For sport, sustenance, or conservation
The Cambridge dictionary defines a “sportsman” as “someone who plays a sport in a way that shows respect and fairness toward the opposing player or team”. It defines “sustenance” as “the ability of food to provide people and food to provide people and animals with what they need to make them strong and healthy.” And it defines “conservation” as “the protection of plants and animals, natural areas, and interesting and important structures and buildings, especially from the damaging effects of human activity.” Read on to learn how none of these words apply to hunting, fishing, or trapping.
Hunting is often called a sport as a way to pass off a cruel, needless killing spree as a socially acceptable, wholesome activity. However, sports involve competition between two consenting parties and the mediation of a referee. And no sport ends with the deliberate death of one unwilling participant.
Some hunting groups claim that by obeying laws and killing free-range animals in a manner that does not give humans an “improper advantage” over their prey, the activity constitutes “fair chase.” Of course, these same groups encourage hunters to shoot game with rifles, shotguns, and bows and arrows—weapons that no animal has any chance of outrunning, let alone fighting. Furthermore, “free range” as defined today rarely implies the vast wilderness that large game once roamed.
Contrary to what hunters often say in defense of their cruel pastime, hunting has nothing to do with “conservation” or “population control.” In fact, animals are often specially bred and raised for hunters to kill.
If left unaltered by humans, the delicate balance of nature’s ecosystems ensures the survival of most species. Natural predators help maintain this balance by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals.
Hunters, however, strive to kill the animals they would like to hang over the fireplace—usually the largest, most robust animals, who are needed to keep the gene pool strong. This “trophy hunting” often weakens the rest of the species’ population: Elephant poaching is believed to have increased the number of tuskless animals in Africa, and in Canada, hunting has caused the bighorn sheep’s horn size to fall by 25 percent in the last 40 years. Nature magazine reports that “the effect on the populations’ genetics is probably deeper.”
Even when unusual natural occurrences cause overpopulation, natural processes work to stabilize the group. Starvation and disease are tragic, but they are nature’s way of ensuring that healthy, strong animals survive and maintain the strength of their herd or group. After hunters kill the largest members of a population, the offspring of weak adults have difficulty finding food and gaining the strength needed to survive extreme weather; therefore, hunting can actually cause starvation rather than prevent it.
“Sport” hunting also exacerbates other problems. For example, the transfer of captive-bred deer and elk between states so that hunters can kill them is believed to have contributed to the epidemic spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal neurological illness in deer and elk that has been compared to mad cow disease. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given state wildlife agencies millions of dollars to “manage” deer and elk populations. While the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that CWD has no relationship to any similar diseases that affect humans or farmed animals, the slaughter of deer and elk continues.
Taking exotic “game” animals to non-native environments for hunters to kill is another problem: If they’re able to escape and thrive, they can pose a threat to native wildlife and disrupt established ecosystems.
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