Canned hunting and motivations

Having looked at hunting in the UK and the law, I want to look at why people hunt and the highly controversial world of canned hunts.

Canned hunting

Canned hunting is hunting where the animals are almost certainly going to die because the odds are stacked against them.  The success of the shooter is virtually guaranteed with some venues offering a no kill no pay policy.  These hunts charge the clients to kill an animal without the concept of a fair chase.  Animals may be shot in cages or within fences, they may be shot at feeding stations and the animals may be tame or semi-tame or even sedated to ensure the hunter is successful.  I find this disguistin and I really do not understand the motivation here.  Interestingly, many people within the hunting community don’t agree with canned hunting either.

Canned hunts are turning hunting “into this caged, paid affair and it bears no resemblance to what hunting is, was, and could be. Like so many things in our world, people want to buy the product (the trophy) rather than experience the process (meeting the animal on its own terrain).”

– Ted Kerasote, quoted in Canned hunts: Unfair at any price

Grouse shooting can be considered a form of canned hunting but here I’m more focused on the hunting of bigger animals, killed primarily as trophies.

There are a couple of key ways that canned hunting takes place.  In the US there are landowners which set up nice hotels with chefs and gun ranges.  Local and exotic animals are kept on the land and the client essentially choices from a menu the animal they would like to kill.

The exotic animals are often bought from breeders, are surplus zoo animals or retired “entertainment” animals which are no longer valuable. This means they are accustomed to humans, they are used to spending time near us and in many cases humans means food.  These animals may either be kept in cages until the time of the hunt, or are fenced in (in larger areas) with regular feeding stations so it’s easy to predict where the animals will be.  The vehicles used to feed them are often the same ones that bring the hunters in so they are associated with food and not fear.  The animal might have been sedated in order to get them into the hunting pen or may be old and in pain and unable to really run away.  Once you have made your inevitable kill, your carcass can then be taken to the onsite taxidermist so that your trophy can be prepared for you.  Depending on what you have killed, you may get to eat some of the meat but this doesn’t seem to be an important part of the experience.

In Africa, canned hunts work in a very similar way except of course the local animals are the exotic animals.  In both cases, animal welfare concerns around the keeping of the animals must be considered.  They are often kept in overcrowded and unsuitable cages with inadequate access to food and water.  And when they do get “released” they are shortly going to be slaughtered.  And not necessarily cleanly, because canned hunters are not necessarily skilled marksmen.  Other concerns include the stress on other animals from the sound of the shots.

Whilst the trophy is a key part of canned hunting, it is important to differentiate between trophy hunting and canned hunting.  The latter is rigged in favour of the human and is undeniably unfair.  The former includes “fairer” and more traditional hunts such as going after wild stags in their natural habitat.  I’m not saying I agree with either but the fairer hunters are a little more equitable and from what I can tell, the hunters are more likely to eat the meat and do not expect guaranteed success.  I can see that there is a lot more skill involved in this and thus the sense of achievement is higher.  I don’t see how you can feel proud or like you’ve really experienced a hunt in canned situations.  There is nothing noble, honourable or even challenging about canned hunting, instead it is an extreme example of man seeking dominion over beast.  As one hunter put it in a documentary with Louis Theroux, it comes down to money, if you have the money, you can shoot it.  And he went on to explain that it doesn’t matter about the species.  If he had enough money, he’d kill an elephant. It was all about money.  There was no consideration for the endangered status of the species.  This feels like a very easy way to kill an individual, or even destroy a population, arguably too easy.

Arguments for canned hunting include the importance of income into communities, although this has been shown to often not be the case.  Despite the cost of a kill ranging from roughly $10,000 for a hippo up to $42,000 for an elephant, reports suggest that less than 5% of hunting revenue goes to the local area.  Conservation is another key argument, the idea that if hunters are killing specially bred animals, they aren’t killing wild ones and this sort of makes sense, except illegal hunting has been shown to occur alongside legal hunting.  And as these animals aren’t part of the wild population they don’t add to conservation efforts.  Perhaps the biggest argument that I’ve heard over and over, in UK hunting as well, is that it is traditional, that it is a way of life.  And if this was subsistence hunting I would give this some weight but it isn’t.  This is not purposeful hunting.  This is not hunting for food or because the animals in question are threatening us.  This is hunting as a tourist industry for rich, mostly, American travellers.

