opinion : Shaun Liew

Response to a (t)horny issue: The case for hunting safaris

Shaun Liew

APRIL 14 — No one really cares about rhinos; not unless you are concerned about the animal’s conservation or want their horns. 

Prized for use as daggers, medicine, and aphrodisiacs, uncontrollable hunting of the rhinos for their horns has driven them to near extinction. 

Aside from existing anti-poaching methods, dehorning (the removal of the horns) is another method of stopping the species from sliding into extinction. 

Quek Yew Aun’s article explores this issue. Two concerns though: the demand for horns will still exist even after rhinos are extinct because horns last longer than rhinos and they can be traded on black markets. Removing horns devalues rhinos, but not the horns themselves.

Furthermore, this relies on the goodwill of organisations willing to forgo the wealth that these horns bring. This only lasts as long as the people are willing to forgo that wealth. In poor countries, this is hard to avoid.

There is a far more radical, yet familiar, way of preventing extinction, and an interesting documentary by Louis Theroux showcases how one might do this on the reddish plains of South Africa. How?

Hunting safaris: breed trophy animals to kill them for a price. Groups then get the opportunity to keep these "trophies." If you pay enough, you get to kill and bring a lion or rhino home. The revenue from hunting groups is then used to breed the animals, and at the same time, keep the extinction threat at bay while breeding better trophies. 

Africa does not have people who are discplinied. It’s a fact because we chop down and eat everything... It doesn’t hurt me [to breed them to be hunted], they’re going to go extinct if they don’t bring any money. What have I done with all the money from sables? Bought other sables, created a natural living environment where they used to live. If it is not for hunting, there will be no species left in Africa.

Now all these [sables] are being bred. We are creating better sables and better rhinos. We have a rhino bull now and he’s got a 22 inch horn, it’s unbelievable. Because we’ve been paid per inch. 

In some sense, this is morally heinous. But the idea of breeding animals for the sole purpose of using them is not new. In this sense, what the hunting safari does is no different from how chickens and cows are being bred for their meat and milk, and horses, for their mobility and races. 

But the caretaker Theroux interviewed is right about uncontrollable extraction. Animals aside, humans have repeatedly done this to themselves before. Empire after empire, imperialists go where the resources are, force people to work to death and extract unsustainably. When they leave, whatever government replaces them barely thinks about managing it sustainably because it’s quick cash. 

Still, breeding animals to be killed for fun is different than breeding animals to be killed for nutrition. Or is it? Both reasons result in death, but still it feels iffy. So we should ask ourselves this: does quality of life matter more than purpose of life? I’d argue quality, because no matter the purpose humans determine for animals, humans will continue eating, continue hunting.  

Quality, however, is something that can be changed. Breeding animals to be killed must first overcome a double standard. What about the chickens and cows, boxed into cages practically immobile, to lay eggs, to produce milk? And the horses that used to be our cars until they were bred to race as though they were cars?

Buying organic and free range chickens and eggs help because the chickens live healthily, like the cows and sheep on wide open fields instead of dark warehouses 24/7. And if vegans still cannot accept this, then they should question if a life is only worth killing if it doesn't have the eyes and ears to see and hear themselves get killed. 

With plants, the ethical and sustainable nature of how we exploit them is also important. That coffee you drink? You ever thought about how destructive coffee plants are to the soil? The meat you eat? It’s bigger but why eat something more unhealthy than yourself? 

If the rhino were to remain, we should first consider whether biodiversity is more important than the way we maintain it. If that is the case, how ethically can we do this? If hunting safaris can treat rhinos better than the way we treat chickens and cows when they’re alive, why not?

It matters more that we give them a good life, the same way we want to enjoy life while serving someone else’s purpose through work. We die anyway. And although conservation and exploitation sound irreconcilable, mankind’s progress through capitalism is only a living testament to the opposite. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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