“We are done. There is no way we can rationalize what we do. The game is over.”
—A Trophy Hunter
“It’s what people did in the 19th century. One would’ve thought people would’ve gotten over that. But apparently there are still people who get a kick out of killing things and taking the lives of others, which is something I find incomprehensible.
“What we’re talking about is people who go to Africa to go hunting lions and other animals with good antlers or horns, and then posing with them as though they’ve made some sort of triumph, like they’ve lorded it over the natural world. It brings a real sadness that some people think it’s clever, or victorious or strong to take the life of something else.”
—Sir David Attenborough OBE
“It’s like mainlining on heroin. You don’t come off it very easily.”
“I heard the satisfying thwack of a bullet meeting flesh.”
“I heard the smack of a hit and saw it go down on its side, legs in the air. I was grinning.”
“One of my friends got an elephant permit so he asked me along and I went down there with him and he shot it and we skinned it. He’s got the head hanging on his wall! That was a good laugh!”
“With a broken shoulder and the top of the heart completely destroyed he managed to run some 200m.”
“A series of photos show the animal being blasted off its feet and doing a somersault in mid-air as it’s hit before crashing to the ground.”
Just as the U.K. government is seeking to extend protection of ivory bearing animals in the Ivory Act to not just elephants, but also narwhals, killer and sperm whales, hippo and walrus, out comes Eduardo Goncalves’ last book, “Undercover Trophy Hunter,” a scorching manifesto from first hand testimonials against the perfidy that is trophy hunting. What humans are doing to our fellow beings on this planet, not only demolishes the argument that trophy hunters have supported for decades, it indicts all of us who have ever participated in such activity, what some have called ‘sport.” The details are vivid, and tragic but someone has to bear witness to horror and what is more astounding, the supposed thrill and utter sense of conquest men (and even children) with guns embark on when they seek out their prey, their objects of conquest.
When we are children, we are told great stories of the beauty and adventures and trials of the first beings who welcome us into their world — animals. These stories of socialization and language and connection are what make us human. Has anyone not been changed forever from reading “The Little Prince” and care and love for his fox? Who will then explain to the children that there are some British hunters who mercilessly chase down foxes and kill them for fun? Foxes who were scared out of their minds, hounded and then exterminated as pastime. Without the other species, the immune system of the world will collapse, including our society. It has already begun. It should come as no surprise that some of us should be appalled at the annihilation of the other for fun, for the adrenaline rush it creates. Or the argument that shooting innocent animals helped conservation or fed local Africans where most of the world’s big game still holds on.
Thankfully Parliament is deliberating on what could be a momentous day in British policy. Banning trophy hunting outright is something Goncalves and many conservationists have been hoping and fighting for for years. With wild populations suffering around the world, the ban may soon see its day.
Goncalves dissects the argument that hunters’ money helps Africans with utter conviction and tenacity. If one has 100,000 pounds to spare, why not help locals directly. A school will cost 25,000 pounds according to the charity Building Schools for Africa. A malnourished child can be fed for 10 weeks for $40. Where are the hunter’s priorities? Do they really care at all about the local people when hired hands on white owned farms are paid a meager 1 pound a day. Trackers, maybe 500 pounds, a year.
Eduardo has done what no-one else has been able in going undercover and hearing first hand why killers of the innocent do what they do. He has heard personal testimony for decades from those destroying the wild for its own sake, although admittedly trophy hunters do not see it that way. Goncalves, the Founder of Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting and author of the “Trophy Hunters Exposed,” “Killing Game” and “Trophy Leaks” could serve as an encyclopedia on the depravity and insanity that is unleashed from the human mind when it comes to killing for leisure. The heart does not seem to enter the picture. It is a very stained heart indeed.
Arguments for conservation are systematically and surgically taken apart. When the first permits for black rhino were delivered by U.S. authorities the numbers for this remarkable browser were around 5,000. Today it hovers at little more than 3,000. The same argument could have been, and was made for the tiger whose numbers are about the same. But it is not just numbers whether they be financial or population statistics that Goncalves shows are clearly off the mark, but the entire psychology of why this pursuit even exists. The inherent human wildlife dynamic worldwide has to change if the planet is to have any chance of saving some of its most ineffable and breathtaking species. Indeed the very foundation of ecology. There are those who maintain that trophy hunting is good for lions in a very twisted sort of logic that belies the evidence. In the early 1800’s the number could well have been around 1,000,000 and even if it were half that number, the number today is an optimistic 20,000, around the same, perhaps as the polar bear. The lion’s true numbers may be no greater than 15,000. Can one even remotely conceive of killing a single lion today in the name of conservation?
Goncalves cites a big game hunter, John J Jackson III, who compares shooting a lion to losing his virginity. The time the lion was shot it leaped into the air, “the moment it’s head snaps backward and explodes with smoke from my bullet.” How would children respond if they were shown videos of this incident instead of the Lion King?
