By JERRY PABST
I am a hunter. I have been a hunter ever since my Dad let me tag along on his pheasant hunts when I was a kid. Armed with a Daisy BB gun, I went afield with the men who assured me that if I hit a flying pheasant in the eye, it would do the trick. There were plenty of wild birds in those days, but I never hit one in the eye.
Once, after I sent a pellet after a fleeing rabbit, one of the men hit it dead center with his full choke 12-gauge. Without going into gory detail, the result was a carcass blown almost in half.
It wasn’t the kind of game anyone wanted to put into a hunting coat, and when I foolishly claimed to have hit it, the hunter happily handed it to me and said in that case, I could carry it. Oooops!
From there I have gone on to a long lifetime pursuing mostly birds; if it flies, it dies. But while I have pulled the trigger on multiple species of feathered game, I never had the itch to shoot a big, furry critter. But, I have no problem with those who do – live and let live.
But there are a lot of people who don’t hunt at all, which is certainly their prerogative, but the trouble starts when they decide no one else should hunt either, and they band together in organizations dedicated to legislate hunting out of existence. We’ll call these folks “antis.”
Antis are emotionally charged individuals who generally believe that man has no right to arbitrarily end the life of another creature. They believe that, if left alone, wild animals will work things out among themselves, as nature intended.
But, since humans, through habitat alteration, have interfered with nature’s plan, we now have the responsibility of helping the wild creatures survive in the world as it now exists.
While highly trained biologists can study the health of various wildlife populations worldwide, and pinpoint areas of concern for their survival, these managers are not always in a position to implement needed solutions. A clear example of this is when a species overpopulates its available habitat, with dire consequences to itself and other species.
There are numerous examples of species over-population, including the huge snow goose flocks threatening to destroy their arctic tundra nesting grounds, deer herds over-browsing their range, and re-introduced wolves expanding their habitat and coming into conflict with humans.
It is especially in circumstances like these where hunters become an important wildlife management tool. Since all of the government agencies tasked with wildlife conservation operate on tight budgets, they can’t always afford to perform the jobs they know need to be done.
When a wildlife population requires thinning to protect the habitat they share with other species, budget constraints usually preclude hiring personnel to see to it. Instead, creation of carefully managed sport hunting programs becomes a cost neutral answer to the problem.
THE CECIL CASE
Not long ago, in Zimbabwe, a sport hunter from the U.S. was induced to kill a lion that his professional guide had lured out of an adjacent wildlife reserve. The lion, called Cecil, was a popular eco-tourism attraction, and his death received worldwide condemnation, as did the American hunter. Of course, the antis had field day demanding the end to all sport hunting, everywhere.
Very little attention was paid to the true facts of this episode, when it came out that the guide had acted improperly in luring the animal out of the reserve, while the hunter was properly licensed and was absolved of all blame.
The director of game management in Zimbabwe put it all in perspective when he pointed out that his biologists do not name the animals, and since they manage entire populations, not individual lions, the loss of one lion was not troubling at all.
Now it has been announced that as a result of all the bad publicity stemming from the “Cecil” case, the number of lion hunters coming to the country has dropped significantly, while the lion population has risen dramatically, beyond the carrying capacity of the land. In fact, the game department is considering culling 200 of the beasts to prevent excessive predation of the other plains species in the area.
WHAT FEES DO
The fees lion hunters pay not only help finance the 850,000-acre conservancy which houses 35 species of free-roaming plains animals, they fund conservation programs for black rhinos and other endangered species. The organized hunts provide much needed employment for local citizens, as well.
Still, the antis continue to agitate for an end to all hunting, in Africa and elsewhere, in spite of the proven beneficial effect it has in the proper management of native wildlife species.
It is all right for them to love the animals, but do they have to love them to death?