THE KEEPING OF THE ZOO - LOOKING AHEAD - Ecological Intelligence: Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature - Ian McCallum

Ecological Intelligence: Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature - Ian McCallum (2008)




AS A YOUNG BOY GROWING UP IN PRESENT-DAY ZAMBIA, I LIVED IN A neighborhood where it was not uncommon for people to display kudu horns or elephant tusks in their homes. My uncle kept a lion skin, with its snarling head attached, spread out on the floor of his veranda. He didn’t shoot the animal, but he was nevertheless honored to accept the trophy as a gift from a professional hunter. No one thought anything of it, except that my uncle, years later, removed it from its position of display. Somehow, it was no longer appropriate, he said. It was about this time, prior to entering medical school, that I spent a short period as a farm manager in Zimbabwe. The owner of the farm was a man who loved hunting. Suspended on the walls of the family room in his home were the heads of at least three of the Big Five. Other heads included that of a spotted hyena as well as a variety of antelope. Today, that same farm is a wild animal sanctuary where tourists can walk among elephants, rhino, and the kin of those antelope that adorned the walls of the family room. Today, that man is no longer a hunter.

What makes a professional or recreational hunter suddenly lower his gun, no longer able to pull the trigger on the animal in his sights? What causes the sudden wave of tiredness that makes him say, “That’s enough,” turning his attention instead to taking photographs of the animals and to protecting them? Has the hunter gone soft, or has he become strong? Perhaps hunters simply get tired of their way of life, the novelty wears off, the animal-human contest becomes hollow, or they ultimately prefer to see the animal alive. Wild animals know when they are being hunted and the hunters know it. On the other hand, could there be a more complex reason for why some hunters put away their guns. Was it something about the creature in their sights? Was it the sheer elegance of the animal or perhaps the look in its eye? Was there a deep, unarticulated realization that it is not the way of Nature to kill anything for amusement?

These are debatable reasons for laying down a weapon, but there is one more, a less obvious reason, that I would like to propose. My proposal is in defense of what I would like to call the “authentic” hunters of the world. From the bushmen to the likes of early-twentieth-century hunter Frederick Courtney Selous, after whom the Selous National Park in Tanzania is named, these are the hunters who know and understand the behavior of every animal they hunt—from lizards to lions. The arrows or bullets they use are associated with the self-preserving hormone adrenaline. These hunters are not dependent on trackers, trucks, or geographical positioning systems. They know the tracks of the animals, their terrain, which ones to kill, which ones to leave alone, and, more importantly, they know that crucial invisible line, which once crossed is to betray an unwritten pact between the hunter and the hunted: that the contest be fair and necessary. Grounded in experience and a deep sense of respect for the animal, this awareness is the defining characteristic separating the authentic from the unauthentic hunter. These hunters are among the finest guides, naturalists, and wilderness educators I know, and they have good reason to regard themselves as genuine conservationists. Few of them remain, and as Map Ives, a former professional hunter turned professional environmentalist, ruefully observes, “they are a dying breed.” Could it be that these hunters have put down their guns because of an ethical imperative—they have become increasingly ill at ease, repelled by their association with, or worse still, their financial dependence on, unauthentic hunters, especially modern trophy hunters and the industry that supports them?

To me, the trophy hunter is the opposite of the hunter I have just described. Because they own guns, know how to shoot, and love being in the wild, they would like to be seen as authentic, but a love of the wild, and of guns, is not enough. With rare exceptions, even among professional hunters, they have little more than a superficial knowledge of how the animals, the birds, and the landscape are intertwined. Instead, their mission is clear—they have come to kill the animal of their choice, and they have paid good money to do so. What is more, there must be as little physical risk to themselves as possible. Supported by an industry that practically guarantees their safety and their kill, they know little, if anything, about that invisible line. When their bullets are fired, they are associated not so much with adrenaline as with testosterone, as I will show. Governed by time constraints and heavily reliant on trackers and sophisticated weaponry, for the unauthentic hunter the trophy, rather than the human-animal interaction, is paramount.