Having become a member of Safari Club International (SCI), Goncalves was privy to what its members were offered and what was provided — a menu that is at the core of the hunting “ethos.” And it seems to be a very insidious one. Some 5,000 different hunting holidays on which one can hunt 350 different species, quite a few endangered ones. Wild cats, meerkats, pangolins, wild pigs, camels, seals, skunks, squirrels, reindeer, ostrich and even polar bear were on the hunting “menu” — never mind the most famous and charismatic of Africa’s largest and dangerous animals. Just before COVID-19 hit in 2019, the import of hunting trophies had gone up by 80 percent. These included the bones and tusks of elephants, and lions and leopards, bears, giraffes, monkeys, zebras, hippos, hyenas, crocodiles and wild sheep and goats. England alone imported 1,000 hunting trophies. One wonders after digesting such numbers and the extraordinary agony the hunting practice imposes on the wild, if the COVID-19 pandemic were not some very real and direct vengeance from Nature directed back at humankind.
A gold prize from SCI can be awarded to those who shoot 100 or more different species. Goncalves discovered that there were 500 companies around the world, with more than 100 records to their name. How species could survive this onslaught is a miracle. His proof is that however well meaning some hunters say they are, the numbers are going down across the board. The misery imposed on each and every individual cannot even be calibrated.
For many hunters the pandemic lock down seems to have made little or no difference. The money involved, the international cooperation needed to bring about these hunting ventures are themselves a testament to what lengths people, mostly men, will go to bag a trophy. On what many call a holiday, but which to the animals involved is nothing less than outright murder, and sometimes slow agonizing torture before death, as it is now known to have been the case with Cecil the lion, who took hours to die. Which seems to be the norm, not the exception. Walter Palmer, the dentist who killed Cecil, has shot about 1000 animals at risk of extinction.
Having access to government hunting ministers and to public lands has enabled hunters to go about their business with seemingly little impediment and more often than not, outright impunity. “My mate had one (a boar) just before Christmas. It was about 300 kilos! You get some monsters!” avowed one hunter. Who the monster really is can be gleaned from some of the comments Goncalves was able to garner over the last year.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Trophy Hunting launched by British politicians from both chambers, and Sir David Amess MP has tabled a parliamentary motion for a total ban on trophy imports and for jail time for those who break the law. Co-Chair Baroness Sue Hayman, a former Party Shadow Environment Minister said, “There is strong support across both sides and in both houses of parliament for a comprehensive ban on hunting trophies. Labour is prepared to work with the government in implementing legislation which places Britain at the fore of bringing this brutal pastime to an end.”
Money seems to be at the root of the continued practice, shooting, killing and often maiming of these species. One 21-day full bag classic safari can cost over 50,000 dollars and an additional 14,000 dollars for government “fees and royalties” not including the chartered flight. And then a fee for each animal shot. It’s $6,000 for a leopard, $9,000 for a lion and $15,000 for an elephant. It is indeed big business. Ruark, Hemingway and Roosevelt have done it and written about it, and you can do it too. The list of hunters Eduardo has met with reads like a who’s who of murderers who are proud of their killing prowess whether they use a gun or bowhunting. “Join us now to hunt the Dark Continent. One chance. One Shot. Take It.”
Eduardo managed confessions few have ever uncovered. The book reads like an assassin’s manual for conquering some of the most exquisite animals on Earth. The confessions are frank. Hunters have aimed their guns in fenced in enclosures, scrubby valleys, open farmland, and mountains and every time the smell of the gun, blood and victory over the innocent pours out of the page. “Few other hunts will give you such excitement – your heart rate will instantly sky-rocket.”
Fathers take their sons and even their daughters for their “rite of passage” which in some cases take several shots to bring the animal down.
“After 5 shots it finally succumbs. She poses for photos.” Something is wrong here in the misplaced identity of a child unleashing carnage on what should have been a moment of simple awe and wonder for the wild. Instead, something of the macabre seems to be celebrated for its own sake. “When we reached the warthog we could see the shot entry just below the ear exit to the right of the eye.” And from the mouth or gun of babe, a killer is born. The child has learned the “thrill” of execution from his or her parent and society goes forward unafraid.
Species are being lost at an uncommon rate. Many of the most exquisite beings on Earth may not be here by mid-century or sooner. Some will be extinguished due to rising temperatures because they will simply not be able to cope. When we took our son to the Selous, in Tanzania, we knew what was happening to the landscape and its elephants. The greatest carnage of our time destroyed 60 percent of Africa’s elephants. Poachers did most of the dirty work but trophy hunters played their part as Eduardo has uncovered in plain sight.
The sordid ignominy of gunning down the guileless, those beings Aldous Huxley said who embodied a “grace” humans do not possess, has come full circle. We are being sickened by viruses from beings we have either sacrificed in the bush meat trade or meat markets or due to loss of habitat all over the world. We have sacrificed human integrity, moderation and humility before Creation, for the vainglory and soon perhaps, catastrophe human civilization could become, not least of which is due to its treatment of the wild and animals, not out of necessity and hunger but out of pure wanton control over the other. Why? The hunters’ stories Goncalves brings to the dialogue reminds us of the utter lack of responsibility, custodianship, answerability or even consciousness at the core of the human enterprise at its most basic. These hunters are killing the world. They are in essence mutilating the future, the real, the sensuous, the living and the miraculous.
