“Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it. It is a trait that is unknown to the higher animals.”
~ Mark Twain
Around this time three years ago, the internet was alive with commentary about American hunter Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman. For those who don’t know the story, Teressa shot an African elephant in response to a challenge from a fellow hunter, who told her that no woman had ever killed an elephant with a bow. In her own words, “I couldn’t turn down the challenge… I couldn’t wait to get my elephant.”
Mail Online described the elephant’s fall: “The injured creature staggered 500 yards, leaving a bloody trail, before crashing to the ground.”
The total African elephant population is currently less than 470,000, and African elephants are being killed at such a rate that most large groups could be extinct by 2020. Despite the outrage many Westerners feel in response to these statistics, hunting elephants for ‘sport’ is still legal in some parts of Africa. For the right price, many ‘outdoor adventure’ companies allow tourists to visit on organized hunting trips. To make matters worse, on arrival into the US, as long as all the paperwork is in order, it is perfectly legal to bring home the body parts of an endangered animal as ‘trophies’.
Presumably because her gender makes the story all the more remarkable, Hagerman’s trip was paid for by several sponsors including the bow company PSE, and Foxy Huntress, a company that makes hunting clothing for women. Hunts of a Lifetime stated on their website that they were “proud to be a sponsor of Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman on her recent elephant bowhunt… and wish Teressa well on her next big-game adventure!”
What seemed to incense many people about this story was the fact that Teressa killed an elephant, an animal whose species is bordering on extinction, and an animal that people tend to care about (more so, that is, than they care about other innocent animals who are killed for food every day, in vast numbers). Many people are aware that elephants in the wild will likely be gone forever within 10 years or so. But is this the reason that many of us allow ourselves to care about them, or is it perhaps due to the fact that, unlike cows, pigs and lambs, we don’t eat them in the Western world? In Africa, where they eat elephant meat, it’s likely that they don’t think any more of it than we think about eating venison or goose in the west.
As stated by Gary Francione in his book ‘Introduction to Animal Rights’, hunters in the US kill “at least 200 million animals a year, not counting the tens of millions that are wounded and not retrieved.” Many private game preserves offer hunters the opportunity to kill exotic animals who have been purchased by the landowner from a circus or a zoo, and some of these preserves advertise that they will custom-order species “not already in stock”.
According to the website of the US Fish and Wildlife service, the most recent survey report in 2006 indicated that 12.5 million people, 16 years old and older, “enjoyed hunting a variety of animals within the United States”. They hunted 220 million days and took 185 million trips. Hunting expenditures totaled $22.9 billion. An estimated 10.7 million hunters pursued large animals, such as deer and elk. There were 4.8 million hunters of small animals including squirrels and rabbits, 2.3 million hunted migratory birds such as doves or waterfowl, and 1.1 million hunted other animals such as woodchucks and raccoons.
On the Hunts of a Lifetime website, “almost any type of hunting or fishing trip can be arranged”. Hunters are invited to plan “an outdoor adventure that you cherish and remember the rest of your life.”
I once spent a short time working at a small, quaint motel near a National Forest, which was popular with hunters during the killing season. I did my best to avoid the gazes of the slaughtered deer on the walls. To me, they seemed to be trapped in the eternal hell of never being laid to rest, forever to be displayed as ‘trophies’ to celebrate the great achievements of their own executioners. They would stare at me when I entered a room, still silently pleading for their lives, forever frozen in the sorrow of their final moment.
I couldn’t ignore my sadness or guilt, though I tried not to look into the eyes of those who were once majestic animals, members of a family and a tribe, innocent beings with feelings and even emotions, whose lives had been cut short by one of my own kind.
I can’t understand the desire to lay to waste the life of another living being, whether elephant, deer, elk, goose, lamb, pig or turkey. And yet, these acts occur in vast numbers every single day, and the overwhelming majority of people think absolutely nothing of dining on the remains.
Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman, like every other recreational hunter, was probably weaned on the flesh of more socially-acceptable victims. When her story made news, many chose to vilify Teressa as the heartless animal abuser of the day. However, she is far from alone in her bloodlust, nor in her callous disregard for the sanctity of another life. She is simply the product of a society that thinks absolutely nothing of killing the defenseless innocent for pleasure.