It’s terrible enough to hear about an elephant being killed. It’s even worse to see such a thing happen — but the violent killing of an endangered animal was just what was shown Tuesday on the NBC Sports Network’s Under Wild Skies show.
Under Wild Skies is sponsored by the National Rifle Association. The show is also hosted by Tony Markis, a gun lobbyist and a long-time friend of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. As the Chicago Tribune says, Makris was also very involved in the rise of the late actor Charlton Heston into the NRA’s upper echelons.
Given the show’s sponsorship and the history of its host, viewers are forewarned that Under Wild Skies is not exactly going to be a show celebrating the many wonders of the animal kingdom. This past Tuesday’s episode simply went too far.
In the show, Makris is shown hunting with a group in Botswana. After he sees an elephant in the brush, Markis approaches and shoots the animal twice in the face. There is a short chase after which Makris fires his .577 rifle and the elephant dies; Makris then poses with the dead animal while brandishing his gun.
The episode concludes with Makris and the other members of the group drinking champagne, admiring the sunset and making comments such as “to hunt an elephant and to harvest an elephant and to bring the ivory back to camp is a very, very special occasion.”
It is simply unnecessary, not to mention unethical, for NBC Sports to air footage of the brutal killing of an elephant. The boast about bringing “the ivory back to camp” is unconscionable at a time when conservationists predict that Africa’s elephants could be extinct in the next few decades.
NBC Sports and Makris Respond to Viewers’ Complaints
After receiving a (not surprising) massive amount of criticism, NBC Sports said via a statement released on Thursday to the Los Angeles Times that it will not re-run the Under Wild Skies episode in which Makris kills the elephant and that the footage “should not have aired. ” But the latter claim seems at least a bit contradictory, given that Under Wild Skies is a show all about “showcas[ing] the finest big game hunting in the world.”
Both NBC Sports and Makris have been seeking to justify the killing of the elephant. “This form of hunting is legal,” NBC Sports said in its statement. On Media Matters, Makris accused critics of practicing “animal racism,” on the grounds that people would not have minded if he had been shown shooting ducks or squirrels.
Elephants in Zimbabwe Poisoned With Cyanide
There’s a defiant tone in both NBC Sports’ and Makris’ remarks. Both are dodging the real issue, that elephants are an endangered species.
This sad fact is why Botswana has said that it will outlaw commercial hunting of wildlife by January of 2014. Reports about elephants dying and/or being killed (and of other wildlife being slain — a record 688 rhinos have been killed so far this year in South Africa) are sickeningly commonplace. Just recently, Zimbabwe reported that 80 elephants died in the past few weeks in Hwange National Park after poachers laced their water holes with cyanide. Along with the poison and 19 tusks, police and rangers also found wire snares.
Some of Africa’s largest herds of elephants lives in Zimbabwe; about half are in Hwange, with their numbers estimated to be anywhere from 20,000 to 75,000. On Wednesday as Zimbabwe’s government announced it was declaring war on the poachers, three of those caught were sentenced to at least 15 years in prison. Many argue that penalties need to be far, far more harsh, as elephants continue to be killed for their ivory tusks.
In truth, a ban on commercial wildlife hunting cannot happen soon enough. Canceling a show like Under Wild Skies that showcases the brutal killing of wildlife and glorifies violence — and putting the brakes on any future shows with similar content — is just as much called for.
Tell NBC Sports to cancel Under Wild Skies!
Photo via Wikimedia Commons