The inescapable cruelty of life

When the Dallas Safari Club recently announced its plans to auction a hunt for a black rhinoceros in Namibia I knew that I, as a conservationist, should be outraged – but I was not. The permit to be auctioned at the Dallas Safari Club’s January convention could bring as much as one million dollars for Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism rhino program. Only an old, post-breeding bull will be targeted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says science supports the idea that limited culls of older males can benefit a local population and calls Namibia’s rhino program outstanding. The World Wildlife Fund also endorses the concept of selectively removing old male rhinos.
The announcement did touch off a firestorm of controversy in some mainstream conservation circles. According to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News, Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States said the idea of auctioning a rhino hunt at a time when the world is mobilizing to save the animals from mercenary poaching is wrong. “Education,” he said, “is the key to saving threatened wildlife.”
Well that may be true, but money is still a powerful influence. Maybe I am less averse to this hunt because I live in an agrarian, hunting society in South Georgia. I have plenty of friends and colleagues who kill deer every year, not just for the sport of it, but also to put meat in the freezer. Hunters pump millions of dollars into the economy of saving wildlife habitat, something the “conservationists” are not able to do.
Kentucky-based poet, novelist, and farmer Wendell Berry was recently interviewed by journalist Bill Moyers for a segment of Moyers & Company. Berry, who is widely respected in conservation circles, spoke about “the inescapable cruelty of life”.
“Whether we like it or not,” he said, “we live at the expense of other creatures. The rule in using other creatures (both plants and animals) is to use them with the minimal amount of violence.”
In his poem For the Hog Killing, Berry’s respect for the process of butchering a hog is eloquently explained:
Let them stand still for the bullet, and stare the shooter in the eye,
Let them die while the sound of the shot is in the air, let them die as they fall,
Let the jugular blood spring hot to the knife, let its freshet be full,
Let this day begin again the change of hogs into people, not the other way around,
For today we celebrate again our lives’ wedding with the world,
For by our hunger, by this provisioning, we renew the bond.
The process of selectively removing an old male rhino from the population is a sound management practice. If that process can be utilized to benefit the general population financially then I might put that down to “the inescapable cruelty of life”.  I must admit, however, that I do find it distasteful that this rhino will end up a trophy, with his head hanging on some rich guy’s wall. I just hope the money is put to good use in Africa and doesn’t end up lining the pockets of some corrupt dictator. That would be the ultimate cruelty.

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