“To live without killing is a thought which could electrify the world, if men were only capable of staying awake long enough to let the idea soak in.”
Henry Miller, The Henry Miller Reader (1959)
I’ve written before about my disbelief and sorrow that it is still legal to hunt endangered animals in certain parts of the world. But when I read recently about the widely publicized case of the elephant shot and killed by American hunter Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman, I couldn’t help but feel driven to write about this subject again.
For those who don’t know the story, Teressa shot an 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.”
Hunting elephants for sport is legal in some parts of Africa and many tour companies allow tourists to visit on organized hunting trips. In the US, it is perfectly legal to bring home the body parts of an endangered animal.
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 states on their website that they are “proud to be a sponsor of Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman on her recent elephant bowhunt… and wish Teressa well on her next big-game adventure!”
Mail Online describes the elephant’s fall: “The injured creature staggered 500 yards, leaving a bloody trail, before crashing to the ground.”
What seems to incense many people about this story is the fact that Teressa killed an elephant, an animal whose species is bordering on extinction, and an animal that people tend to care about. Elephants are endearing creatures – gentle giants who delighted us when we first discovered them as children. They’re intelligent, sociable and loving to one another. They can live to the age of 70, and they often live with the same tribe for their entire lives, caring for each other’s young. Many people are aware that elephants in the wild will likely be gone forever within 10 years or so. It is perhaps for this reason that many of us allow ourselves to care about them.
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 big game, such as deer and elk. There were 4.8 million hunters of small game 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.
Teressa is not 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.
As Mark Twain said,
“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.”
With all the advancements of human ‘civilization’, our addiction to killing keeps us in the dark ages, in the world of savages. It stops us from cultivating our capacity for kindness, empathy, and justice; the very qualities we need to develop if we are to move forward into a safe and prosperous future, in which we do not fear one another.
It has been 2500 years since vegetarianism was promoted by both the Buddha and Pythagoras, as they simultaneously introduced to the world the noble idea that humankind has an ethical duty toward our fellow creatures, and that duty includes abstaining from eating them. Pythagoras, considered by many to be the father of vegetarianism, said to his followers, “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.” The Buddha, living in the East at the same time as Pythagoras was living in the West, said to his followers, “All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?”