The Truth About Lions, Melissa Bachman and the Anti-Hunting Agenda
November 21, 2013
Unlike the many articles, blog posts, TV segments and tweets in the last week chastising or otherwise damning Melissa Bachman's lion hunt and the subsequent photos she shared of her kill, this article will contain only facts.
No conjecture based on misguided sensationalist ideals or ignorant emotional outcries. Not even a little grandstanding or pointless blithering meant to adjust our collective moral compass. No ironic photos with cartoon lions or scathing quotes from celebrities about how Bachman's photo made them oh so sick to their stomachs.
There's nothing of that sort to see here, folks. I've attempted to distill the anti-Bachman, anti-hunting, anti-whatever's — there's over 400,000 people who've signed a petition on Change.org — social media arguments into three points, and answer each one of those with facts and historical perspective. Hopefully this can start an educated conversation not only about Bachman herself, but Africa, hunting and conservation. Of course, if you're one of those self-righteous loudmouths seemingly impervious to reason, just skip to the comments and start spouting.
Argument No. 1: The Smile
Sensationalist headlines like "Smiling Hunter's Dead Lion Photo Highlights Big Cats' Plight," are circling the Web like mad. While some attempt to bring up solid, debatable points, others hone in on the mere fact that Bachman was sporting a smile as she showed off her kill.
To focus on the smile is to bring this issue to the lowest common denominator. As hunters, we celebrate our kills in many different ways — the fact that we cheese for the camera is only a byproduct of a successful hunt, not indicative of the reason for hunting. Melissa Bachman is a lifelong hunter who began her journey at an early age with her family. She graduated with honors and a double major in TV broadcasting and Spanish from St. Cloud State University, shortly after starting her career as a TV intern.
"Growing up, my brother and I had little bows to practice when mom and dad shot. Not only was it a lot of fun, but it gave us one more activity to do together as a family," Bachman once wrote for this website.
The portrayal of her as anything but a conscientious outdoorswoman simply has no factual basis. The only evidence that she's a "blood-thirsty murderer" is derived from misconceptions and semantics. Terms like "deadly passion," "trophy" and even a few exclamation points at the end of her tweets are turned into damning evidence that she hunts and kills innocent animals for no good reason at all — or worse, that she's done something illegal. Dig deeper in Bachman's profile, you'll find much more than meets the eye — including zero citations or violations related to hunting or outdoor activities.
Argument No. 2: Hunting for Pure Sport
Travel down to the next level of opposition to Bachman's African safari and you'll find the "sport hunting is sick, cruel and heartless" argument. Somewhere baked into this equation is the term "trophy hunting," which is meant to denote a hunter that pursues and kills animals purely to collect an ego-laden token of victory.
"Melissa Bachman has made a career out of hunting wildlife, for pure sport," writes the author of the now infamous Change.org petition. Here's the bottom line: Only Bachman can speak to the exact motivation for her pursuits. I can only provide what we know about her past as empirical evidence of the kind of person she is off camera.
Beyond that, we can ask ourselves if what she did in Africa qualifies as "sport hunting" and what that term really means.
Let's discuss where Bachman was hunting: the Maroi Conservancy. Conservancies can be loosely defined as a bunch of bordering properties that have agreed to remove all interior game fences, leaving only one big, contiguous fence surrounding all the land. According to Maroi, the area hunted here is approximately 8,500 hectacres, which translates to 21,000 acres or 32 square miles. The conservancy began as a family farm of about 900 irrigated acres.
Prior to becoming a game operation, poaching was common on the crop fields and cattle lands. Nowadays, the profitable conservancy contains a variety of huntable species, and game meat from successful hunts is distributed to the local community to discourage poaching.
"Funds generated from hunting go towards fixing the border fence that was washed away in the 2013 floods and combating poaching," said a post on the Maroi Facebook page.
Maroi is only a small part of a burgeoning game farm enterprise in South Africa. An enterprise that was created to help aid the wildlife population, conserve habitat, deter poachers and bring in revenue to local economies. In 1964 only three game farms existed in South Africa holding 575,000 game animals, reports the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa.
As the groundwork was laid for more game farms wildlife became more valuable, "creating a direct incentive to purchase, own, protect and conserve it." Today those early efforts have exploded into an over $85 million enterprise that is home to 20 million head of game on 40 million acres. The industry employs 100,000 people and owns three times more land than all the state-owned parks and reserves combined.
