February 17, 2005

Canned Texas Safaris

Why fake safaris are wrong.

David Goldenberg

Thereís a lot thatís jarring about the idea that exotic animals are kept on ranches, sometimes drugged, so that hunters in Texas can experience the thrill of the kill without the messiness of going on a real safari.

In a recent Washington Post article, Joshua Kurlantzick touches on some of these issues, but ultimately fails to recognize that a condemnation of the practice is necessary. In doing so, he lends credence to a system that is wrong—but not for obvious reasons.

Certainly, some readers of this article will be sad for the charismatic animals that are put on display so that trigger-happy locals and tourists can get their jollies by blowing them away in what are known as canned hunts. I am not one for such sappiness. There is little nuance when it comes to hunting—the animal is either killed or itís not, and the graphic nature of its death is immaterial. And I donít believe that because an animal looks good in a photograph, it is more deserving of life than, say, a cow.

The victims in this scenario are people, not animals. In particular, those hurt are villagers living in the countries where the exotic animals originally come from, and Kurlantzick, the foreign editor of the New Republic, should know that. In May 2004, he wrote an article (subscription required) for Foreign Policy in which he advocated free-market solutions for developing countries to manage their wildlife populations. In other words, he said (and I agree) that local populations should have a share of ownership of their wildlife, and should reap the benefits of hunting licenses and safari fees paid for by foreigners.

But in his article about Texas safaris, Kurlantzick fails to discuss the black market that enriches the Texas ranch owners while robbing those same villagers. Animals of all sorts, including predators not present in the relatively tame ranch Kurlantzick visits, are brought over from developing countries through the back door, with zoos and corrupt government officials often complicit in the scam (check out Alan Greenís excellent Animal Underworld at Amazon). Everyone wins except the people whose animals were stolen.

Without contesting the notion, Kurlantzick writes that ďmany exotics ranchers and hunters also believe that they are helping save speciesĒ by placing a monetary value on the animals. If these guys really want to help save species, they should quit paying lip service to an antiquated idea that has been proven wrong. (Grey parrots are worth a lot, too, but the exotic pet trade hasnít exactly helped their population numbers.) Instead, the hunters should go to the developing countries where the animals originate, and pay the locals the exorbitant amounts of money they are willing to spend for their trophies.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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