In the context of the African canned hunts, the conversation is more complicated because it is not always easy or appropriate for the business owners to look to other ways of making money.  For example the infrastructure may not yet be suitable for photo tourism etc.  And I don’t know enough of the details to discuss this.  I do know that Africa is often referred to as a single entity but it is such a diverse continent and each country must find their own, place appropriate, way forward.  What works in one place may not work in another.

Moving away from canned hunting, but before we look at motivations, I want to end with a note about non commercial hunting in Africa.  Apparently far more lions are killed by cattle herders protecting their livestock and families than by trophy hunters.  This is a very different motivation and one which I feel differently about to tourist hunting.  And the solutions for this are going to be very different.  We need to look for ways in which people and animals can live alongside each other, looking with a long term perspective.

I hope to look at wild animals and humans, such as the lions above, and domesticated animals, primarily pets. The way we live alongside these different categories of animals is so different and yet to some degree the line between them is an arbitrary one.

Why hunt?

Those people who are for hunting have their own take on the subject.  In the case of birds in the UK, it’s claimed that landowners involved in “field sports” are more likely to conserve and reinstate woodland, hedgerows, to plant shrubs and to coppice trees.  They also argue that wildlife benefits, and as we’ve seen this is true, but it’s also at a cost to other wildlife.

There is also the argument that the shooting and hunting industries bring money into communities where it is much needed.  We’ve already seen that this is unlikely to be the case in canned hunts in Africa and when it comes to canned hunts in America, yes some money will be bought into the area and jobs will be created but from what I can tell, the hunting lodge is a self enclosed complex so local shops etc will only benefit if they can sell to the lodge.  So local artisans are unlikely to see any of that money although catering related businesses may do.

We’ve already seen that pest control is not an argument that stands up to scrutiny.  But even if it was, it’s been shown that killing foxes doesn’t actually reduce the population, they fill to fit the space as it were.  Also a Scottish study in 2000 showed that only about 1% of lambs are lost to foxes and a 2003 British study estimated that foxes save crop farmers about £7 million a year.

Another, often cited, justification is that organised hunts brings the community together.  Obviously this is immediately excluding anyone who is against hunting from the community and given the stats we saw, I suspect it divides the community more than anything.  David Bowles says that illegal hunting is connected to rural crime, giving the example of criminals using the cover of a hare hunt to scout out a farm and see what’s available to steal.  Apparently a crack down on illegal hunts in Oxfordshire (I think) has led to reduced rural crime.  This suggests that hunting isn’t really bringing the community together at all.

Having said that, I can see that the hunt would bring those involved together.  The combination of the thrill of the chase and the adrenalin rush that engulfs the hunters probably does help to bond the group.  But surely there are other ways?  Perhaps these groups would like to try abseiling or paragliding or other extreme sports where they only risk their own life?

And you can’t look into the two sides of hunting without the word traditional popping up.  Yes, it may be traditional, although grouse shooting only dates back to the mid 1850s, but so is bear and bull baiting and slavery.  Tradition is not a solid argument for any activity or belief.  We must continually question our traditions and ensure that they are relevant to today.

If you are interested in the reasons why people might participate in illegal hunting, Angus Nurse’s talk on Motives for Wildlife Crime is worth a watch.  A very brief summary of reasons:

  • Profit driven, considering hunting to be a low risk high reward crime
  • Wildlife seen as a resource, a victimless crime, denial of injury
  • Not seen as a serious crime, denial of criminality
  • Social factors – social pressure, tradition, part of the culture, bonding aspects, identity expression
  • An excise of power, thrill of the chase
  • A way to challenge and resist the law

I can sort of see why these factors might motivate certain individuals although I’m not agreeing with it.

If you’re interested in this intersection between humans and animals, there is an interesting collection of talks from the Winchester Hunting Symposium which took place towards the end of November 2015.  And Adam Hart wrote an article for the BBC the same year which discusses hunting and conservation.

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