For the first time since an asteroid wiped dinosaurs off the face of the earth, the planet is currently experiencing the sixth greatest mass extinction in its history, plants and animals becoming extinct faster than new species can evolve. As of 2013, 905 animal species are known to have become extinct, nearly 16,000 species have been listed as under threat or disappearing, with more than 200 of those described as “possibly extinct” and almost 3,000 as “critically endangered,” primarily due to human beings destroying natural habitats, the spread of introduced predators and diseases, climate change... and hunting. Lots and lots of hunting. We human beings just love to kill things.
Particularly this woman. But when American TV presenter, Melissa Bachman posted a photo of herself grinning over the body of a huge male lion she’d shot on safari in the northern Limpopo province of South Africa at a so-called Maroi “conservancy” (actually a legalized hunting reserve which even advertises all the animals you’re allowed to kill on their land, including rare giraffes and zebras), she set off a social media backlash.
“An incredible day hunting in South Africa! Stalked inside 60 yards on this beautiful male lion … what a hunt!” she Tweeted. Ricky Gervaise nailed it in his Tweet in response: “Spot the typo.”
Unfortunately, she’s hardly unique in her bloodlust to kill endangered animals. Killing rare and endangered animals for sport is big, big business. Lourens Mostert, the game farm manager at the Maroi Conservancy, has defended hunting lions because it is legal in South Africa. “This is not the only lion that has been hunted in South Africa this year,” he said. “If it isn't right to hunt these lions, why does our government legally give us permission?” Um... for the money, would my guess.
According to their Facebook page, The Maroi Conservancy’s motto is “conservation through sustainable hunting,” and promote “ethical hunting” with all meat from the animals distributed to the local community, although I do find the idea of eating lion rather unlikely. All of the game on the 8500 hectare conservancy, they insist, is free-roaming and occur naturally... except for the lion Ms Bachman shot. Lions don’t live there. So they helpfully “faciltated” [sic] the hunt for Ms Bachman to fulfil her “wish list” to kill a lion. They justify the hunting of rare animals on the reserve as “protecting” the animals from starvation, poaching, and raising funds to pay for fencing of agricultural crops and domestic animals. “It is a fact, that due to the hunting industry and money generated out of this industry, there are more animals in South Africa than 100 years ago.” So they say.
The numbers, however, don’t add up. A hundred years ago, there was an estimated 200,000 South African lions. Today there are only about 23,000 left, already extinct in 26 countries. Only seven countries – Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are believed to have more than 1,000 lions each. The South African lion is listed as a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, just below “endangered.” They are in steep decline due to Africa’s human population expanding into lion habitat and because lion bones and other body parts are in demand in the Asian black market as a substitute for tiger bones – since tigers have been hunted to the point they are now on the critically endangered list, one step away from being gone forever like the Western black rhino.
Trophy hunters like Melissa Bachman prefer to kill a male lion in his prime. The loss of an alpha male impacts heavily on a lion pride, as rival lions competing for dominance often kill all the cubs. Countries that allow trophy hunting have the worst drops in lion populations. Trophy hunters, again like Melissa Bachman, tend to be American, with two thirds of lions hunted for sport ending up imported to the United States in the form of skins, rugs, teeth, bones, claws and penises.
So it makes no sense whatsoever for anyone to be killing them for “sport.”
The cheetah is listed as “vulnerable,” with only 12,400 left in the wild. Cheetahs are shy animals, and as far as big cats go one of the least dangerous, with no reported cases of cheetah attacks against humans in the wild. But for a mere $11,770, you can buy a licence to track one down and kill it, just like all these folks did, photo after photo after photo of dead cheetahs, including one with engorged mammary glands, which means her nursing cubs are quite likely dead now as well.
The hippopotamus was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’s Red List of Threatened Species, with an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 common hippos, representing a decline of 20 percent over the last decade alone. Even worse, there are only 2,000 to 3,000 of the severely endangered pygmy hippos left in the wild. Poachers and hunters kill hippos for their ivory, as elephant ivory is increasingly scarce. But you can kill one for a mere $9,980, or just watch one being shot for only $900.
In 1900, there were 10 million African elephants. Today, their total number stands between 450,000 and 700,000. Poachers just killed 100 of them at one go, by cyanide poisoning. At the current death rate, African elephants in the wild will become extinct within a decade. But don’t let that stop you from adding an elephant to your trophy “wish list.” For anywhere between $35,000 and $65,000, you too can indulge in this sport of kings.