There is presently an unprecedented groundswell of public antipathy toward recreational and trophy hunting and it is coming from all corners—from animal rights movements and those who simply espouse animal welfare and protection to conservation biologists and those same hunters who have downed their guns. Hunting—and particularly trophy hunting—has become more of a moral and ethical issue than ever before. In spite of rebound protest from so-called ethical hunters, one of the reasons for the growing mistrust, in addition to certain highly questionable present-day hunting activities, is that Nature’s backlashes are inevitable and usually slow. In other words, much of the antipathy is inherited from the past. From Gordon Cumming in the nineteenth century to the well-documented escapades of Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, and many others, the image and ethics of the archetypal trophy hunter is not as admirable as we were sometimes led to imagine. What these men may have been admired for or been proud of in their time, we would be ashamed of today. Some would call it carnage. In their defense, and it is a poor one, it could be argued that they were less informed about the science of ecology and evolution than we are today. However, I believe, in the words of Oedipus: “They should have known.”

As we are witnessing now, it could be as much as the sixth or seventh generation later who are left to repair the damage of the fore-fathers. It is no wonder, therefore, that the nonhunting public today is mistrusting and critical of modern hunters. As for the hunters, it is not enough to change their vocabulary. For example, what was once the Botswana Professional Hunters Association is now skeptically known as the Botswana Wildlife Management Association. It is going to take time to believe in the new hunting terminology of ethical versus unethical hunting. Nobody can convincingly describe himself as authentic or ethical—he has to be known to be so, consistently. In other words, you cannot be your own judge. It may be to their credit that they are reconsidering the impact of their choice of lifestyle, but it is not going to help their cause when they refer to their critics as “vociferous minorities…sensationalists…self-styled, pseudo-environmentalists…bent on imposing their intolerant views on society,” as was written by Gerard R. Damm (Africa Geographic, February 2003). Whether it be the voice or pen of the hunter or that of their critics, contempt usually says more about the one who has it than the ones toward whom it is directed.

What follows, then, is not a demand but rather an appeal to those who continue to justify any form of hunting outside of food and food production to reconsider its history, its validity, and its ethic. It is an appeal to read the message of the thorns of the ziziphus—to remember where we have come from.

The roots of hunting have a remote origin in the psyche of the human animal, and as psychologist William James wrote in 1896, “it is just because human bloodthirstiness is such a primitive part of us that it is so hard to eradicate, especially where a fight or a hunt is promised as part of the fun.” But is the hunting of a wild animal in our blood? Is it an instinct? In defense of their sport, recreational and trophy hunters often urge us to believe that it is so; that it is linked to deep-seated predatory drives; that it confirms that human beings are the evolutionary champions of the animal food chain and that for a man to be a man, he must hunt.

I will argue that the roots of trophy hunting are in the evolution of culture rather than biology; that the hunting of wild animals is learned behavior and that as the context changes, what we have learned can not only become inappropriate, but maladaptive.

First of all, we must not confuse hunting with the instinct to protect and to provide. Secondly, we must learn the difference between an instinct and a habit. If the hunting of wild animals were an instinct, then surely it would have to be shared by everyone. Instead, because recreational and trophy hunting is largely a first-world practice, we would do well to reflect on the The Fund for Animals report of 2000, which records that in America, 14 million people hunt compared with 62 million who practice “less consumptive activities such as bird watching, hiking, and photography”—to say nothing of the growing number of people who oppose hunting altogether. If anything, it is the aesthetic, “less consumptive” activities that appear to be “instinctive.” To me, the latter group are evidence of what it means to unlearn or to redirect old attitudes. The gun has been replaced by a camera; telescopic sites by long-range lenses; the bullet by a film or memory chip, and the trophy remains alive.

Looking back on our early beginnings, it is likely that one factor more than any other was responsible for our progression from individualistic foragers to collective scavengers and then hunters—the quality of our diet. The protein derived from eating small mammals, reptiles, and the scavenging on carcasses was not enough. We needed more animal protein and it needed to be fresh. Bone marrow and organ meat became increasingly important as “brain food,” necessitating that we invent more sophisticated ways of obtaining it. As human animals we did not come blessed with the ability to outsmell, outsee, or outrun the animal meat we desperately needed. Instead, in conjunction with a remarkable increase in the size and neural circuitry of the hominid forebrain, our ancestors learned to outthink their prey. They formed hunting alliances, the equivalent of today’s goal-oriented economic and political alliances.

