Thursday, May 04, 2006

Men with guns

Hunting is an old tradition and is most certainly not limited to the humans. Lions hunt, bears hunt, kittens hunt, whales hunt … in fact I struggle to think of any member of the animal kingdom that doesn’t.

Tribes around the world use hunting as a fundamental part of survival. Without hunting there would be no meat, no source of protein and iron and no skins for shelters, decorations and clothes. The African Bushmen consider the art of hunting very sacred and a single hunter will go without food, sleep or shelter for days to track his prey and return to his tribe with the prize. Denied of sustenance, he goes into a delirious trance and becomes one with the animal he is tracking.

There are few who would argue against a form of hunting which places such respect on the prey. There are few who would argue against any tribe or culture that hunts merely for survival. Yet in the culture of the Western Man, hunting is often played as a sport and done merely for entertainment.

Foxes were introduced into Australia. Can any one imagine how foxes might arrive accidentally on a boat? It was no accident. They were imported purely for the sport of hunting. They were brought over in cages and then released and pursued, but apparently those early settlers weren’t so good with the tracking because foxes have flourished unchecked since their arrival.

It’s this reckless and pointless aspect of hunting that upsets a lot of people. Killing for fun, as it could be described bluntly, certainly isn’t something that appeals to every one. There are legal seasons to kill certain animals, but that isn’t to say the law is always adhered to. Hunting is not easy to control and the concern many people have is losing entire species as a result.

Popular hunting, like hunting ducks, deer and bears, doesn’t threaten endangered species, but it has happened before and it could happen again. Remember the Thylacine, the Tasmanian tiger? It was perceived as a threat, a pest, preying on sheep and poultry. The farmers hunted it (with the help of their dogs) to extinction.

Many hunters argue that they are killing pests and dangerous animals. In Australia the Kangaroo, a native animal, has reached pest status. As inland water holes dry up over a long period of drought, the Kangaroos move into rural and urban areas and their numbers have become too great. Could there come a time when Kangaroos are hunted to extinction? It is possible.

But how about species of animals we don’t even know about yet, or anomalous combinations? Is it not possible that a small hunting accident or miscalculation could be detrimental in ways we might not imagine?

A hunter in the US paid $50,000 for a sport hunting trip (that’s big business) and now faces court over the slaying of a “Grolar” or “Prizzly” Bear (CBC, April 26), a mix between a Grizzly and Polar bear, the only one believed to be in existence. It’s so rare it doesn’t even have a proper name and may never be found again. The man’s in trouble not because he killed a rare species but because he didn’t have a suitable hunting license. The man’s reaction to the event? “Y'know, I've spent $50,000 here. And … to come back with nothing, I don't think that's fair".

Never mind he might have denied the world of the only animal of its kind, he just wants his trophy.

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