Why the cheerleader who hunts big game isn't a barbarian or a true sportsman.
19 year-old Kendall Jones has drawn the anger of thousands in cyberspace for her controversial hobby. It turns out that Kendall, a resident of Cleburne, Texas and a Texas Tech cheerleader, has been hunting big game in Africa since she was 13.
Her Facebook page (Kendall Takes Wild), which currently has over 12,000 followers, has been the cause of much ire from those in the animal rights community as well as some in the pro-sustainable hunting community. On the page, she has posted various pictures of her hunting exploits, along with graphic pictures of her kills. She is generally posed by them, smiling over her trophies. Over 40,000 people have recently signed a petition to get these photos removed from Facebook.
I. Hemingway and the Rules of Honest Hunting
Our heroic cheerleader argues that her conduct is perfectly within the grounds of sporting etiquette. She says that the animals are given “fair chase” during a hunt. Obviously one could define “fair chase” any number of greatly varying ways. In reality these “chases” often consist in the hunting party locating a group of the animals to be killed and then (often from the safety of the vehicle surrounded by armed personnel ready to defend their paymasters) shooting the animal from a safe distance.
Certainly any discussion of big game hunting must first delve into an analysis of the usefulness of hunting to society. Hunting as a behavior is one of the deepest, most ingrained aspects of human psychology. This can be evidenced by its value to primitive societies before the advent of large-scale agriculture.
There are many individuals to this day around the world who hunt to survive. They live in a wide variety of cultures and actually consume and utilize the animals that they kill. Hunting for sport, however, is an entirely different matter.
Sport hunting can be effectively divided into two categories. The first is big game hunting. This activity generally requires one to have accumulated enough wealth to be able to go on a big game hunt in a location where such animals exist (aka Africa). The targets of these hunts are normally animals that have little practical use beyond that of the commodity value of their tusks and pelts (Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Cheetahs, etc.).
The second category of sport hunting would be that which applies to the killing of animals which are overpopulated, have stable populations, or which actually possess value in the meat they provide (deer, elk, fowl, etc.). It also must be noted that the meat of some forms of big game is also valued. This practice does not necessarily require great amounts of wealth to take part in, neither does it (at least in most cases) have an adverse or lasting impact on the biosphere as a whole.
Big game hunting became popularized in the public eye in the latter portion of the nineteenth century. It was seen as necessary for upper-class men (often women as well) to venture into the storied wilds of Africa and to prove their manliness (or the extent of their human virtue) in the face of nature’s brutal fury.
Writers like Ernest Hemingway created stories that gave the practice an almost holy place in human behavior. It was often seen as a way for man to re-engage in the age-old struggle between man and nature that industrialized society had progressively annihilated from the lives of most ordinary and well-off individuals. Hemingway also attempted to communicate the violence and pain that are often associated with the killing of animals by humans.
Hemingway sought to portray any athletically-oriented event (sports, hunting, etc.) to be a primal struggle of one’s will against some adversity. To shoot a charging lion (when one has only one round in the chamber and the animal has a fairly good statistical chance of killing you) could be seen as the epitome of human sporting life. This was seen as more or less fair, seeing as the hunter risked death in some capacity.
II. The Misdirected Fury of Public Opinion
With respect to Kendall Jones it is likely that the public backlash is overblown. Arguments which contend that her hunting practices are barbaric ignore the hunting practices of millions of people around the globe who sustain themselves on hunting. There is no qualitative difference between an elk and an elephant. To that end there is also no real qualitative difference between an elephant and a human being (both are animals with brains that can feel pain and think).
Humans are a part of the global ecosystem, no matter the extent to which certain individuals wish to argue that we have divorced ourselves from it or that humans are somehow above the animal kingdom. Lions hunt (it is important to note that in the photo above Kendall has killed a male lion, which serves as little more than protection for the children and a stud for breeding while the females hunt. In essence she has killed an animal that most likely otherwise would not have posed any threat to her) and kill their prey, tearing them to bloody messes. Is this something that we, as humans, deem as barbaric? Of course not, it’s nature.
