The cover of the June 2019 issue of “National Geographic” shows a captive sloth peering out from between the wooden slats of a cage. The cover story and the accompanying pieces in this issue’s special report are about wildlife tourism, about the money generated by the unwilling and unnatural partnership that exists between animals and their owner/captors when those animals are made to pose and interact with humans.
It’s also, about how these animals are brought into the tourism business, how they are treated when the camera is put away and the tourists go home, about poaching, and about how the people who exploit animals justify what they’re doing.
Also included is a more uplifting story, one about an all-female anti-poaching unit that patrols Zimbabwe’s Phundundu Wildlife Area. These women, trained by a former special forces combat veteran, have themselves faced exploitation in the form of sexual assault and domestic abuse. The rationale was that, having been exploited themselves, they would excel at protecting exploited animals.
I heard a report just the other day about efforts in Kansas to recruit new hunters. Conservationists in that state are worried about declining numbers of hunters because that means fewer dollars available to spend on conservation programs. I don’t know how Kansas acquires and allocates hunting-generated money—maybe it’s a tax on licenses or ammo or other hunting-related products. Anyway, in an effort to win over some non-traditional hunters, activities like women-only hunting events and field-to-fork programs are underway.
Closer to home, there is similar talk among certain segments of the population about “maintaining Pennsylvania’s hunting heritage,” speculation about why the numbers of people wanting to hunt are declining and what to do about it.
There are all kinds of complex social, economic and environmental reasons for that decline, some of which the Game Commission can’t do anything about. It is attempting to bolster the numbers by overlapping seasons, changing the opening day of rifle deer season and adding time to seasons, including a few random Sundays.
Hunting here, in Kansas, everywhere, is not just how people feed themselves. Using animals is big business. Killing animals is big business. Promoting trophy hunting is big business. The rationale for that sometimes is that the money spent for, say, a lion or elephant hunt, can help save other animals. Or that deer management practices will eventually result in bigger bucks and that will eventually result in … what?
Alan Bradley writes a really fun, witty murder mystery series featuring 12-year-old Flavia de Luce as the sleuth. Flavia is one smart little cookie. At the conclusion of “The Golden Tresses of the Dead,” she is reflecting on her most recently solved case and makes this observation: “All great problems, when whittled down to their root, were about money. No matter how tangled they seemed on the surface, the bottom was always bank notes.”
Sadly, I think Flavia is right. I appreciate the fact that money from hunting and from well-funded national hunting-related organizations goes toward conservation practices and habitat restoration and quality research, but I wish there was another way.