Excluding fish and marine animals, over 56 billion farmed animals are killed every year by humans. More than 3,000 animals die every second in slaughterhouses around the world. Indeed, the number shot for ‘sport’ pales in comparison. If we were to view images of a high-profile figure biting into a sausage, I doubt any objections would be raised. So why the public outcry at recent images of Glenn McGrath posing proudly, gun in hand, with the wildlife he had killed?
The reason is that we are desensitised to the suffering of the animals that appear on our plates, not just at their final destination but during raising and transportation. Whilst equal in sentience to wild animals, we see farm animals as products (hence the term livestock). ‘Meat’ is far removed from a living being. And to the majority, a chicken does not hold the same appeal as a lion.
McGrath’s twitter apology, whether genuine or not, that his behaviour was ‘legal but in hindsight highly inappropriate’, opens up the question of the morality of hunting. The Fishers and Shooters Party has jumped to his defense and right to exercise his own choice. However, upon further research of the trophy hunting industry in Africa, I would argue that this choice was most definitely ill-conceived and that as a sportsman and charity founder, the criticism it has provoked is justified.
Historic interviews with McGrath in hunting publications make clear his passion for hunting and his ambition at that time to hunt in Africa. There is no indication that he has any strong regard for conservation, other than a last-minute ambassadorial role for the Planet Environmental Foundation, which has since distanced itself from any association with McGrath. He paid a high price to kill the animals driven by the thrill of the chase. It was not for out of any desire to contribute to conservation or the local economy. Indeed, when one delves more deeply, it becomes clear that such claims are factually incorrect.
One 2004 study found that ‘eco-tourism on private game reserves’– the kind McGrath enjoys – ‘generated more than 15 times the income of livestock or game rearing or overseas hunting’. Put simply, whilst a minority of people will pay a large sum to kill wildlife, more people will pay to see living animals. A live animal can be shot many more times by a camera than by a gun. Researchers also noted that more jobs were created and staff received ‘extensive skills training.’
The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation has stated that only ‘30% of revenue from trophy hunting makes it to communities affected by hunting.’ Given the large sums offered and endemic corruption and political instability in Africa, it comes as no surprise to me that the chief beneficiaries are wealthy landowners and politicians in a practice reminiscent of colonial times where money can overcome legal barriers.
Traffic (the wildlife trade monitoring network) investigates hunting in Europe and Asia. It found that illegal hunting grew in parallel with the legal market and in a 2002 report admitted ‘Trophy hunting can in some cases – rather than providing economic benefits for conservation – have also a detrimental effect for nature conservation.’ There are also implications on genetic diversity and herd dynamics with the strongest, dominant animals selected as prime targets for trophy hunters. With an increase in ‘canned hunting’, the animal welfare consequences are far-reaching.
Is it hypocritical for a carnivore to object to the hunting of animals for fun? There are millions of meat-eaters who advocate for social change in the animal welfare sector and elsewhere. Should we not take their efforts seriously? Just as we do for those who fight for the environment but drive a car, or those who campaign for human rights but make unethical investment decisions. There are always paradoxes in behaviour and it’s not uncommon to find that the first person to point this out is the person who contributes least to society.
There is a long way to go until it is accepted that meat is not essential to human health. In the meantime, billions of animals are suffering across all walks of life, including for the purpose of entertainment. As recent public opinion on Glenn McGrath has shown, attitudes are changing and we are coming to the realisation that animals are not on this earth for our pleasure. This is real progress. If every mistreatment of animals was compared to the slaughter of animals for food and thereby neglected for consideration, no animal would be better off. In this case, efforts are best focused on disputing the myth that hunting somehow aids conservation.