If you haven’t already read about Melissa Bachman and the furore caused by her shooting a lion in South Africa recently – and bragging about it on social media – then you’re living under a rock and you really should get out more. Let me explain why I'm grateful to Melissa Bachman – and you should be too.
Boy, did she ever open a can of worms. And for that I’m grateful to her; in the past week or so people around dinner tables and office water coolers have been talking about what she did, focusing a spotlight on some issues that needed to be brought into the open.
The vitriol that flooded the internet in the wake of her tweet was titanic in size and volcanic in nature. People said things like ‘Someone needs to capture her and break every bone in her body’ and ‘I would happily blow her head off’. Others got a lot more graphic and insulting. Body parts were named and I may even have learnt a new swear word or two.
The barrage of emotional responses was a good barometer of general sentiment about this gung-ho foreigner coming here to kill our King of the Savannah, but regrettably some people fell into the same pit of abuse as Bachman – hers against animals and theirs against her.
There was a sprinkling of satirical commentaries too, like Ben Trovato’s tongue-in-cheek Open Letter to Melissa Bachman, and Matt Stopera’s argument that since lions ‘just sleep and sit around all day’, hunting a lion isn’t really a challenge or even a ‘hunt’ in any true sense. In fact, he said, ‘To kill a lion you have to be a coward.’
Funny man Ricky Gervais tweeted, ‘I can't describe the total thrill of never murdering a beautiful wild animal & mounting its head on a wall. It's exhilarating and so natural.’
He took the words right out of my mouth.
If Melissa Bachman was really concerned about helping conservation, why not just donate a million or so of her dollars directly to conservation and forget about shooting the animal? Ah yes, because that’s not what she’s about at all.
There are many underlying issues here, among them the morality of trophy hunting and canned lion hunting, what conservation really means, and if hunting even for the pot is ethically indefensible, as many vegetarian activists insist. But if I go down those roads I’ll be here for days and you’ll stop reading. So let me focus on what I think are the most important issues that the Melissa Bachman rumpus has raised.
The 3 key issues
1. First, as I see it, the notion of killing for conservation is ridiculous, its logic deeply flawed. It reminds me of graffiti I once saw on a wall, saying: ‘Fighting for peace is like f***ing for virginity.’
In case you still don’t see the paradox of ‘killing for conservation’, let’s push the point home with an analogy a friend of mine used the other day: if it’s such a great idea, why not allow the controlled sale of cocaine (with a legal permit, of course), and then use the money you rake in to treat those who suffer from its devastating effects?
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
By the way, South Africa isn’t the only country to spew this crazy ‘killing for conservation’ talk. The Namibian government recently issued a Texan safari club with a permit to shoot an endangered black rhino, justifying its action by saying the money would go towards conserving the 1 800 black rhinos left in Namibia. My bet is that the rhino in the cross hairs didn’t agree that it was okay to kill an individual in the interests of the ‘greater good’.
There are fewer wild lions left in Africa than rhinos. According to Roger and Pat de la Harpe in their book In Search of the African Lion, there were some 450 000 lions in Africa about 50 years ago, but only around 23 000 are left today, a paltry 3 000 of them in South Africa. Nearly half of all African lion populations are in decline.
Even if the particular lion Melissa Bachman shot on the Maroi Conservancy in Limpopo was a ‘canned’ lion specially bred for the purpose, it sends the wrong message about our attitude to protecting our wildlife species. Next thing you know, the Chinese and Vietnamese will be increasing their demands for lions to be killed for ‘medicine’, and do you think they’ll care whether they’re ‘canned’ or endangered wild lions? And we know from our rhinos where that’s going to lead us.
3. Finally, if what Melissa Bachman did was legal, perhaps the fault lies with the authorities who are still allowing trophy hunting at all. Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, for instance, has defended hunting, saying it contributes significantly ‘to conservation, tourism development, job creation and sustainable development’. Job creation maybe, but conservation? Seriously?
There's now either a ban or moratorium on sport hunting in both Botswana and Zambia. In a few years’ time we should be able to analyse the effect this has had on game populations, as well as income from hunting and tourism in general. There may well be job losses in the hunting sector, but my guess is that the skills of that sector might easily be redirected into the photo safari business where animals can be ‘shot’ again and again.
Let’s face facts: most tourists come to Africa for a safari to see what’s unique to Africa – our diverse and abundant wildlife. If we no longer had this diversity and abundance, would they still come in their droves? Would they still bring their foreign money and spend it in Africa? Lions, rhinos and elephants – which are all under threat right now in Africa – are among the Big Five that feature on every visitor to Africa’s bucket list.
Even if you're cavalier enough not to care that people are killing animals for recreation (and just for the record, I do care), perhaps you'll care when animal rights activists and visitors who are concerned about conservation and ethical tourism vote with their feet, and tourism revenue – which is currently worth some US$80 billion in the African economy – takes a nosedive. Look what happened to Uncle Bob and his economy north of the Limpopo.
What can you do?
1. During the height of the furore, a ‘Stop Melissa Bachman’ Facebook page was set up and had more than 343 000 ‘Likes’ when this blog post went live. If you’re on Facebook, join the debate.
2. Dereck and Beverly Joubert, filmmakers of the documentary The Last Lions, suggest: ‘If you're up in arms, then write to those who can change it. Push for the lion to be added to the US endangered species list so that those trophies can no longer be taken to the US. Write to the South African Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and Tourism Minister Marthinus can Schalkwyk calling for a ban on canned hunting.’
3. You can also lobby the South African government via the GoPetition to stop trophy hunting and all legal killing of our wildlife.
I don’t condone Melissa Bachman’s methods, nor do I approve of the misogynist tone of some of the abuse hurled her way. But I’m grateful to her for opening this can of worms and getting people talking (even if it's not at all what she intended). Her tweet may have put her in the hot seat on this occasion, but I can promise you that people – let’s be honest, mostly men – are doing the same thing all the time.
What do you think can be done about it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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