There is little doubt when viewing the stone tools of Homo erectus that he was a more sophisticated hunter than his smaller-brained predecessor, Homo habilis. But there was more to it than just tool making. The need for meat and marrow, combined with the neurological equipment to plan its acquisition, predisposed the species to a huge leap in the sophistication of animal tracking—checking, comparing, collating, interpreting, testing, and retesting—a process akin to modern scientific thinking. It almost goes without saying that to have been a successful hunter one had to be a successful tracker, but even that was not enough. Not only did the hunters have to learn to read the signatures in the sand, they had to learn the ways of the animals, their applied anatomy, physiology, and their behavior. They had to learn about the environment in which the animals moved and lived and about the seasons of water, wind, and fire. They had to learn how to put the elements to their advantage, and finally, because the emotions of fear and anxiety were always with them, they had to learn how to interpret and prioritize their own emotional responses to threat and danger.

In his book Affective Neuroscience, neurobiologist Jaak Panksepp writes the following:

As the humanoid brain developed enough cortex to think and to elaborate complex ideas, hunting became an acquired practice of the human lifestyle. Humans eventually developed the habit of stalking prey and eating meat as do some present-day male chimpanzees in the wild. It is likely however that this thread of character emerged independently of the intense and persistent carnivorous hunting urges of the cats and dogs of the ancient plains.

Shaped by the environment, by necessity, and aided by an intelligence that made it workable, hunting became an adapted form of what neurobiologists refer to as seeking behavior—in this case, the seeking of food taking priority over the seeking of companionship, attachment, and approval.

In summary, the seeking of food is one thing, how it is achieved is another. We had to learn how to hunt and it did not only apply to the human animal. An example of what I mean can be seen in the food-seeking behavior of baboons and otters. Try raising a baboon and an otter in captivity and then, after three years, releasing them into the wild. Within an hour, we could expect the otter to have caught a fish. Instinct. The baboon, on the other hand, will not have a clue about what or what not to eat. It would have to learn the hard way that a scorpion (a wild delicacy), for instance, has to be detailed before eating it.

Hunting, as essential as it has been to human survival, has to be understood as an important part of the learning curve of human culture. And yet, precisely because of its cultural significance, there are reasons other than the learned skills of acquiring food and skins for blankets and clothing why hunting continues to hold its appeal.

Historically, for communities like the Kalahari bushmen, the many hunting tribes of Africa, the Nunamuit people of Alaska, and the traditional Native Americans, hunting was never simply an act of throwing a spear, pulling the bowstring, or aiming a gun. It was also central to healing rituals and to the initiatory rites of passage of young adolescents into manhood and womanhood. Hunting, then, was also a symbolic act. To face and to kill a wild animal was about proving oneself in one’s community, that a young man, for instance, could face his fears and that he could provide food, skins, and ornaments for his people. The trophy was the evidence of a man’s skill, courage, and prowess. To succeed was to gain wide-ranging approval and privileges from one’s peers and from one’s community. In many instances, hunting in this form was part of a mate-selection ritual. Today there are few areas in the world where such traditional lifestyles prevail. However, the need to prove oneself remains. It is part of our nature, and while there are other ways of proving oneself, approval, as we shall see, is central to the psychological dynamics of trophy hunting.


When hunters take aim at an animal, how do they divorce them-selves from personal feelings of negativity, especially the feelings aroused by the thought of the distress the animal may be experiencing? To protect the ego from being overwhelmed by negative feelings, the hunter becomes desensitized.

Desensitization is part of the process of denial, an important but complex defense mechanism of the human ego. In the process of blocking our feelings, we become hardened to the predicament and the feelings of the other. As in any form of indoctrination—a less-polite word for required learning—the earlier the desensitization occurs, the more reinforced it becomes. In his book Body Count: The Death Toll in America’s War on Wildlife, N. Phelps reminds us that 89 percent of American hunters began hunting before they were nineteen years old, 69 percent before they were sixteen, and 54 percent before they were thirteen. What makes the process of desensitization in young people so easy is that it is socially sanctioned, albeit by an inner circle of family members and friends. Promoted in the name of kinship, belonging, and upholding of traditional values, the child and the young adolescent can hardly resist the call to hunt, for, as we know, it is only in late adolescence and early adulthood that young people begin to reexamine the value systems of society and of their kin.