"We have hunters from all over the world and all game hunting is done ethically on Maroi as per guidelines from Nature Conservation," the Maroi Facebook post said.
What about the lion hunting experience in South Africa behind high fence?
"When the hunt is conducted properly and within the scope of South African law it is actually an acceptable hunting experience...and in many ways is more dangerous than hunting a wild lion because these lions have no fear of man, only contempt," HUNTING's Executive Field Editor and Africa hunting icon Craig Boddington said. "Existing laws include habituation for specific periods of time, varying with province but generally several months. Laws also forbid baiting and use of vehicle, so these lions are hunted the old-fashioned way, on foot by tracking."
So, we can now circle back to Bachman. Even if — and we aren't saying she did — she traveled to Africa to hunt purely for blood thirst and her trophy collection, the end result of that hunt would still be a part of the benefits listed above. Whether she went there with bad intentions, the result of her hunt was beneficial to the land on which she hunted. Hunting creates value, value leads to conservation, and conservation leads to the propagation of wild game populations. Bottom line.
Argument No. 3: The "Endangered Lion" and the Culture of Conservation
Dig to the deepest levels of vitriol and we find the notion that hunting has a negative effect on Africa and its wildlife — especially the lion.
We've covered some of the facts regarding game farms as a whole, but not this species in particular. For whatever reason, this has struck a nerve with anti-hunting activists.
Jeffrey Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare wrote the following for the Huffington Post:
"With as few as 32,000 lions remaining in the wild, the once ubiquitous animals are rapidly disappearing from the African landscape. Habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict are the primary reasons, but trophy hunting is responsible for the slaughter of about 600 of the animals each year.
"The African lion is a species that is experiencing a downward spiral toward extinction'¦We hope that Americans will speak up for lions and let the U.S. government know that lions should be conserved and protected — not shot for fun."
This is where the facts and Mr. Flocken part ways. Hunting is the most powerful tool to conserve and protect the lion population as a whole. The evidence for this is impossible, even for Flocken, to ignore.
Just look at the lion populations in states where hunting has been banned. Local farmers and cattlemen use deadly poison and snares to kill lions in mass in order to protect their land and livelihood. Cohabitation becomes increasingly difficult and expensive, further providing a disincentive for these areas to foster a healthy population. Even Flocken says "Habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict are the primary reasons" for the decline in lion populations.
The alternative being sought in South Africa is not to ban hunting, but to promote it through adaptive management in which governments set regulations that are non-detrimental to the health and survival of the game species — all the while these regulated hunts bring in valuable dollars to the local economy.
A 2012 study compiled by a non-profit group acknowledges a potential negative effect of trophy hunting on lions, but also examines the cause and effect should it be banned.
"There is increasing scrutiny on the conservation status of African lions Panthera leo. Although few reliable data exist, it is suspected that the continental lion population has declined by at least 30 percent in recent decades, while the species' geographic range has shrunk by as much as 82 percent. Key causes for the decline include conflict with pastoralists over livestock, habitat fragmentation, and the loss of available wild prey. Commercial trophy hunting of lions represents an additional potential threat (or opportunity, depending on how it is managed)."
This idea falls under the "saving lions by killing them" mantra that so many conservationists have adopted. Just take a look at a recent op-ed from Alexander N. Songorwa, director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, in the New York Times.
Songorwa makes the most relevant case for lion hunting I've read by far. He ends with a powerful statement:
"If lions are listed by the United States as an endangered species, American hunters may choose to hunt other prized species outside of Africa or simply not hunt at all. This would add further strain to our already limited budgets, undo the progress we've made, and undermine our ability to conserve not only our lions but all of our wildlife."
Hunting in this case equals progress on many fronts, and for ignorance to be damning it is simply a shame for Africa, the lion and, well, the whole freaking Internet.
There you have it — unadulterated facts. If managed correctly, hunting is a solution for the lion and Africa, not the problem. Which certainly for us, underlines the fact that the Melissa Bachman controversy is only an emotive response driven by a small group of individuals that move to sensationalize hunting, strip it down to its lowest common denominator and force hatred upon the people who are a part of the hunting tradition. Facts be damned.