SO THERE'S A charming Arizona organization called Safari
International, which is "dedicated to education, conservation, advocating
hunting and the hunter." You can find all the fabulous details at www.safariclub.org.
Many powerful people are members of SCI: George Bush, father of George Bush;
Norman Schwarzkopf; Dan Quayle. All these people enjoy shooting big animals.
I have no objection to hunting. I am a carnivore; I can
intellectually valid reason for me to object to the activities of other
carnivores. I prefer to have others kill my cows, is all. Indeed, I have
been known to fish and to enjoy fishing, and later to enjoy the fish.
But hunters understand (or say they understand) that hunting is part of
the ecological system. Sometimes it is useful and sometimes it is not.
SCI, apparently, wants to go hunting no matter what.
According to a report in the British newspaper the Guardian, Bush,
Schwarzkopf and other members of SCI recently signed a letter protesting
the decision of the government of Botswana to ban lion hunting.
When sport hunters go to Botswana, mostly from the United States and
Japan, they want a nice big head for their wall. That would be the head of
a male lion, just like the MGM trademark fellow.
Alas, male lions are getting harder to find. According
to the Guardian,
"exact numbers of lions are notoriously difficult to measure, but there is
broad consensus among conservationists and governments that the population
in Africa has fallen from about 50,000 to less than 15,000 over the past
decade. The surviving lions are largely confined to four viable
populations in southern and east Africa."
FEWER LIONS MEAN fewer males. Indeed, the situation has
gotten so bad that
some sportsmen have been forced to shoot immature males and then contract
with a U.S. firm to weave in mane extenders to make the beast look more fierce.
Sounds like a joke; isn't.
There are other problems with shooting the males. The cycles
life are disrupted. The younger males have no one to chase them from the pride,
so new groups are not formed. Young males mate with their sisters and mothers.
There was an additional problem, this one political. The local farmers
were already banned from killing lions to protect their livestock. With
some justice, they considered it unfair that rich foreigners should get to
shoot lions when they were prohibited.
("Rich foreigners" is not rhetoric -- it costs about $30,000 to go on a
lion safari, plus transportation, equipment and mane extenders, if needed.)
So in February, the government of Botswana banned all lion hunting, which
is what led to the letter from SCI signed by George Bush. Despite the declining
numbers of lions in the wild, the members of SCI wanted to go on shooting them.
Big-game hunting in Africa has already become something of a farce. You
think, no doubt, of monthlong trips into the wild, deadly snakes and charging rhinos,
the odd elephant stampede and then, maybe, the chance to stalk a trophy animal.
You should be thinking instead of the mammalian equivalent of a stocked trout pond.
In South Africa particularly, lions are merely released into a fenced area only a few miles
square. They have no escape. The hunters corner them and shoot them, and everyone
goes back to camp for a Pimm's Cup.
Even the money situation is rigged. Although the hunts
are expensive, very
little of the money goes into the local economy. Most of it goes to the
operators (even though they are often working on government land), and
very often the operators are controlled by foreign companies.
It would be nice to have some lions left for the 22nd century. It would be
nice if George Bush thought so too. Can't have everything.
Look, Bwana, there he is, crouched behind that plastic outcropping.