I saw many posts on the internet from people upset about hunting, specifically hunting lions. And eventually I watched the Jimmy Kimmel spot where he repeatedly maligns the Minnesota hunter for shooting that lion, and even appears to choke up near the end while plugging a wildlife research fund that you could donate money to.
And, look, I don’t really like hunting. I’m an animal lover, so I’m not keen on the critters being shot, and I’m a runner who likes being out and about in our local state parks. Between my loping stride and long hair, I look like a woodland creature. I’m always nervous, thinking somebody might accidentally shoot me. Yeah, I wear orange during the big seasons, but I still worry.
But I thought Jimmy Kimmel’s segment was silly.
For one thing, he’s a big barbecue fan — you can watch him driving through Austin searching for the best — and pigs are a far sight smarter than lions. Plus, most of the lions that people hunt had a chance to live (this isn’t always true — there are horror stories out there about zoos auctioning off their excess animals to hunters, which means they go from a tiny zoo enclosure to a hunting preserve to dead — but in the case of Cecil it clearly was. He was a wild animal who got to experience life in ways that CAFO-raised pigs could hardly dream of). Yes, Cecil suffered a drawn-out death, but that seems far preferable to a life consistently horrific from first moment to last.
Most people eat meat. And humans are heterotrophs. We aren’t obligate carnivores the way cats are, but a human can’t survive without hurting things — it bothers me when vegetarians pretend that their lives have reached some ethical ideal or other. Especially because there are so many ways you could conceptualize being good. I have some friends who raise their own animals, for instance, and they could easily argue that their extreme local eating harms the world less than my reliance on vegetables shipped across the country.
I think it’s good to consider the ramifications of our actions, and I personally strive to be kind and contribute more to the world than I take from it, but I think it’s most important to live thoughtfully. To think about what we’re doing before we do it. Our first priority should be taking care of ourselves and those we love. I don’t think there’s any reasonable argument you can make to ask people to value the lives of other animals without also valuing their own.
That said, if people are going to eat meat, I’d rather they hunt. We live in southern Indiana. Lots of people here hunt. In general, those people also seem less wasteful — hunters are more cognizant of the value of their meals than the people who buy under-priced grocery store cuts of meat but don’t want to know about CAFOs or slaughterhouses.
Hunters often care more about the environment than other people. They don’t want to eat animals that’ve been grazing on trash. Ducks Unlimited, a hunting organization, has made huge efforts to ensure that we still have wetlands for ducks and many other creatures to live in.
To the best of my knowledge, Tyson Foods hasn’t been saving any wetlands lately.
Hunters generally don’t kill off entire populations. And they don’t pump animals full of antibiotics (which is super evil, honestly. Antibiotics are miracle drugs. It’s amazing that we can survive infections without amputation. And the idea that we would still those compounds’ magic by feeding constant low levels to overcrowded animals, which is roughly what you would do if you were intentionally trying to create bacteria that would shrug off the drugs, is heartbreaking. There are virtually no medical discoveries we could possibly make that would counterbalance the shame we should feel if we bestow a world without antibiotics on our children’s generation. See more I’ve written about antibiotics here).
Sure, Cecil wasn’t shot for food. I would rather people not hunt lions. But lions are terrifying, and they stir something primal in most humans — you could learn more about this by reading either Goodwell Nzou’s New York Times editorial or Barbara Ehrenreich’s Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, in which she argues that humanity’s fear of predators like lions gave rise to our propensity for violence (a thesis I don’t agree with — you can see my essay here — but Ehrenreich does a lovely job of evoking some of the terror that protohumans must have felt living weak and hairless amongst lions and other giant betoothed beclawed beasts).
The money paid to shoot Cecil isn’t irrelevant, either. It’s a bit unnerving to think of ethics being for sale — that it’s not okay to kill a majestic creature unless you slap down $50,000 first — but let’s not kid ourselves. Money buys a wide variety of ethical exemptions. The rich in our country are allowed to steal millions of dollars and clear their names by paying back a portion of those spoils in fines, whereas the poor can be jailed for years for thefts well under a thousand dollars and typically pay back far more than they ever took.
The money that hunters pay seems to change a lot of host countries for the better. Trophy hunting often occurs in places where $50,000 means a lot more than it does in the United States, and that money helps prevent poaching and promote habitat maintenance. Unless a huge amount of economic aid is given to those countries (aid that they are owed, honestly, for the abuses committed against them in the past), the wild animals will be killed anyway, either by poachers or by settlers who have nowhere else to live. So, sure, I dislike hunting, but hunters are providing some of the only economic support for those animals.
And, look, if you think about all of that and you still want to rail against hunters, go ahead. But if you’re going to denounce them, I hope you’re doing more than they are for conservation. And I hope you’re living in a way that doesn’t reveal embarrassing hypocrisies — I’m sure any one of those pigs Jimmy Kimmel eats would’ve loved to experience a small fraction of Cecil’s unfettered life.
p.s. If you happen to be one of those people who can’t imagine living happily without eating meat, you should let me know and I’ll try to invite you to dinner sometime. I love food, and I’m a pretty good cook. I should be honest — it is a little bit more work to make life delicious if you’re only eating vegetables, but it definitely can be done.