Another form of denial is dissociation—the emotionally expedient act of distancing oneself from unpleasant or threatening situations. As in the socially sanctioned madness of war, the hunter, like the soldier, dissociates himself from the trauma. A traumatic event then becomes dramatic. The trophy hunter is lulled into a complex yet absurd process of self-deception. The animal, the other, becomes the threat, the projected villain…the enemy. For the trophy hunter to maintain this deception, the stuffed animal in his home is invariably made to look dangerous. The implication is clear—the hunter is perceived as having shot the animal in self-defense.

A further, well-used form of denial is justification—the act of convincing oneself that what one is doing is right, that there are good reasons to believe in certain traditions and to behave in specific ways. By aligning their activities to biological drives, hunters in general find little difficulty justifying their sport. As we are beginning to find out, this alignment is not biologically driven, but a learned behavior.

However, there is another reason given for trophy hunting that is often overlooked. Once again, it stems not so much from biological evolution, but from cultural evolution. It is linked to the ancient, misguided belief that wild animals are dangerous. It is well known that those who are attracted to danger, more especially to the psychosocial challenge that comes with high-risk behavior, will travel great distances to confront and to overcome it and to bring back the trophy. I will give my reasons for why they do this, but before doing so we would do well to remember that the Big Five (elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion, and leopard) is hunting terminology. They are so named because they are the most dangerous when they are threatened, wounded, when they are protecting their young, and when their escape routes are foiled. It is well documented that, with rare exceptions, every one of these animals will steer clear and even run away from the full profile of humans. When their behavior is understood, the Big Five are not dangerous, or, if you prefer, they are as dangerous as you and I would be in the same circumstances. It is the hunter who creates the danger.

But why would anyone want to have an animal’s head on his wall? The answer, I believe, is not difficult to find. There are fairly plausible psychological reasons, one of them being the deep human need for approval. From war medals through university certificates, sporting laurels and the heads of wild animals, our exhibits say the same thing—they are our displays of talent, achievement, acceptance, and prowess. Sigmund Freud, by the way, would have referred to these displays as phallic, which, as we shall see, is not that far from the truth.

The need for approval is both primal and necessary. We admire people who set goals and who achieve them. We admire those who turn adversity into something of value. These are our role models and our leaders. However, in today’s ecological climate it is extremely difficult to approve or admire anyone who kills an animal for sport. It is difficult to justify, as proposed by the same hunter, that “the reason we hunt is for that special feeling” (italics mine). What kind of a feeling is he talking about? When examined carefully, we find that it is a feeling that is linked to the aggressively competitive nature of hunting itself, and, as we shall see, it is primarily a male thing (96 percent of the members of the Safari Club International—the biggest hunting society in the world—are males).

Aggression and assertion are not only linked, but are evolutionarily significant—without them we would not have been able to compete effectively for environmental resources. Let’s take a closer look at the neurobiological basis of aggression and why men are intrinsically more aggressive than women. To do this, we need to return to the almond-shaped nucleus in the temporal lobe of our brains—the amygdala.

This little structure, apart from being activated by emotionally charged situations, is one of several nuclei involved in seeking or exploratory behavior. It triggers the feelings associated with curiosity, reward, anticipation, and other appetitive states such as hunger and thirst. In both men and women, the amygdala is active in power play and dominance behavior. It is also involved in what is referred to as predatory or dispassionate “cold aggression” as well as its opposite, the “hot aggression” associated with avenge and revenge. However, there is an important difference between the sexes—these nuclei are significantly larger and more active in men than in women, even when we are asleep. From primates to rodents, the activity in this nucleus indicates that males show more concern for victory, winning, power, and dominance than females.

But how does this translate to trophy hunting and to that special feeling that the trophy hunter cannot do without? As it is in any sport, it has to do with competition and the joy of winning. It has been conclusively shown that victory in a variety of forms—in sexual and social competition, on tennis courts, through academic degrees, and from military ventures to hunting—is associated with increased blood levels of the sexual hormone testosterone. With it comes the feeling of prowess and dominance. Losers, on the other hand, exhibit declined levels of the hormone. Combined with other morphinelike chemicals involved in competitive play, testosterone in men and women (not to be confused with its masculinizing metabolite in males, dihydrotestosterone), rather than adrenaline, appears to be the key chemical for that special feeling. The same process applies to the trophy hunter, with one notable difference from any other sport—the absence of play. The trophy, the victory, is practically guaranteed, there is little contest, and, what is more, the “opponent” is going to die. It is difficult to argue against the proposition that trophy hunting is more about reinforcing dominance than creating joy, more about approval than creativity, more about aggression than assertion. To me, there is no poetry in trophy hunting. The special feeling, because of the absence of play, is one of power, which means that these hunters can never be satisfied—they can never get enough of it. It becomes a habit, and an addictive one at that.

