By Neil Hill
Where is the line between mindless slaughter and good conservation? Is there one?
Corey Knowlton is a trophy hunter from Royse City near Dallas, Texas. He’s currently one of the most polarising figures in social media. Recently he won an auction to pay $350,000 to gain a permit to hunt and kill one of the world’s rarest and most emblematic animals, the Black Rhino.
There are only around 4,200 of these magnificent animals left in the wild. This is down from a population which was in the hundreds of thousands in the nineteenth century. One sub-species, the West African black rhino, is already extinct. In recognition of this the black rhino is classified as being critically endangered by the IUCN.
The permit has been granted to the Dallas Safari Club by the Namibian Governments Wildlife Department and all the proceeds will go back into Rhino conservation. Corey argues that a non-breeding aggressive male will be targeted and that this will be of benefit to the other rhinos within that population.
On the surface this all seems simple and logical, one ‘surplus’ animal being sacrificed for the greater good of this species?
Or is it? Because on the other hand this is symbolic of the way that we in western cultures seek to commodify everything. To put a price on something that has a far greater value in the web of life.
This point can perhaps be illustrated by looking at Corey’s method of hunting; he has paid a large sum of money and will take a 4×4 out to a nature reserve and shoot dead an animal with a high-powered rifle from a distance. Finally, he will have his picture taken with the rhino; the scene carefully composed and sanitised to emphasize the dominance of man over the natural world.
This type of hunting reinforces the separation that so many of us feel from nature, that somehow it is other than us. This attitude is perfectly exemplified by his own description of hunting and the animals that he kills;
‘’I have hunted widely on 6 continents taking more than 120 species, including a Super Slam of wild sheep and the big five in Africa.’’
This sounds more like a description of a golf trophy cabinet than any form of respect between man and animal.
Compare this to another form of hunting. Not far from where this hunt is to take place you’ll find the Bushman, the original inhabitant of Southern Africa. How different then is their relationship to nature? For starters, though they are hunters they are intrinsically linked into the web of life. For them there is no separation.
Using no more than arrows and spears and a deep knowledge of the land, they will sometimes track an animal for three days, following its spoor through dense undergrowth and even over bare rock. When the animal is cornered it is quickly killed and the Bushmen sit with the dying animal waiting for its spirit to depart.
There are no high fives and shouts of elation. Just a deep respect for the animal that has died in order for their lives to continue. This respect is equally shown in the way that the animal is butchered. The meat is carefully cut and prepared. There is no waste; the sinews and tendons will become bindings for bows and spears and the hide will be prepared for clothing, bags and shelter. This is the deep way of the land.
Back in the United States this famous hunt has engendered fierce and polarised debate. On Corey’s Facebook page there have been threats made to his family’s life. There have been comments left wishing him to contract cancer and he’s been sent wishes that he is slowly killed or is to be hunted himself. Within the same thread, the pro-hunt, pro-NRA lobby have been equally vitriolic in expressing their opinion.
Corey is clearly no stranger to controversy but it is clear that the strength of response has taken him by surprise, so much so that he posted this message on his Facebook page:
“Thank you all for your comments about conservation and the current situation regarding the Black Rhino. I am considering all sides and concerns involved in this unique situation. Please don’t rush to judgment with emotionally driven criticism towards individuals on either sides of this issue. I deeply care about all of the inhabitants of this planet and I am looking forward to more educated discussion regarding the ongoing conservation effort for the Black Rhino.”
Is this a holding statement or a genuine pause for reflection?
When he has created similar controversies in the past, he has stood behind what is obviously a strong and fundamentalist Christian faith. In some ways this faith is driver of his relationship to animals as there is precedent aplenty in The Bible for man’s dominion over nature.
But what about the views of those who abhor what he is planning to do? Can these people be unequivocally right? Well, if their objection is solely about the killing of an animal, then to be able to take this moral stance they must surely feel that all killing is wrong. In which case how many of those posting comments are vegan? In this context which is worse: The killing of an elderly wild animal or the killing of a factory farmed animal that has never seen daylight?
So given this I accept that there are plenty of grey areas in this debate and whilst I for one do not condone or support trophy hunting or the killing of any animal for fun or for ‘sport’, neither do I support witch hunts. Corey’s actions are symbolic of our lack of respect and understanding of nature, no matter how much he and other ‘trophy’ hunters like to say to the contrary.
Perhaps in this case though he can use the publicity to generate some real support for the plight of one of the world’s rarest and most endangered animals, and as a show of respect and honour for this male rhino, he will lower his rifle in the tradition of the true hunter. This would be his best service to the conservation of this wonderful animal and perhaps the beginning of a new and deeper relationship to the animals with which he shares this planet. Photos.