Animal Rights and Wildlife
- A Hunting Tradition
- Does Hunting Contribute to Conservation?
- Declining Participation
- Trophy Hunting
- Fur for Fashion
- Hunting Great Whales
Many people disagree over the use of animals for food, research, and entertainment. However, more people share concerns regarding the treatment of free-living wild animals. The practice of hunting wild animals for food, fur, and trophies has become increasingly controversial in many parts of the world. Throughout the past several decades, animal rights groups have mounted a wide variety of campaigns aimed at influencing the public's attitude toward these activities in an effort to bring an end to practices they believe are both cruel and immoral. Some of these efforts seem to be working. Fewer people today than in previous decades support wearing animal fur and hunting animals for trophies.
A Hunting Tradition
The viewpoint that there should be limitations on people's use of wild animals is a relatively recent development in human history. Primitive humans began hunting wild animals over a million years ago. Many human traits, such as the ability to communicate, work cooperatively, and carefully observe the environment through sights and sounds, strongly influenced early humans' success as hunters. In fact, according to author Richard Bulliet, "Hunting gave rise to the distinctive characteristics of human-kind. Hunting is an inborn and indelible human trait."53
Even after people began relying on agriculture to provide food, hunting was still a very common practice for obtaining meat to eat and gaining hides and fur for making clothing. In a few places hunting remains the primary method for acquiring food, such as in Inuit communities in the Arctic, where the Page 75 | Top of Articleclimate makes agriculture impossible. Many animal rights organizations do not have objections to hunting when it is necessary for providing for the daily needs of people. This type of hunting is called subsistence hunting. Today, however, hunting in the United States is rarely viewed as a necessity and is usually considered a recreational activity. Although many hunters still consume the animals they kill, most participate in the sport for the thrill of the hunt and the opportunity to enjoy time in nature with family and friends.
In recent decades animal rights groups have begun to condemn hunting as a nonessential activity in the modern world. "Although it was a crucial part of humans' survival 100,000 years ago, hunting is now nothing more than a violent form of recreation that the vast majority of hunters does not need for subsistence,"54 claims PETA. Some people, such as deer hunter George N. Wallace, question if hunting still has a place as wilderness regions decline, affording wildlife fewer opportunities for sanctuary:
Page 76 | Top of Article
The more we eliminate the wet and wild places from our farms and ranches, the more we dice and cut, spreading our homes and business deals over first the farms, then the hills above them, along the lake shores and streams and into the forest, the less we will be able, in good faith, to pick up the shotgun or rifle to take to the fields that are left. Even if we do find a few derelict patches that look healthy, we must know that the game we seek is cut off and more vulnerable to our presence now. We must wonder, at some point, if we still have the right.55
In the United States alone, hunters kill about 200 million animals each year, including 4 million deer, 12 million ducks and geese, 25 million rabbits and squirrels, and 21,000 black bears. Some of the strongest objections to hunting are aimed at practices viewed as particularly unsporting-when animals are given virtually no chance of escape. Some of these activities include the use of high-tech tools to attract and kill animals; baiting bears with food so that hiding hunters can shoot them; chasing bears, bobcats, and mountain lions into trees with dogs; and hunting wolves and other predators from helicopters. Other concerns are the suffering of wounded animals that escape and the impact that the fear and stress of the chase has on the ability of the animals to feed, travel, and rest.
Does Hunting Contribute to Conservation?
Supporters of hunting counter that instead of harming animals, their activities actually help conserve wildlife populations and habitats. Legally hunted game species are carefully managed by state wildlife agencies that strictly regulate the number of each type of animal killed. Fees from hunting and fishing licenses and taxes from ammunition, guns, and other gear provide 75 percent of the financial support for all state fish and wildlife management programs, totaling over $745 million annually. Through the years this money has also funded the establishment of over 4,000 state wildlife areas encompassing 45 million acres (18 million ha) that also provide recreational opportunities to nonhunters. Through hunter-supported conservation efforts, populations
of many game species that were once in decline have made notable comebacks. For example, in the 1920s there were 300,000 white-tailed deer, 30,000 wild turkeys, and 50,000 elk in the United States. Now those populations stand at 20 million deer, 4.5 million turkeys, and 1 million elk.