Nature (which humans are still a part of) does not distinguish between barbaric and civilized. Nature if concerned only with necessity. Why, then, do animal rights activists make a distinction when bloody acts are committed by humans against those animals?
The answer lies with necessity. Kendall’s adventures serve absolutely none of the essential needs that she has evolved to fulfill. What is more distressing for activists is the question of whether or not she is shooting endangered species.
Much criticism has come from those who contend that Kendall has been shooting and killing endangered animals. As a simple point of economics those who live in the regions that contain big game have a vested long-term interest in not completely exhausting the population of game. This is a matter of simple numbers. Kendall even goes so far as to argue that the populations of these animals need to be controlled, and, therefore, her recreational activities actually serve a useful purpose.
This may not be entirely true. Certainly some of the species that she seeks to hunt have stable populations. Animals like water buffalo often do become overpopulated and consume all available food. This generally results in starvation for the animals. Now, this type of situation is not universal, but it is clear that the cheerleader thinks that she isn’t hurting anything.
She states that in one instance she actually aided in the conservation process when she “darted a white rhino and the Vet drew blood samples, DNA profile, cleaned out and medicated a leg wound and gave several shots of antibiotics. The Rhino woke up great and will now be a part of a DNA databank fighting against anti-poaching. Again, doing my part in conservation to make a difference.”
The trips which Kendall and her father have taken cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. These trips act to employ those individuals that participate in setting up the hunt itself and keeping those who have paid safe from the game.
Kendall has argued that these trips are beneficial to the locals as they are able to sell the proceeds from the hunt to sustain themselves. This is inevitably a side-issue, as the problem is referencing the killing of the animals in the first place and not the commodity value of their carcasses.
Animal rights is a touchy subject for some. Many are entirely opposed to the practice of killing animals for any reason other than self defense. In the end the criticism should not sit on the shoulders of Kendall, her father, or any other big game hunters. Those who allow for the entire process to take place are the locals who drive the jeeps and make sure the high-paying customers don’t get hurt.
This form of hunting appears to be relatively cowardly. One could certainly ask whether or not it represents the essence of man’s struggle with nature that Ernest Hemingway attempted to illustrate in many of his writings.
1) Is hunting “wrong”?
No! The claim that hunting animals is inherently wrong falls far short of any logical mark of truth. First, humans are the ones who give definitions such as “right” and “wrong.” It is also evident that different cultures have sometimes radically-opposed viewpoints as to what is “right” and what is “wrong.” A pertinent example would be that of whaling. One could even go so far as to call whaling another form of big game hunting (as whales are significantly larger than anything the cheerleader has ever shot).
As long as whales still exist and as long as the particular species subject to hunting are guaranteed, through conservation efforts, to remain stable with respect to population, can one really come up with an argument as to why it is “wrong” to kill them? Some will inevitably argue that whales (also dolphins) are somehow different or above the rest of the animal kingdom.
This is obviously nonsense as a hierarchy of value is, once again, something imposed onto nature by humans. Hunting is a behavioral pattern that exists throughout nature. To see humans as being above this practice is akin to species-ism (contending that humans are, more or less, “above” and “detached” from the more barbaric species of the earth).
2) Is hunting big game “wrong”?
As stated above, if the practice of killing animals for necessity has a soft position in relation to concepts of “right” and “wrong” it follows that the killing of animals in general meets the same subjective standard. Therefore it can be deduced that killing animals (deer, elk, fowl, etc.) for sport as well as big game (Elephants, Rhinoceros, etc.) are not necessarily “wrong” unless a person deems them to be. Speaking in utilitarian terms, therefore, one could define the “wrong” type of big game hunting as that type which destroys the ecosystem and erases species.
3) Is the cheerleader a true sportsman?
Kendall’s efforts at conservation show that she at least cares about her public image. In relation to standards of sportsmanship, however, her hunting habit seems to be lacking. Is shooting a wild animal from the safety of a vehicle sportsmanship?