Assertion, on the other hand, is that rare and precious state of knowing that one’s ultimate sense of approval is not externally dependent and that one no longer has to prove oneself. It is as if, as we mature, we become more aware of the difference between fair and unfair play, between hot and cold aggression. We grow up. Perhaps this is the reason why hunters, even the unauthentic ones, put down their guns.

As for the future, there is something that authentic hunters need to do. They need to be a lot more outspoken against the profoundly disturbing practice of high-fence or canned hunting—the establishment of fencedin game farms for the purchase, breeding, and shooting of wild animals (mostly large herbivores and predators) for the sole purpose of having them shot as trophies. Often baited and in some instances drugged, these animals have been known to be shot from the back of open vehicles and from behind fences. Who can forget the horrific television footage of canned hunting in 1997 when a lioness on a South African game ranch was shot and killed in front of her cubs?

While many hunters will argue that it is the unscrupulous few, including professional hunters, who have spoiled it for the others, the protest surrounding the entire concept of trophy hunting is growing. Directed not only toward the hunters, but toward the industry that encourages and supports it, the protest is at the same time a plea for an ecological ethic. Ethical hunters stress the importance of a fair chase of the quarry, defining fairness as the pursuit, on foot, of a free-ranging or enclosed animal that is free to escape its pursuer. The important question, of course, refers to the definition of a canned/trophy hunting operation: how big an area must the land be to ensure a fair chase? To me, the definition of a canned-hunting operation is simple: If there is a fence, if there are artificial water holes and the kill is guaranteed, then the word ethical does not fit. You are dealing with a canned-hunting operation.

The operators may argue that the selected trophy animals are “usu-ally” past their breeding prime and that they would have been taken by other predators anyway. Why not earn money from them? I will argue that we know little about the kinship and social roles of wild animals once they are beyond their reproductive age. Buffalo are a good example of what we are beginning to discover about the disciplinary, protective, and mentoring roles of herd animals. It was always thought that the huge, cantankerous old bulls (the “dagga boys”) were hanging around waiting to die. Not so. It would appear that they continue to play a protective, albeit more distant, educational role in the survival of their kind.

Another argument put forward by breeding operations is that the trophy animals provide a potential gene pool for rare, exotic, or endangered species, or that the money earned from trophy hunting pays for the operation as well as providing benefits for local communities such as employment and money for schools and clinics. This may sound plausible, if not noble, but does the end justify the means? And, how much goes toward these noble ends?

It is well known that one’s genes and one’s fate are not the same thing. In other words, genetic replication from one generation to another is not a given. It depends on the environment into which the genotype is born. For any creature, its natural environment is a part of its creatureliness, its cunning, its vigilance, its territoriality, its sexual preferences…its wildness. Take lions, for example. Is a second- or third-generation zoo, circus, or captive lion the same as its bloodline cousin in the wild? They might look the same, but at the molecular/ genetic level, especially with the inevitable interbreeding of close relatives, things may be very different. Two questions need to be asked: what is being bred into the gene pool and with the progressive domestication of the animal, what is being bred out of it? Let the history of the breeding and interbreeding of dogs speak for itself. Is this part of the future of wild animals?

Addressing the impact on the gene pool of domesticating wild animals, writer and wildlife photographer Ian Michler asks some pointed questions. In the breeding of lions for trophy hunting (although it applies to all animals), he asks: “Are these operators in the process of creating a domesticated version of the wild lion? Do we understand the biological, behavioral, and philosophical implications of what is going on behind the fences and cages on these farms?” He reminds us that there are at least three broad categories of interaction between humans and wild animals—habituation (when wild animals become familiar with our routine), taming (when we control their feeding behavior), and domestication (when we control their breeding behavior). It is a fact that canned-hunting operators are crossbreeding lions and tigers to produce “ligers” as trophies. In South Africa they are breeding the rare and recessive lion genotype, the white lion, for trophy hunters. Antelope like the bontebok, Damaliscus dorcas, are being crossbred to produce longer horns while others, like the springbok, Antidorcas marsupialis, and the impala, Aepyceros melampus, are being bred for their novel but recessive skin-color genes—all of this for the trophy hunter. Where is the ethic in this? As Michler says, if there is to be any legislation against canned hunting it has to be aimed as much at the dealer as at the consumer.

