Why hunting in Africa is a white person’s privilege

Rebecca Francis smiling next to a giraffe she had just killed.  Photo from her website.

Rebecca Francis smiling next to a giraffe she had just killed. Photo from her website.

Let’s be honest how many times do you see the natives of Africa smiling with glee after killing a giraffe, lion or elephant? Not many. Why?  Let me explain the concept of a canned hunt: Canned hunting is a trophy hunt in which an animal is kept in a closed off area, such as in a fenced-in area, increasing the chances of the hunter obtaining a kill.  Africans who indeed hunt for subsistence, do not have the luxury of an enclosed area. The hunt can take days, and requires precision and skill.

There is no such thing as a fair chase during a canned hunt. The animal’s death is an inevitable result.  So who are the people who ultimately pull the trigger?  Statistics (Lindsey et al 2007) show that the majority of the “hunters” going to Africa for a kill are white Americans, with a selection of white Europeans.  Now listen, I’m going to be quite controversial here because I believe this practice is quite racially and classed based. In simple words: It’s a white person privilege.  Don’t get this confused with racial prejudice,  for the same amount of white people who go around hunting, there are people trying so hard to conserve and protect our earth, our home.

“But black people hunt too!” I hear your white privileged self scream. Let’s get down to it then shall we? There is a noticeable difference between black Africans who “kill”, and white foreigners who “hunt”. When the native Africans kill elephants, it’s called illegal poaching. Poaching although wrong, is a way of trying to survive by making a living in the illegal ivory trade business. When the white tourists kill animals, it’s called legal hunting. White tourists are allowed on game reserves where they pay big sums of money to hunt and kill privately owned animals for the sake of sport and trophies.

While Africans are out there risking their lives to stop African poachers being funded by terrorist groups and Asian countries, who believe Rhino horn has some sort of medicinal properties, white Americans and Europeans are happily killing animals a few miles away because they have the dollar to do so.  By using this argument you’re  justifying privileged white people hunting lions, elephants and rhinos.

Ricky Gervais (Yes! A white conservationist!) recently caused some media frenzy when he posted a picture of Rebecca Francis an “experienced” huntress who killed a giraffe and laid next to it in a mockery of nature, land and life.

“What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?’ a furious Gervais tweeted.  As a conservationist who lives within the means of a restricted budget I attempt to live within the borders of the basic laws of ecology. I’m not here to be liked, I’m not here to make friends, I only want to be reveal the truth, just like Mr. Gervais.

In his book, Tourism and the Consumption of Wildlife, Brent Lovelock states that over 16% of the adult population in America participates in some form of hunting. Canned hunts are strongly concentrated in Texas (Lovelock 2011, p.20),  which includes animals such as coyote, deer, wolves and a number of endangered species.  The majority of people who participated in canned hunts in Africa come from Texas. Hardly surprising.

South Africa has an established hunting tradition but few people express much enthusiasm for its corrupted canned alternative. It is still legal to bring a lion carcass back to US (or anywhere in Europe or North America) as a trophy, and much of the demand comes from overseas.

Kendall Jones posted a photo of herself riding a lion corpse.

Kendall Jones posted a photo of herself riding a lion corpse.

But people like Francis, who epitomise this trade, will not comprehend or even accept responsibility for their actions.  Rebecca Francis has argued that she did it for conservation purposes as well as to “feed a village”. But her out of the salon hair and made up gleeful face says otherwise and that is the problem. Kendall Jones, a teenage cheerleader caused similar outrage last year, when she posted a photo of herself riding a lion she had just killed. This pattern has not gone unnoticed by social media, or the media in general, and there are many calling out the end of this privilege blood sport.

As a proud advocate for the “sport”  Francis has travelled the world in search of the latest ‘trophy’.  But by calling it a ‘sport’ – this gives it some small veneer of respectability when there is none at all.  It goes beyond the one blonde hunter. It represents that canned hunting points at a flawed system of values and corruption, a bunch of incompetent leaderships completely unworthy of their mandates and powers.

It’s not simply about being self righteous, its about showing empathy and compassion towards animals (and humans) helpless against human barbarity and white supremacy.

