Last night on 60 Minutes, Lara Logan asked the question:
Where can you find some of the best big game hunting in the world? It’s a place that may surprise you. Tonight, we’re going to take you on a journey into a world that many people don’t even know exists.
The scene switches to a view from a helicopter of thousands of acres of grassland with herds of African antelope and zebra moving across the wide open spaces of … Texas.
These are game-hunting ranches – also known as breeding ranches, where endangered species are being “protected.” (I’m not sure that the animals I saw being shot felt that the protection was wholly adequate.)
The 60 Minutes segment is prompted by a new ruling that will make it illegal, starting on April 4th, to kill particular species of antelope without a special license from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The hunters are not happy – and clearly decided that allowing the TV cameras to shine their light on what Charly Seale, director of the Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA), called “a well kept secret” was a last best chance to make their case.
Photo from a hunting ranch by Exotic Wildlife Association
Seale explained that his priority is saving species from extinction and that allowing some hunting provides the funds they would otherwise not have.
Seale: Our members own more numbers of rare and endangered species than any other association in the world. Three of our biggest successes have been the scimitar horned oryx, the addax and the dama gazelle. Our numbers have absolutely just skyrocketed in the last, last 15-20 years.
The hunters say they’re doing good with the fees they pay.
Paul (last name not given): The money that I spend to hunt these animals keeps these animals alive on these ranches.
And Priscilla Feral (don’t we all love her name!), President of Friends of Animals, says that these excuses are just a crock.
Priscilla Feral: I think that’s ludicrous. I think it’s immoral. And I don’t think anybody’s entitled to do that.
That was in response to the EWA’s Seale saying:
I know [hunting is] for the welfare of every one of those animals. You sacrifice one so that many more are born and raised from calves all the way up to the big trophy male or the big trophy females that we have.
Feral’s Friends of Animals has been arguing in court for many years for the end of these rare animals being hunted in Texas. That makes her largely responsible for the new ruling.
Feral: I don’t want to see them on hunting ranches. I don’t want to see them dismembered. I don’t want to see their value in body parts. I think it’s obscene. I don’t think you create a life to shoot it.
Seale takes the position that the hunters are saving the animals and that people like Feral are doing the opposite of saving them:
Seale: There are a faction of people out there that would just as soon see these animals go extinct as to have us use them for sport to hunt and after all, that is the bottom line. That’s what these animals are all about. That’s why they are here in the numbers that they’re here today.
(But it’s not an exaggeration to say that Seale’s organization is rabidly against the world of animal protection. His most recent “News Alerts” include articles that, for example, call the Humane Society of the United States “one of Big Green’s most notorious propaganda mills” and say that the HSUS’s work with the California Fish and Game Department is “a plot as insidious as anything you’ve ever seen.”)
Photo from a hunting ranch by Exotic Wildlife Association
Texas ranch owner David Bamberger sounds passionate about saving the animals. He started bringing endangered animals to his ranch from zoos in the 1970s to care for them and breed them. Now 83 years old, he sounded tired when he said he also supports trophy hunting:
Bamberger: I’m not fond of it at all, but I’m wise enough, smart enough to know if there’s no incentive, if altruism is the only incentive you’re not gonna get a great deal of participation on someone whose livelihood depends on bringing in dollars
Pat Condy runs the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center outside of Dallas. He’s considered an expert in conservation, and he supports the canned hunts:
Condy: There’s no question about it, that they are [saving species from extinction]. When you look at the numbers, the animal numbers, okay, and you see that they’re not declining, that they’re either stable or growing.
But Feral is not impressed by numbers and statistics. For her, the bottom line is a simple principle. When Seale says that the new ruling will now seriously endanger the future of the oryxes, she replies very simply:
Feral: The future for oryxes is Africa. It’s not Texas. A Texas hunting ranch is not the same as being in a reserve in Senegal.
Condy argues that the animals will be the losers. But this is the same old argument that’s regularly dragged out to defend the killing of animals. Last week, we wrote about how the Giraffe Conservation Foundation is welcoming trophy hunters to Africa to kill giraffes “in order to save them,” and how three scientists just published their argument that the best way to save whales from the whaling massacres by Japan, Norway and Iceland is to make a deal that allows a certain (large) number of whales to be massacred.
It’s same argument that was (sometimes still is) even being trotted out by animal “shelters” that take in homeless pets and then kill them.
The hunting enthusiasts and the conservationists who support their activities are probably right in saying that these ranches are all that stands between some of these animals and virtual extinction. But nothing is going to change in our relationship to other animals until we come to the point of saying that killing them for fun is just plain wrong.
Only when we stop the killing will new options begin to open up.
Here’s the whole 60 Minutes segment:
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What do you say? Is there a case to be made for allowing trophy hunting to help preserve an animal species? Let us know in a comment or on Facebook.