There are two reasons why it is going to be difficult to eradicate trophy hunting. Firstly, the mindset of the trophy hunter will have to change. Secondly, while hunting is not nearly as lucrative as the photographic safari industry, it is nevertheless a profitable one. Money invariably triggers the dark side of human nature, and, in spite of claims to the contrary, it is a sad fact that—at a price—you can hunt almost any kind of animal you like in the world today, from Bengal tigers and cheetahs to pythons. And yet there are many in the industry who vigorously support trophy hunting and they do so, as I have said, in the name of sustainable utilization. They say, “Animals must pay their way.” My question: have they not paid enough, already?

Sustainable utilization is multifaceted. From photographic safaris to “green hunting” (paying to participate in scientific research including the darting and relocating of animals) to voluntary work to specified taxation and donations, there are ways of contributing to the financing of conservation other than trophy hunting. To me, this is the way to go. It is part of a bigger picture—one that recognizes that we are the keepers of the zoo; that the protection and welfare of the wild is an individual as well as an international responsibility. It begins to take shape when we renew our attitude to wilderness and to wild animals. Trophy hunting is not part of that renewal. Yes, there are indeed more pressing human priorities compared with the protection of wild animals, such as the easing of poverty, but without an appreciation of the importance of wild places in our lives, I believe poverty will take on a different meaning. We will all be the poorer. We will suffer from an impoverishment of soul.

I have no doubt that hunters are generally passionate about the environment. There are also those who are genuinely concerned about issues such as biodiversity, long-term conservation, and environmental ethics. I agree with the African president of the Safari Club International—the principal voice of organized hunting—when he calls for dialogue and compromise, and I also believe he is sincere when he says he sees himself to be a coguardian of the world’s natural heritage. However, I do not agree with him when he says that antihunting campaigns are attacks on private ownership and personal freedom. The argument is not about human rights but about the nurturing of an ecological intelligence. It is about trying to show the nonsense of killing for that special feeling or using an elephant’s foot as a wastepaper basket, a stool, or an umbrella stand. It is about dealing with the welling up and spilling over of rage when we hear that a corporate executive who claims to be an ethical hunter has shot and killed a rare bongo, Tragelaphus eurycerus, for his trophy collection. It is what this book is about. The animals are in our blood and in our psyches, and they do not exist simply for how useful they can be for human purposes. We can no longer plead ignorance to the genetic evidence found in the unraveling of the human genome. We are dependent on them for more than their meat, their hides, or the claim that they exist in order to satisfy the human predatory urge. In psyche and in substance, we are the keepers of the zoo.

We are now face-to-face with an ethical imperative. Something in us has to say no! Rooted in what philosophers Hume, Smith, and Schopenhauer believed to be an inborn and indestructible instinct for what is fair and what is unfair, to say no is to protest against anything that is damaging or demeaning to a sense of kinship with another—to what we call soul. We can no longer turn our heads, pretending we did not know. I believe there is a code of conduct implicit in our new insights…one that respects the intrinsic dignity and space of all animals. Let D. H. Lawrence, in these lines from the poem “Mountain Lion,” amplify what I mean:


Two men!

Men! The only animal in the world to fear!

What are they doing here on this vanishing trail?

What is he carrying?

Something yellow.

A deer?

He smiles, foolishly, as if he were caught doing wrong.

And we smile, foolishly, as if we didn’t know.

It is a mountain lion,

A long, slim cat, yellow like a lioness.


He trapped her this morning, he says, smiling foolishly.

And I think in this empty world there was room for me and a mountain lion.


