Sacred Cows--Can Conservationists Hunt?
Scimitar Oryx courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Hmmm. These don't
like pre-burger heifers, do they?
The Scimitar Oryx is extinct in the wild. Partly due to hunting and partly due to the climate change which has caused the Sahara to be more dry than it was, historically. What remains of this species is housed in zoos (as these are), reserves and private ranches in Texas.
In an episode which is likely to cause a furor in the conservation community, 60 Minutes brought to light the rather successful practice of big game ranching in Texas. Successful in that the ranchers are doing well for themselves, and ALSO successful in breeding much larger populations of some "big game" species--that happen to be endangered or even extinct in their traditional range. Trophy hunters pay high fees for the privilege of hunting (though not always bagging) a specific animal--thus supporting the ranchers and the oryx/cape buffalo or other farmed species.
Back in the days when I was teaching art (and before my classroom moved into a new building), I had a mounted deer head hanging in the room. This absolutely astounded my more rural students who grew up hunting, because they thought they had me neatly categorized into a "treehugger" box that didn't include hunting. And, of course, I don't "hunt," at least not by the popular definition. But as I explained to those boys then, they were now the primary predator of that particular species. Without their consumption of white tailed deer, we would be overwhelmed by their numbers. And by eating what they were killing, they were being far more honest, if you will, about their consumption than those of us that just pick up a pound of ground beef at the grocery store.
At the heart of the controversy brought up in the 60 Minutes special is the (at least partly) successful litigation by Friends of Animals that is going to curtail the market for these exotic ranches. If the rulings stand, in order to hunt one of these animals you will have to secure a federal permit. Friends of Animals believes that it is morally wrong to raise these animals specifically to be hunted, and, if that is the only way they can survive as a species outside of their native Africa, then so be it.
I find this disturbing on a number of levels. First, if Friends of Animals really valued the species, then they should support what has PROVEN to be an excellent method of supporting breeding programs which enhance the genetic pool so that reintroduction has the possibility of succeeding. Zoos were unable to sustain the numbers necessary to maintain a strong genetic pool. Hunters partnered with ranchers were more successful. Friends of Animals' true agenda, then, is something else. Looking at their website (below), it appears that they would prefer for all human exploitation or usage/consumption of animals to cease, irrespective of whether or not that usage actually protects the species targeted for consumption. This seems just a bit hypocritical, since even vegans end up being detrimental to the lifespans of other species. Let's take a look at some less exotic history.
Take, as an example, the humble chicken. A number of older, "unimproved," heritage breeds have been rescued from the brink of extinction by the purchase and consumption of said chickens for use on small farms or homesteads. (Mother Earth News, below). Without the purchase of these chickens for the express purpose of raising them for later consumption, the breed would have been left to die out. Gourmet chefs have also helped this effort by including the meat of these rarer breeds on their menus. Where there is a market to support a species, there will be the dollars to keep that species alive. There is a bottomless pit of species that would require truckloads of money to save them all from extinction. If we rely on public tax dollars or altruistic sorts willing and able to part with their hard won cash, the species in question will be kaput. End of story. We aren't supporting the National Parks and Preserves that we have now, much less establishing new ones. Bison brought back from the brink were brought back primarily by ranchers (Nature Conservancy, below). This may not be your ideal world view, but that is how markets work at the current time.
Unless we are taking responsibility for the growing or raising of all our own food, we are handing off the ethics of humane animal husbandry and agricultural practices to third parties who may not share our own particular brand of morality. Even vegans are not exempt from this quandary. Acres spent raising crops are acres that are no longer in use as "natural habitat," and therefore are unable to support the various animal species that
to occupy that land. It's just a more indirect method of death--loss of habitat. The insects which support songbirds and even the songbirds themselves are targeted aggressively by modern agriculture in order to deliver those perfect crops to the market (Bye Bye Blackbird, below). The one thing that modern agriculture DOES guarantee is that every species that can be farmed and that we like to consume is going to continue to exist. Whether that existence is under humane circumstances is far more suspect on the average corporate farm than that of a scimitar oryx on a trophy ranch where the hunters expect the animals to be in top shape.
Maybe blackbirds and holsteins aren't as sexy as Cape Buffalos, but both are sacrificed to our dinner tables. Just because we aren't hanging their heads on the wall doesn't mean we didn't kill them. We are
hunters--because there is no free lunch.