The pros and cons of big game shooting... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

The pros and cons of big game shooting…

ANDREW COE reviews various aspects of the arguments for game farm shooting by tourists

LAST month I wrote about deer stalking in Scotland, prompted by a television programme I’d watched about game farm shooting in South Africa as seen by the engaging Louis Theroux. This month I want to discuss the contents of that programme and try to compare it with the deer stalking I described.

In the programme in question, Mr Theroux visited a number of game farms and observed the clients as they went about realising their dream of shooting this or that type of animal, all of which were pretty much available depending on the amount of money each client wanted to spend.

So for x dollars you could shoot a springbok; 2x might bag you a wildebeest; 3x a zebra; and so on. Baboons and warthogs seemed somewhere near the bargain basement level, and I have to admit to finding anyone’s desire to shoot a baboon somewhat distasteful, no doubt because of the baboon’s undisputed similarity to the human species.

On first consideration, the cold calculation of the monetary value of each type of animal struck me as vaguely obscene but as the programme progressed and Mr Theroux spent more time talking with the hunters and the owners of the game parks, the rationale behind what is now a flourishing tourist industry started to sink in.

It is easy to sit in judgment and berate something as morally unacceptable when one is in a position of relative comfort and security and perhaps unable or unwilling to take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture. Read on and see what you think.

Probably prejudice

The first thing about the programme that put my back up was that none of the farms’ clientele appeared to be people who I thought I would like if I found myself in their company for more than a few minutes. Part of that is probably a prejudice I have against over-loud, over-confident and overweight Americans, and there were certainly plenty of them on view.

I also have something of a distrust of people who rely on money to get them what they want, when they want, and shortcut what I would see as a more traditional route to success.

Someone who arrives for a week’s holiday with a budget and a “shopping list” of items such as a zebra, a wildebeest and a warthog, that he not only wants, but expects, to shoot in his allotted time, is pretty much guaranteed to put my back up.

Especially if his wife accompanies him on the trip to “bill and coo” and to follow him into the “bush” on his shooting expeditions wearing rather too much make-up and newly kitted out from head to toe from a hunting outfitters.

You can probably see where I’m coming from on this, as it couldn’t be further from my previously described experience of a day’s stag stalking.

And especially so when one considers that much of the shooting is done either from the back of a 4WD vehicle with which the game is pretty much familiar, or from the relative comfort of a hide overlooking a waterhole that the game are accustomed to and more or less obliged to visit for their own survival.

Shooting ducks

I feel uncomfortable that the hunter has to do little more than be there to be guaranteed a shot and does not have to have a knowledge of the behaviour of his intended quarry, nor any bushcraft either.

It seems far too much like the proverbial “shooting ducks in a barrel” or a fairground sideshow where targets are presented to the punter on a more or less continuous loop.

However, all these things, although relevant to how I feel about the procedure, have no bearing on the experience of the animal being hunted and as such should probably be left well and truly at the door when entering into a discussion on the rights and wrongs of the process.

And although what I’ve described above probably sounds distasteful to most of you, the careful probing of the industry carried out by Mr Theroux threw up some equally compelling arguments in its support. Animals shot on game farms are largely bred for that specific purpose.

That in itself might seem wrong but don’t forget that most sheep and cattle in Britain are bred with the express purpose of shooting them (albeit in an abattoir), and thousands of pheasants and partridges are hatched, reared, and released each year in Britain for the self-same purpose. So we probably shouldn’t get too selfrighteous about it from that perspective, especially since the carcases of all the game shot are butchered and the meat sold for human consumption.

Making a living

Take account, too, that by breeding game on farms and then selling that game to other game farms for shooting purposes, many people are able to make a living from land that might otherwise be non-productive or be developed for other forms of less environmentally friendly agriculture.

And by maintaining relatively large areas of land in a natural or seminatural state for game animals, an environment for a whole host of other non-target species is also safeguarded.

To paraphrase one game farmer who said with a sweep of his hand to indicate what was at stake: “If there’s no game hunting, then all this bush disappears.” Which is a sobering thought.

Then there is the survival and conservation of the target species itself to consider. It is a sad but undeniable fact that the number of animals of these species living truly in the wild is a fraction of what it was a hundred years ago. There is ever increasing pressure on the habitat of these animals as the need for agricultural land increases.

Financial incentive

Only by putting a monetary value on individual animals can there be a good financial incentive to preserve many of these species.

If more money can be made from breeding and shooting these animals than from growing maize or soya on the same patch of land, then the future of these animals is secure. If not, then we are probably down to relying on very small pockets of wilderness run as nature reserves or national parks, plus of course zoos, to ensure the survival of the species.

Another interesting insight into the thinking of the game farm owners came from one who is also a vet. He would only allow hunting on his game farm with bows and arrows (seemingly a very popular type of hunting, which was news to me), because he considered the noise from firearms disturbed and distressed the animals too much.

In my view, the reasons for people paying to shoot at game farms are not particularly noble, and most of the hunters interviewed by Mr Theroux were mainly interested in the trophies they could take back with them, either in the form of a mounted head or a photo from the field posing with the animal they had just shot.

Genuine concern

Having posed myself with the stag that we bagged I can hardly criticise though I do believe that shooting the stag was a greater and less certain achievement than most of what I saw on the TV programme in question. To their credit though, all the hunters stressed the desire to get as “clean” and humane a kill as possible and showed genuine concern when the possibility arose that they had merely wounded an animal.

Would I want to accompany someone on a game farm shoot in the same way that I accompanied my friend deer stalking? Most definitely not, because with an almost guaranteed outcome it would all seem a little bit pointless to me. But I can appreciate the wider picture and can see that whatever one’s personal view of the practice there is a strong case for taking a pragmatic rather than an idealistic view on the matter.

We don’t need to like the people who do it or the industry that provides it, but if game farm shooting is the means by which something of worth can be conserved for the future then it would not do, in my opinion, to dismiss it out of hand.

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