How Hunting Signals the Psychological Need for Power Over the Innocent
In September of this year Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer emailed and posted photos showing him smiling over the kills he had made during sport hunting in Namibia, Africa. It caused an uproar. When he was asked to resign his post by the Governor of Idaho, he apologized for sharing photos of what he called his “harvesting” of the animals. He indicated that part of his purpose had been to impress his wife and give her a “feel” for Africa. The hunt was legal. That is, it was legal to kill the creatures who moments before their death were living free in their own habitat, unaware of the hunter who needed the kills to satisfy something deep inside him — an emptiness of spirit he thought he could fix by exerting power over innocent animals. He used the word “harvesting” as if the animals in the wilderness were plant food, though he had no intention of consuming what he had destroyed: these animals were trophies.
In the wilderness, the lion does not always catch the gazelle, the wolf does not always bring down the moose or deer. They go after their prey in a fair fight, and sometimes lose their life trying, when the long legs of their prey kick at them in self-defense.
Guns have nothing to do with a fair fight. Guns always win. In Alaska hunters have been known to fly in small planes over the protected wilderness and shoot at wolves traveling with their pack, killing wolf pups as easily as the adults. These hunters believe they are justified in doing this, even knowing that the wolves rarely attack humans. There have been few documented cases in the U.S.— between 1950 and 2002 there were only three. The aerial shootings do not represent a fair fight — they reveal the willingness to slaughter innocents.
While carrying out her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees, Dr. Jane Goodall developed and supported research on baboons in Tanzania at her Gombe Stream Research Center. A wealth of material shows the intelligence of baboons and the intricate and extended family relationships of these primates. Baboons, who were among the prey Fischer sought out in Africa, rarely attack unless their family is threatened.
In the photo that opens this article, an adult baboon in a natural habitat sits looking out at the sea. Two other baboons are visible together on the sand below. We cannot know what the baboon is experiencing, except for one thing — the feeling of freedom. The photograph by Bill Wallauer holds an image of that freedom very powerfully.
But what did Blake Fischer say about shooting a family of baboons during his “hunting for sport” vacation? He noted he had permits for all the larger animals he killed on the same visit to the African wild, but he didn’t need one for baboons because — Fischer told the Statesman — “baboons are free.”
Then he propped up two of the dead adult baboons he had killed, along with the mother and her dead baboon baby, and smiled for the camera. This image is seared into my mind forever, though I would erase it if I could:
In 2015 a dentist baited, shot, and killed Cecil, a venerable lion who lived in protected territory in Hwange National Park in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe. He was a major attraction of the park. Cecil was being studied by scientists at Oxford University and was wearing a GPS collar when he was killed. He left behind a pride with young cubs. In their extraordinary report of the killing details, National Geographic describes it all HERE.
What was telling afterwards was that the dentist was charged a small fine and got away with it. Hunters do get away with it. He told lawmakers and gamekeepers and reporters, “ I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”
What can it mean that a man loves the activity of killing innocent animals for sport just to obtain trophies? How is that being responsible — not to mention that in the National Geographic article evidence is provided that the lion suffered? What is the source of the emptiness that lies in the heart of anyone who kills wildlife for fun? Some explain it this way — it represents a supreme achievement to hunt and successfully kill game of any kind, but especially big game. Only, again, there is the ongoing reality that such hunting is unfair. The animal is baited, is never given the chance to fight back, is at the mercy of the hunter in every way. It is a one-sided enterprise, done without regard to the creatures hunted — it is a slaughter of innocents.
Hunting deer is just the same. Parents I know told me how happy and proud they were to be able to share their practice of hunting deer with their eleven-year-old son. They had taught him how to shoot and how to stay absolutely still in a blind until a deer showed up. Then, through a narrow opening, the child fired his gun and killed his first deer. I asked the child how he had felt doing that and he said, “Excited.” He is learning early on the power that lies in taking life. His parents assured me the deer would be used — its hide for clothing, its meat for meals. The thing is — they had more than enough money to feed themselves. Killing the deer was an extra, and unnecessary. What message does this give the child?
As to the big game hunters like Blake Fischer and the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil and others, what makes them require the death of a creature to feel significant? Someone who hunts not to survive but to prove their own dominance? For that is what it is about. Trophy hunting, in one degree or another, fills up the empty heart with the display of dominance over the innocent. But it is an action as far from fulfillment of that empty space as one can get.
Dominance is seen to have temporary rewards for those who practice it, in any form. But it also eventually signals a moral decay and an individual poverty of spirit. In the end, the desire for dominance is the act of a coward, for it turns the human being away from hope and love and empathy and courage. That person settles instead for a twisted exhilaration at having power at any cost — the exact “exhilaration” described and named by hunters when they have destroyed an innocent animal.
All of us are at our core the light and soul of God. But actions like hunting for sport signal how much, and how grievously, we have forgotten this.