And so, is there any justification for hunting, or, put more bluntly, for the killing of animals? To me there is. Meat, from the white of fish and fowl to that of mammalian red, has been a significant part of human survival. To stop the killing or use of animals for food is presently not an option. We need them for more than their spiritual value. However, their nutritional and spiritual value go together. This is the reason why we bless our food. I go along with the hunter who kills for the pot. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t because I eat meat and I eat venison. I can even understand, but I do not condone, the poaching of an animal from a conservancy in order to feed a starving family. I agree with the killing of an animal in self-defense, or if it is sick or injured and if to do so is to put it out of its misery. Out of respect for the animals and for biodiversity, I instinctively align myself to a philosophy of noninterference rather than culling, and yet I cannot argue with absolute conviction against the need to manage sustainable populations of animals confined to fencedin grazing and browsing areas. I have learned enough about culling to know that it is a contentious issue and that it should always remain so. “We cannot wait for the research” should never be an excuse to go ahead with the perceived need to cull. We must learn to wait. Culling should never be based on the notion of “ideal” numbers of animals. Instead, it should be based on an under-standing of the natural history of the animal, its breeding cycles, its peaks and vales, the terrain of the animal, climatic rhythms, natural diseases, species interactions, and biodiversity.

It is important to remember that animals are in a continuous process of adaptation. In many instances they will adjust to changing climatic and geographical conditions without our intervention. Time constraints, deadlines, and ultimatums are human constructs and they seldom work in the wild. It is not always easy to see the potential order in what is often interpreted as chaos and destruction, for example, the impact of the growing populations of elephants on the trees in Africa’s game reserves. Respect the process. Look at fallen trees differently. See in their twisted shapes the potential ecosystems of termites, ants, and other insects, butterflies, reptiles, birds, and the developing food chains in and around the decaying trees. See the space created by the fallen tree as space for the grasses that feed the herbivores. An area of fallen trees may not look aesthetically pleasing, but when seen in an ecological context the dead trees come alive. Yes, elephants will die, as will other animals—they might starve and their reproductive cycles will alter, but this is not new in the wild. We should know by now that when we interfere, we often make the situation worse. The introduction of artificial watering holes as well as the erection of protective fences is bound to have an effect on the migratory and population dynamics of elephants and other animals. Then again, there may be times when we need to cull, in which case, let it be done in the knowledge that the slain animal is not a trophy.

Finally, the code of conduct I am referring to applies equally to non-hunting activities, especially to the cameramen and crews responsible for the increasing number of dubious wildlife documentaries making their appearance on our television screens. While their trophies remain alive, wrestling crocodiles and pythons and doing handstands in front of elephants sends a clear message—the activity is about human dominance over animals. This may not be the conscious intention of the human players in these documentaries, but it is how it comes across and I believe deep down they know it. Thank heavens for those, like the Save the Rhino Foundation, who will not submit to the demands of these cameramen. On one particular film shoot in Namibia, the on-site members of the foundation refused to provoke a desert-adapted black rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis bicornis, into charging the photographer. Of course, it would have made a great shot. After all, it is the shot that sells the footage. In instances like this, the crew would argue that they mean no harm and that the footage is educational. However, whenever wildlife situations are manipulated to suit the photographer, the harm is already done—animals’ fear and suspicion of humans is reinforced and at the same time the viewers, many of whom are well informed about animal behavior, find the obvious commercialism repellant.

As for its educational significance, the manipulated human-animal interaction is seldom the way things really are in the wild. One of the problems with this misperception is that uninformed visitors to wildlife areas, many of them paying high prices to be there, expect the same kind of interaction and feel cheated when they don’t get it.These same visitors often incite guides and game rangers, many of whom are young and eager to please, to break the rules by getting too close or even provoking animals into charging. It has happened to me. Most don’t succumb to the pressure. However, there is another group of guides and rangers who need no incitement. Perhaps out of boredom, familiarity, or sheer machismo they wittingly break the professional code of conduct and with it their pact with the wild.

And so, when last did you have a sense of the “No” feeling—the feeling that what we are doing at the human-animal interface is inappropriate, that it is unfair, or that it is simply unethical? Does that feeling have a voice when it comes to trophy hunting, to manipulated wildlife photography and documentaries, to the sale of ivory, the logging of the rain forests, and the unbridled harvesting of the seas? And will your voice be heard?

Will the mind-set change? Will it come from within, or, when the evidence against the hunting of any animal for trophy purposes is properly understood, will it need to be legislated against? Remember that colossal gesture on July 18, 1989, when the then president of Kenya set to flames $3 million worth (at that time) of ivory. None of us can escape that message…some things are simply not for sale.


I am a pilgrim of the future on the way back
from a journey made entirely in the past.

Teilhard de Chardin

Breathe one last time
your wild breath into me
that I may not forget you,
that I may remember who I am…

Barbara Fairhead