The scimitar-horned oryx once covered all of Africa in the millions, but was hunted for its beautiful horns so aggressively that by 1994 it was listed as endangered, in 1996 critically endangered, and finally declared extinct in the wild in 2000. But you can still hunt them... in Texas. Yup, the Buck Valley Ranch is one of several “hunting ranches” in Texas where you can legally hunt endangered and rare animals, including the scimitar horned oryx. After a long battle with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Buck Valley Ranch obtained permits for hunting rare animals in April, 2012. These animals are bred, raised, and hunted for profit, tamed animals making your hunting experience a guaranteed success, if illusory. And, just to salve the conscience, for every rare oryx you kill, the Buck Valley Ranch donates a portion of the fee you’ve paid to organizations working to preserve the species. The logic is that hunting and killing rare animals actually helps save them. Otherwise, there would just be a few languishing in zoos, which we all know have no interest in animal conservation, right? We have to destroy the village to save the village.
Polar bears are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, with only about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the wild. But for $35,000, the United States will issue you a hunting licence to kill one. About 500 bears are killed per year by hunting, a rate that scientists believe to be unsustainable.
The Western Black Rhino is now officially extinct, thanks to trophy hunters and the insatiable demand for rhino horns in Asia as a “folk-remedy” for limp-dicked men. It joins a depressingly long list of animals humans have already hunted to extinction, for all sorts of reasons, most of them stupid. Dodos – because they had no natural predators, didn’t run away when humans showed up and thought it was fun to watch them die. The Tasmanian tiger, because a bounty was placed on them to protect sheep. The Passenger pigeon, killed off by hunters who knew they were killing the very last of them in existence. The Great auk, the last surviving pair strangled by a hunter while his partner stomped on the eggs they’d been incubating. The Toolache wallaby in the 1940s, hunted with greyhounds to extinction because it had pretty fur. The only native American parrot, the Carolina parakeet, hunted to extinction in 1904 because their feathers looked nice in lady’s hats. The Zanzibar leopard, hunted to extinction in the 1990s because people thought they were the demonic familiars of evil witches. Seriously.
Melissa Bachman is just one more bloodthirsty idiot in a long, long line of monumental stupidity. Nothing really demonstrates this better than the video of her hunting a “world record” red stag in New Zealand, where deer are farmed and habituated to human contact as they are regularly checked by veterinarians and moved from paddock to paddock like any other domesticated farm animal. She and her guide make a big show of “stalking” their prey through the grass, but the game is a give-away when the stag lifts his head, looks straight at them curiously, and goes right back to grazing, unperturbed. Worse, when she finally does shoot it with a
crossbow, it’s not a clean shot; the deer takes off running and dies by exsanguination.
That isn’t hunting. It sure as hell isn't sporting, either. I have no problem with legitimate hunting for food or for sport. Real hunters and fishermen are some of the strongest advocates of wildlife conservation I know. There are even often good reasons for hunting – in New Caledonia,the overpopulation of deer imported in the 1800s by European “sportsmen” causes massive damage to a fragile ecosystem, and are hunted year round without restriction. Rabbits are not native to Britain, a serious pest in pastures and fields and even have caused airport runways to collapse through tunnelling. Hunting the destructive and non-native wild boar in the mosquito-ridden, hot and wild Australian outback is a hell of a lot more “hard core” than canned hunts killing captive rare animals in a so-called “conservancy.”
This isn’t the first time Ms Bachman has run up against public condemnation for her extreme hunting tastes. After she’d posted a similar grinning photo of herself and a large black bear she’d shot, 13,000 people signed a petition condemning her as a “heartless trophy hunter” and she was dropped as a contestant on the National Geographic show, Ultimate Survival Alaska. But that hasn’t fazed Ms Bachman; this appalling woman is the worst sort of self-promoting reality television personality who thrives on publicity – good or bad. She wears more make-up than a Fox news presenter, and mixes enough “sex-appeal” with hunting in tight t-shirts and even bikinis to be an NRA fanatic’s wet-dream. She is the sort of “hunter” who gives genuine hunting a bad, bad reputation.
A petition on Change.org is urging South Africa to bar Bachman from returning to the country ever again. I hope it succeeds. I’d like to see her barred from New Zealand as well. And Canada. And anywhere else she turns up with a gun or bow eager to kill something rare just for the fun of it.
But personally, I don’t think that’s enough. Melissa Bachman is just a single drop in the bucket of blood. If we're going to have a meaningful petition, it should address more than one disgusting woman. Petition to have lions upgraded from "vulnerable" to "endangered," and make the importation of wild animal parts into the United States illegal. Shut down domestic canned hunting ranches and stop the breeding of rare and endangered animals for bloodsports. Educate and employ local people in real conservation tourism, where the only scope is on a camera, not a rifle.
Killing animals to the point of extinction is not sport. Nor is it conservation to raise them in captivity to be shot and killed, either. It’s not even in the best interests of hunting, and it should stop. In South Africa. In New Zealand.
Even in Texas.