In addition to pointing to their contributions to wildlife conservation, pro-hunting organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) also take the stance that most hunters possess a deep respect and reverence for nature. They are angered by
Page 79 | Top of Articlethe campaigns of animal rights groups that portray hunters as unfeeling killers who care nothing about wildlife. Most hunters, these organizations insist, have a deep sense of connection and commitment to the land.
Supporters of hunting also strongly assert their right to continue their pastime based on human biology and cultural traditions and object to animal rights groups' forcing their values on society. "Sustaining life at the expense of other life is what makes this planet function, and humans are a part of that system,"56 says Jim Posewitz, founder of a pro-hunting organization. The NRA states, "Whether it's for companionship or solitude, to commune or participate with nature, the challenge or tradition, or perhaps just a fondness for wild meat, hunting remains as it should always remain, a personal choice."57 H. Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is even more forceful in his opinion. Hunting, he says, is "not just a freedom here, it's a right."58
Whether a result of antihunting campaigns by animal rights advocates or simply a reflection of changing times, participation in hunting has been declining since the middle of the twentieth century. A survey conducted by the USFWS showed that only 12.5 million people, or 5 percent of the U.S. population, hunted in 2006. This is a 4 percent decline from 2001. In addition, the population of hunters is aging, with fewer young people taking up the sport.
While interest in hunting appears to be fading, other wildlife-related recreation is increasing. The USFWS poll showed that 31 percent of Americans engaged in wildlife watching such as Page 80 | Top of Article bird-watching or wildlife photography in 2006, an 8 percent increase from 2001.
Although most Americans do not hunt, not everyone opposes the activity. Another USFWS poll showed that 70 percent of people approve of hunting wild animals for food. However, only 25 percent support hunting for sport.
The public's increasing intolerance of sport hunting and declining interest in hunting have many advocates concerned. The NRA and other hunting organizations have developed special programs to attract young people and women to the sport. Even so, the general view is that "hunting in America has entered a long twilight."59 According to Cornell University researchers studying hunting trends, "Certainly without, and perhaps even with, extraordinary intervention efforts on a scale we've never seen before, hunting is going to continue to decline over the foreseeable future."60
Perhaps the practice least understood and most often opposed by the nonhunting public is trophy hunting. Trophy hunters pursue the largest, most exotic, and most rare creatures to kill in order to display their mounted bodies or enter their feats in hunting record books. Trophy hunters are usually wealthy individuals who may spend tens of thousands of dollars traveling to remote locations and hiring hunting guides to lead them to their prey, such as polar bears, lions, elephants, zebras, and giraffes.
Animal rights advocates condemn the practice of trophy hunting outright. Says Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS:
It's a perverse and destructive subculture. Thousands of animals suffer and die for the amusement of wealthy elites who have the means to pursue any form of recreation, but choose to shoot the world's rarest and most beautiful animals. There's no societal value to the exercise, just a selfish all-consuming mentality of killing, collecting, and showing off trophies. They know the price of every animal, but the value of none. 61
Supporters of trophy hunting say that the large sums of money they spend to bag their prizes support conservation by encouraging local people to protect wildlife for its economic value. Some African governments have created limited hunting opportunities, allowing people to shoot even some of their endangered wildlife, in an effort to raise money and boost local employment.
One of the strongest advocates of trophy hunting is the organization Safari Club International (SCI). SCI maintains Page 82 | Top of Articlea record book that details hunting statistics of thousands of trophy animals taken over the last one hundred years. The organization presents annual awards to members for their most impressive hunting achievements. Former SCI president John J. Jackson III explains his view of trophy hunting: "A trophy of any species attests that its owner has been somewhere and done something, that he has exercised skilled persistence and discrimination in the agile feat of overcoming, outwitting, and reducing game to possession."62
One of the most controversial methods of trophy hunting is that which takes place on private, fenced hunting ranches both abroad and in the United States. There are estimated to be over one thousand private game reserves in the United States. Many
Page 83 | Top of Articleof these ranches provide hunters with the opportunity to pay to hunt native and exotic animals living in the reserve. Because many of these animals have become accustomed to humans and are confined by fences, these hunts have become known as "canned hunts."
