.

      I follow the philosophy of the Bushmen, who never killed more than they needed to eat, and first gave a ceremony for “the spirit” of the animal before they ate.

      Which is rather similar to the Kosher and Halaal rules of “as humane a death as possible” – and with modern technology it is totally possible – even euthenasia for humans!

    • Maria

      The PROBLEM with people like Guinnessholic, with their insistence on adapting to the times, is that they would justify breeding a new class of people for hunting them like other animals, even in canned format – taking the concept of Hunger Games to a new level – if it would serve the profit motive. After all, the hallowed economy has to be kept going. It does not seem to be possible for people of his ilk to grasp the notion that killing animals under those circumstances is ethically unjustifiable. If profit can be made out of it, apparently it is justifiable. And as for the argument that breeding lions and other animals, just to allow them to be shot in an encampment by bored tourists, is what keeps the species alive, it is hardly worth responding to.

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/gavinfoster Gavin Foster

      A very complex topic. Without hunters willing to pay good money for an opportunity to kill animals there would be little or no reason for game farming. I personally have no wish to stalk and kill any creature for fun or the pot, but I cheerfully support the system that makes abattoirs, Pick & Pay and livestock farmers rich. Why? Because I love meat, but find the killing abhorrent. So I pay people in abattoirs to do my dirty work while I pretend that meat is made in a factory.

      Something else to ponder on. People are at the moment all het up about rhino, but don’t care about the warthog because it’s not endangered – yet – or cute. As Paul Whelan points out, we happily kill houseflies and mosquitoes by the million because they annoy us and spread disease. But we don’t feel sorry for them while we do it. It’s a bit kak to be born a fly or a mosquito or a warthog or a domestic cow, pig or lamb, though, isn’t it?

      Something else to consider is that there is no kind death in nature. When animals age there are no retirement villages for them to go to while awaiting the end. They either starve to death or are eaten alive. Perhaps a bullet is more kind, but I still don’t want to pull the trigger.

      I’ve always intended having a tee-shirt made that says, “I’d rather shoot a person I don’t like than an animal I don’t know.” That still applies.

    • Rene

      A complex topic indeed, Gavin, but made simpler if you remember that Bert does allow for hunting connected to survival. What he is opposing, is the kind of trophy hunting that Ferdinand did, and than canned hunting allows tourists to do.

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/gavinfoster Gavin Foster

      @ Rene
      Quite so. But the trophy hunting and the canned hunting are still money spinners and money is God. Without any hunting except for the pot half or more of the game farms in Africa would close down, and game would be replaced with cattle and sheep waiting to be cruelly slaughtered by the people we pay to do our dirty work. .

      Canned hunting where the hunter pretends to be Rambo is despicable. But is it worse than squealing about it while paying other people to operate the abbatoirs for us? Just a thought.

      I kill cockroaches, fies and mosquitoes regularly. Every now and again I ponder about the morality of it. Still kill them though.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      Morality is a red herring until an objective standard for morality can be established. Good luck!

    • https://twitter.com/#!/McEwansholic Guinnessholic

      Maria. You’re being completely ridiculous. Extrapolating from my simple observation of FACTS, that we will eventually hunt humans for joy, is nothing but alarmist piffle evidently coming from an over-active under-stimulated mind.

      With all of Africa’s ‘ubuntu’, caring for their fellow man and beast, and spoon-fulls of loving as the noble savages they’re portrayed by the Left and it’s pandering media, they couldn’t collectively save the Oryx from the brink of extinction. In fact it becomes even more of a depressing fact when you consider that there really was no reason to hunt it to this low level in the first place, that anyone can understand.

      My MAIN point was that setting up foundations, enclaves, animal old age homes, preserves and PETA Plantations does absolutely nothing but soak up resources, funds and investments that could be used more sensibly in a modern world. Not only can you control the amount of stock being born, but how many can be culled. It’s really quite perfect. It may be unpalatable, but it’s a pragmatic solution and of course, real. Then again, we all know that these sort of solutions (where force is not used) are anathema to the Left.

    • Rene

      An objective standard for morality? Please, Garg – the closest humanity has ever (and can ever) come to that, is Kant’s categorical imperative. And even that is problematical, as Hegel showed, because of its formalism. Humans are not like natural entities where so-called objective standards can be formulated. Ever heard of the Verstehen/Erklaren debate? It revolves around the issue of causal explanation in the natural sciences (Erklaren) versus understanding (Verstehen) in the human sciences.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Guinnessholic:
      Why should hunting humans be unpalatable? Let’s follow Maria and Prof Bert’s logic: Humans are not endangered, and if we were not hunting humans canned hunting style, but allowed them to defend themselves in a fair manner armed with bows and arrows, there shouldn’t be anything unpalatable about it. Just allow both sides to hide behind plenty of bushes.

      But seriously, there are bow hunters. It’s more strictly regulated for good reasons: Since the range of a bow an arrow is far less and the required skill of the hunter to get within range far more than rifle hunting, animals hunted in this way often suffer more due to injuries than otherwise.

      It’s the same reason why hunting seal with a hakapik is outlawed.

      Like it or not, hunters and hunting does far more for the environment than turning vegetarian and chaining yourself to power stations.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Rene:
      Yes, that was precisely my point, which is why moralistic/ethical arguments are bunk, relying more on verstehen (eye rolling and patronising until someone ‘gets it’, very subjective). On the other hand, erklären has a vague possibility of being objective since it is an explanation that does not rely on someone understanding it.

      By the way, it’s roughly along these lines that the methodenstreit in economics developed, away from the ‘mathematicisations’ of Marx and more towards an understanding of behavioural economics.