A wealthy American business owner who pays $400,000 to kill a rare black rhinoceros in Namibia and imports the animal's skin, skull and horns as a trophy. A Canadian couple who post a picture of themselves online snuggling and kissing over the corpse of a lion they've just gunned down. Walter Palmer, of Cecil the lion infamy. Uncle Joe, sitting in his tree stand on a crisp fall morning, waiting to shoot at unsuspecting deer just minding their own business.
Which of these is not like the others? Despite what "sport" hunters would like you to think, they're actually all the same.
As many now-infamous hunters have discovered, most of the world doesn't look kindly on trophy hunting. So it's not surprising that sport hunters try to distance themselves from their widely condemned counterparts. But there's really no difference between people who kill elephants, rhinos and lions for fun and those who find amusement in gunning down deer, squirrels, turkeys and bears.
A true sport involves an even competition between two willing participants. When one side has all the equipment and all the advantages and the other side isn't even aware that a competition is taking place and ends up dead - that's not a sport.
Trophy hunters and sport hunters both cause unnecessary suffering. We were all furious when we learned that Palmer injured Cecil the lion and then made him suffer for 10 to 12 hours before finally ending his misery. But that same scenario plays out every day during hunting season.
A study by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department found that for every deer killed outright by a bowhunter, at least one escapes and goes on to suffer and die slowly. Twenty% of foxes shot by hunters have to be shot again to kill them, and another 10% escape - but probably end up starving. A biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks estimates that more than 3 million wounded ducks go "unretrieved" every year.
Trophy hunters and sport hunters both tear families apart. When a hunter kills a female animal who is raising young, her babies will be orphaned and struggle to survive, starve to death or be killed by predators, whether she's a leopard killed for her coat or a deer for her flesh. For animals such as wolves and geese who mate for life and live in close-knit family units, hunting can devastate entire communities.
Both types of hunters enjoy collecting trophies of their gruesome activities. Natural predators help maintain the balance of the ecosystem by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals. Hunters, on the other hand, aim for the animals whose heads they'd like to hang over their fireplace - usually the largest, most robust animals, exactly the ones needed to keep the population strong. Whether they're after a rhinoceros's horn or a buck's antlers, a hunter's goal is the same: Kill a large, majestic animal and keep a body part as a trophy.
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And they do it just for the "thrill" of it. Despite the excuses that every hunter spouts from dawn to dusk about "conservation," you can't conserve animals through the barrel of a gun. The ecosystem manages itself just fine without human involvement.
Hunters kill because they enjoy killing. Ron Thomson of Zimbabwe, who has purportedly slaughtered thousands of animals, including leopards, hippos, lions and more than 5,000 elephants, admits that he "didn't have any sentiment" and is "totally unrepentant."
Howard Siegel, author of "Ordinary Beasts: Hunting and Cultural Psychopathy," read pro-hunting books and interviewed hunters to try to determine why they kill animals. He concluded: "(S)ports hunters take great pleasure in shooting animals. ... That's the reason they do it. ... It is killing without a purpose other than the self-pleasuring of the hunter."
No matter what moniker they like to use and no matter what animals they pursue, trophy hunters and sport hunters are all the same: They cause animal suffering, destroy populations and collect their grim "trophies" - just because they want to.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michelle Kretzer is a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.