The fact that explorers and custodians of wonder such as Randolph Fiennes have spoken out against the sickness of trophy hunters should prompt finality in the discussion and in Parliament that will soon decide on an outright ban on trophy hunting. America and other countries will have to follow suit. One day soon, the English who were merchants of death from the fox hunt to the elephant hunt and beyond in Africa, may change their song and illicit a better horizon and choose life over death, torture and blood letting. We can only pray that Nature, does not bestow ecological collapse all across the face of the human experiment as punishment for our unkind and malicious ways.
Heidegger, the philosopher, taught us a little about the mystery of being, at a time when the Nazis were in full swing. It seems that some of us liked to execute and torture the defenseless among us. World War II taught us that. Remember that some of us derived some kind of demented pleasure, like a very strange drug indeed, from taking down the innocent. Today, those who mutilate for fun are not the stewards of posterity. They are its executioners. They are cowards abetting a mutilated existence. Eduardo’s portrait is honest and brave. It articulates horror with simple honesty. Something has to give if the wild and ultimately something of humanity is to survive.
Rene Dubos once observed that humans can adapt as Paul Shepard wrote, “to starless skies, treeless avenues, shapeless buildings, tasteless bread, joyless celebration, spiritualess pleasures — to a life without reverence for the past, love for the present or poetical anticipation of the future. Yet is is questionable that man can retain his physical and mental health if he loses contact with the natural forces that have shaped his biological and mental nature.”
The others, the animals are as essential to life as the wind and the sun. For they are sacred and the entire ontology of our species has depended on them since time immemorial. Their bodies have fed our kind in time of need and their spirits have fed our souls in ceremony and ritual for countless millennia We have long since left that point in evolution where we need their flesh. Of late, a strange blend of sadism and a simplistic consciousness that strives to overpower the innocent has ransacked the wild. It is time for humanity to put the gun down, the gun that has targeted our fellow beings for the fantasies and fervor and fever of a reckless addiction before we execute our countenance from the face of the Earth forever. Eduardo’s brave year of uncovering the truth about the slaughter, torture and treachery in trophy hunting may not be the last statement we are ever likely to hear. His testimony comes at an unequivocal time when humanity needs to stand up for what is left of Creation. It is a tough, brutal but honest account of what humans are capable of. The only thing more unbearable would be to hear the litany of those species, miraculous in wonder, lost forever, because we did not act in time. In time to revere the Earth and its denizens. In time to stop the very severe psychosis of killing for “sport” while there is still life on this Earth. Today, the monster of climate change has been forced upon our kind by our own hand. The animals will not be able to withstand both scourges at once. It will simply be too much.
“With the decline of wildlife worldwide, and many species approaching extinction, all caused by man, how can there be justification in trophy hunting? How can any government say they are fighting poaching whilst allowing trophy hunting at the same time? I call upon those countries from where these promoters of extinction come to step up and ban the import of trophies.” —Lt Gen SKI Khama, President, Republic of Botswana (2008-2018)
“There’s two things about the Selous that are a problem,” he added. “One is the tsetse fly. And two is that there is no chance of a decent elephant anymore.”
“He also talks about going on a cull hunt of a female elephant that had been classed as a ‘problem’ animal by villagers. His hunting guide told him: ‘We just look for an elephant who fits the description because the people will be contented if something is being done.’ They then kill an elephant. ‘We had no idea whether it was or not (the problem elephant),’ Roberts admits, however.”
“I took Oliver for his 9th Birthday and he had a great time! We did a father and son package and he took an Impala Trophy, a real beaut, plus 3 or 4 other cull Impala. He also had a couple of lovely Duiker, one of which we ‘trophied’, plus a nice little warthog, nothing special but for him a great memory and well worth a trophy. He also got a nice Blesbok trophy.”
“They die hard, baboons. But not this one. A soft-nosed .357 blew his lungs out.” Gill went on to say that he knew that he had no good reason for killing the animal. “I know perfectly well there is absolutely no excuse for this,” he wrote. “I wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger. You see it in all those films: guns and bodies, barely a close-up of reflection or doubt. What does it really feel like to shoot someone, or someone’s close relative?”
“He told me about a hunting trip he had been on in Argentina where he had shot thousands of birds in the space of a few days. ‘There was five of us, one of them was a lady, and we shot just under – in 4 days – we shot 13,000.’”
“The discovery of blood was uplifting.”
“It had a bloody great hole in it.”
“I’ve shot very good elephants in the Selous but the last few trips there I haven’t seen anything worth shooting.”
“’Guys seriously you have to do this,’” he adds excitedly. ‘It’s like dynamiting a building straight down…’ Juan later said his legs were in the air his ass on the ground before his head hit the ground.”
Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson’s work at their website.
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