As an antelope strides majestically through long grass at dusk, a hunter spots it. She lifts her bow, fires an arrow and watches triumphantly as the animal dies a slow and painful death. A man shoots a magnificent lion and says it “felt good”. Another slaughters an endangered elephant and beams: “there’s no other feeling in the world quite like it”.
These are just three scenes from a new subscription channel that shows beautiful creatures being butchered by humans for “sport”.
In my opinion, these stalkers who take pride in killing have a problem and are in need of help. Certainly, the last thing they need is for their violent depravity to be encouraged and glorified on a TV channel. Yet glorification is exactly what American billionaire Stan Kroenke, a majority shareholder at Arsenal FC, is offering them with the launch of My Outdoor TV in the UK. The public has been sickened by news of the hunting and blood-sports channel, and some Arsenal fans are demanding a boycott of the club. (A penny for the thoughts of Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who has campaigned on behalf of endangered species).
Some animal welfare issues, such as halal slaughter, veganism and medical vivisection, provoke heated debate with strong feelings on all sides. But trophy hunting seems more clear-cut, doesn’t it? The world united in outrage in 2015 when Cecil the lion was killed by an American hunter in Zimbabwe. So how, you may ask, is this depraved and hugely unpopular pastime allowed to continue legally?
The answer is money. Wealthy westerners pay tens of thousands of pounds for the chance to kill a leopard, hippo or rhino. Often they take the head or another part of the poor animal’s carcass and parade it on camera, or display it in their home. Trophy hunters insist that the blood money they pay to hunt in African nations goes to aid conservation. Therefore, they claim, they are actually helping save the species they fly in to murder.
Countless studies paint a different picture of where the hunting-licence money ends up. During an undercover investigation, a leading hunting figure admitted that: “90% of the trophy fee goes straight into some Nigerian’s pocket or African politician or whatever it is.” A separate probe, by the Democratic staff of the House natural resources committee, found there was “little evidence” that the money is being used to help threatened species and that trophy hunting may be contributing to the extinction of certain animals. Another study estimated that as little as 3% of the fees goes into the communities.
But, wherever the money goes, it talks – even when the animals in the cross-hairs belong to an endangered species. Of the 1.7m hunting trophies traded between 2004 and 2014, at least 200,000 came from threatened species. An even more devastating statistic: there are fewer than 20,000 lions left in the wild in the whole of Africa.
How could a broadcaster defend profiting from such vileness? Well, the attempted justifications offered by the channel’s spokesman Simon Barr are perhaps more revealing than he intended. He says the hunts shown are “ethical, fair chase”. Ethics are of course a subjective thing, but surely no sensible person could believe there is anything fair or principled about this bloodshed. More significant is the hapless Barr’s promise that the channel will only show legal hunts. “As long as it’s legal it will be on there,” he adds. It is, it seems, only the limits of the law, rather than morality, that locates the boundaries at the channel.
Equally wonky justification came from one Diggory Hadoke, a television-sofa apologist for trophy hunting. He told Good Morning Britain that it was fine for MOTV to broadcast the footage because it is already available elsewhere on the internet. Taking his vacuous argument at face value, that would mean it is fine for MOTV to broadcast what lurks in all the most vile corners of the internet.
What we see in these weasel words is a lack of morality and restraint in the trophy-hunting community. As for the channel’s bankroller, Kroenke, as any Arsenal fan will tell you, popularity is of no interest to him. The man whose nickname – Silent Stan – points to the contempt he has for both supporters and public relations, is unlikely to be ruffled by the public outcry over his channel.
Therefore, decency must be imposed. Parliament should pass legislation to ban this channel and the pastimes it depicts.
• Chas Newkey-Burden is an author and journalist.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010