While popular with some hunters willing to pay for a guaranteed trophy, canned hunts are increasingly criticized by both animal rights advocates and members of the hunting community. Many hunters condemn the practice for eliminating the concept of "fair chase" that tests a hunter's skill and gives the animal the chance to escape. Jim Posewitz, president of a sport hunting organization explains: "Fundamental to ethical hunting is the idea of fair chase. This concept addresses the balance between the hunter and the hunted. It is a balance that allows hunters to occasionally succeed while animals generally avoid being taken."63
Fur for Fashion
Another controversial use of wildlife as a human resource is the killing of animals to provide fur for the fashion industry. More than 50 million mink, chinchillas, foxes, coyotes, lynx, beavers, and other wild animals are harvested for their fur every year. The majority of fur is produced on fur farms. On these farms, animals are housed in an extremely confined manner similar to factory farms that raise domestic animals for food.
Fur is also obtained by trapping animals living in the wild. Trappers use snares, underwater traps, and leg-hold traps to catch their prey. This method of hunting wild animals- especially the use of leg-hold traps-is strongly criticized by animal rights groups because of the high degree of pain and suffering it can cause animals. Animals caught in leg-hold traps usually suffer severe crushing injuries to the trapped limb. In its frantic struggle to free itself, an animal may chew or twist off its own leg. Eventually the animal becomes exhausted and may die of exposure and shock or may wait trapped for several days until the trapper returns to kill it. Because leg-hold traps cannot select their targets, they claim many accidental victims, including dogs and cats and other nontargeted wildlife. Several states
and cities have banned the use of leg-hold traps because of safety and humane concerns.
Because of publicity about the condition animals face on fur farms and the suffering experienced by animals captured in the trapping industry, the wearing of fur is now much less accepted by the public than it was a few decades ago. Many clothing designers and retailers, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, have adopted a fur-free policy for their products in response to pressure from both their customers and animal rights groups.
But not all fur suppliers have adopted this policy. In the early 1970s, animal rights groups began displaying images of blood-covered ice and hunters clubbing baby seals. This resulted in a huge public outcry that led to a ban on imports of seal products to the United States in 1972. Despite the end of a market for seal pelts in the United States, seal hunters continue to harvest animals in northeastern Canada and sell their furs in other parts of
Page 86 | Top of Articlethe world, such as China, Russia, and the European Union (which in early 2008 was debating a seal product ban of its own).
The Canadian government establishes the number of seals that it will allow to be killed. This number is called a quota and varies from year to year based on the size of the seal population. To maintain a desired population size of 4.07 million harp seals, the government allowed a quota of 335,000 in 2006 and 270,000 in 2007. Government spokespersons say that most seals are killed quickly and that hunters follow humane regulations to ensure that the animals do not suffer.
Animal rights groups counter that the seal hunt is far from humane. For one, they say, young seals left on the ice by their mothers are unable to escape and scream in fear as hunters club nearby animals. They also claim that seals are commonly skinned while still alive. And animal rights groups worry that the seal population cannot sustain such a hunt. They say quotas are often exceeded, as many wounded seals drown and are unaccounted for in the numbers killed. Plus, as ice floes shrink due to global climate change, a lower survival rate for newborn seals might result.