Climbing Mount Takao

Summit of Mount Takao

One pastime, which I acquired in Japan is the joy of mountain climbing.  England has a real lack of places to climb and for those who wish to try out the dangers of some serious rock-climbing one only has to go to Scotland to fulfill such an endeavor. For me though, I had always wanted to see what the thrill was of going up high (secretly I always dreamt of being Frodo on Mount Doom, cue dramatic music).  Even when I moved to Japan in 2009 I had moved to a part where there was relatively few hills, let alone mountains and although on a clear day you could see Mount Fuji as though it was only a couple of miles away, it didn’t satisfy my urge.  So when I moved to West Tokyo, I’d decided to take full advantage of my close proximity to Chichibu, famous for its temples and mountains. I went mountain climbing at least once a month, a straight train on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line to a completely different world.

Mount Takao, which this post is about, is situated in Tokyo, it’s only 50 minutes away from Shinjuku on the Keio Line or the Chuo Line. I live relatively close to Mount Takao and I had never climbed it before so I decided to do so this week. The idea had crossed my mind a couple of times, but I was always too busy or there was something more pressing that I wanted to do.  Though when I eventually got around to doing so; I  wished I’d done it sooner.  The mountain is full of life and I don’t mean Japanese people paying their respects at the temple at the top of the mountain; I mean nature.  Nature is everywhere.

As I said in my previous article I am essentially an urbanite, but my time in Bath, Somerset made me appreciate the great outdoors. Somerset with all its green hills, woods and free roaming deer is probably my spiritual home. Now, I sound like a New Age Pagan, so moving swiftly on.  Mount Takao is also the spiritual home to many Japanese, it’s closely associated with tengu.  Forgive me, because my Japanese folklore has become slightly sloppy of late, but I believe tengu is depicted as a crow like creature who’s initial job is as a messenger to the deities and Buddhas. Tengu carries a fan to sweep away bad fortune and bring those around him good fortune, so not an oni (Japanese demon), but to be frank looks almost as terrifying.

Yakuo-in Temple

I have to admit something before I continue; I didn’t climb up Mount Takao, since time was limited I had decided to take the cable car to the half-way point.  However, I did walk all the way down and even though Mount Takao is relatively easy in comparison to the likes of Mount Fuji, you can get easily tired if you take it too fast. I took it quite slowly as I wanted to absorb as much of the visuals as I could. The path to the temple is rather underwhelming, since most of the way is concreted and heavily crowded, since I went during koyo (red leave) period.  Once you get on one of the nature trails though, it all becomes worth it. I was a little surprised to see how few Japanese people actually decided to go back on one of the trails, since one would think that’s why they went there. Alas, it seemed the majority only came for the temple as the trails were sparse with walkers.

A friend and I chose the Inariyama trail, not because we had been sensible and thought ahead; we were just being in the moment. We were lucky, the views and backdrop were breath-taking, sometimes a cliche is needed when words fail you. The trail was covered in deep forestry and although the path that laid before us was relatively easy;  if the casual walker didn’t prepare decent boots one could find it rather hard to maneuver over rocks and tree roots.   The trail starts slightly steep, but eventually evens out, so you can admire the panoramic view of the mountain range as you descend. In some ways, some would say it’s a more worthwhile hike than Mount Fuji.  I’ve been told Mount Fuji’s climb is comparatively dull, with rock and dirt being your companion for most of the way.

Warning of poisonous snakes.

The mountain is rich with wildlife. During our walk, there were plenty of signs to inform us about the plantation or poisonous snakes. Once we got to a mid way point, we decided to take a rest.  It wasn’t because we were tired, but more due to the fact that we kept stopping to take pictures of  the woods or the views from the edge of the trail.  I thank God we live in an age where we can easily capture a memory, yes I know a rather cheap sentiment, but sometimes the brain with all it’s marvelous functions still hasn’t evolved enough to give us a photographic memory. We got to a split in the road, and though I’ve been studying Japanese for almost 4 years now, I still couldn’t make out the Chinese characters. Fortunately, there was a nice Japanese family who directed us on the right path.

One of the pathways.

When we got our rhythm back,  it was a straight down direction.  As we neared the base of the mountain, towards Kiyotaki Station, which loosely translates as “clear waterfall,”  we found that the steepness was getting the better of us as we started to trip over large tree roots and forgotten walking sticks.  Momiji trees line the walk down, and one could forget that the heart of Tokyo was only a couple of miles away. As we walked over the bridge, which signaled the end of our trail; I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed, not because the walk was a let down in any way, but because it took me so long to realise that there was such natural beauty right on my doorstep. I had been too involved in the delights of modern day living, that I forgot all about simple pleasures like this. The train station across the bridge shook me back to reality, a little victory pose was needed as it marked completion of our hike and then we were on our way.