Supporters of the seal hunt disagree. They say that the hunt is strictly monitored to ensure quotas are not exceeded. They argue that seal hunting is a Canadian tradition that dates back hundreds of years and is an important part of the region's economy. Phil Jenkins, a spokesperson for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans responds to criticism from animal rights groups:
he reason that this is controversial is the emotion that is brought in to the debate. Humans eat meat, Page 87 | Top of Articleuse animal products, but they rarely see the process of killing animals. The seal hunt happens in open sight on white ice. These are powerful visual images and these organizations that are opposed to the hunt use an emotional approach and misrepresent the facts.64
Animal rights groups are not swayed by this argument and object to what they consider cruelty solely for the production of unessential luxury items. They have called on consumers to boycott Canadian seafood until the hunting stops. The HSUS claims that polls show that nearly 70 percent of Canadians support a ban on commercial seal hunting. Says Paul Watson of the animal rights group Sea Shepherd, "The war against the Canadian seal hunt is more than a protest. It is a crusade to bring about harmony between the natural world and humanity. All of us who oppose it are dedicated to the protection of life and the abolition of cruelty."65
While the Canadian government may present arguments supporting the hunt for traditional and economic reasons, Rebecca Aldworth, director of Canadian wildlife issues for the HSUS says, "At the end of the day it's still the largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world."66
Hunting Great Whales
Seals are not the only marine mammals targeted by hunters. Commercial whalers have heavily hunted the great whales, such as blue, gray, right, and sperm whales, since the 1900s. This hunting decimated great whale populations, pushing many species to the edge of extinction. Recognizing the harmful impact of intensive commercial whaling, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) enacted an indefinite ban, known as a moratorium, on commercial whaling in 1986. This moratorium is supported by nearly all of the IWC's, seventy-eight member nations.
The countries of Japan, Norway, and Iceland, however, object to the moratorium and continue commercial whaling. Norway and Iceland conduct their whaling activities in the North Atlantic. They claim the hunt provides its citizens an opportunity to eat whale meat, a cultural tradition in those countries.Page 
Top of Article
Critics, however, claim the market for whale meat there has nearly disappeared. The antiwhaling organization Greenpeace claims that meat from Iceland's recent catches of endangered fin whales was discarded. Norway ended its 2006 whale hunt early, catching only 444 minke whales out of their planned hunt of 1,000 animals. Norwegian officials say the hunt was called off due to bad weather and the poor quality of the year's whale meat. However, critics of the whale hunt say the real reason was lack of demand for the meat.
Japan carries out its hunt in the North Pacific and the Antarctic's Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, claiming to do so for scientific research purposes, an activity legally allowed under the moratorium. According to Japan, their harvest of hundreds of whales each year provides data about whales, such as what they eat and how long they live. This information, they claim, will allow better management of whale and fishery resources. The Institute of Cetacean Research, a whale research organization authorized by the Japanese government, explains: "The purpose of Japan's whale research is to gather scientific data required to Page 89 | Top of Articleestablish a management regime for the sustainable use of whale resources. For this purpose some indispensable data have to be collected by lethal means, which simply cannot be obtained by non-lethal means."67
Antiwhaling animal rights groups scoff at the notion of "scientific" whaling. Because the whale meat is sold to restaurants and supermarkets, says Greenpeace, "the commercial nature of Japan's whaling operation is undeniable."68 For the 2007 whaling season, Japan planned to hunt a total of 1,035 whales-935 minkes, 50 endangered fin, and 50 endangered humpbacks- for scientific purposes in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary alone. International public outcry, however, caused them to abandon their plans to kill humpbacks.
Greenpeace argues that whales do not need to be killed to be studied. Modern wildlife research techniques such as satellite tracking and individual identification of animals makes killing unnecessary. "Japan's whalers are deceiving the Japanese public by painting the word 'research' on their ships," says Junichi Sato of Greenpeace. "Real scientists don't need to kill whales to study them. This is commercial whaling poorly dressed up as science."69
Animal rights activists object to commercial whale hunting for a variety of reasons. They, and many wildlife biologists, believe that populations of whales still recovering from the intensive hunting of earlier decades are not yet large enough to sustain
hunting. In addition, other environmental factors such as pollution, ocean noise, fishing nets, collisions with ships, and global warming already place whale populations under enormous pressure. Finally, opponents of whaling also consider the practices employed to kill whales to be extremely inhumane. Whales shot by cannon-driven harpoons often take many minutes to die. It is thought that whales experience a great deal of distress and suffering as they are pursued and killed.
Like many animal rights issues, whaling and the killing of other wildlife is a highly emotional issue that includes many different points of view. The variety of cultures, traditions, and values that impact these issues almost certainly guarantee that the debate will continue.