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Recreational Hunting: Would You Kill Your Dog For Fun?

Killing other animals for sport or trophies amounts to killing them for fun

Killing other animals for recreation amounts to killing them for fun. I realize that many of the issues centering on sport hunting are highly contentious, but they need to be discussed openly. For those who choose to kill animals in the name of whatever serves their purpose, including conservation, if you wouldn't do it to your (or a) dog why do it to other sentient beings?

Recreational or sport hunting and fishing are very popular activities. Details for the number of people who hunt and fish in the United States can be found here, and a convenient summary can be seen here

Trophy hunting also is a form of recreational hunting and you can read about differing opinions on this here. One example of this egregious activity that made the news involved Donald Trump's rich sons Eric and Donald Jr. who wrote off their killing sprees during pricey canned hunts in Zimbabwe in the name of conservation by claiming their activities save animals and habitats and help local people (The teaser image of them dressed in the "right and expensive gear" with various weapons and proudly showing off their slain animals can be seen here). How much fun it must be to pay a lot of money to kill animals in these staged encounters. Of course, rich kids aren't the only people who kill animals for fun, either recreationally or for trophies to hang on their walls.

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Killing in the name of conservation: Compassionate conservation to the rescue

Most people who hunt do not do it with conservation in mind. Many do it for unneeded food or clothing, whereas others do it for fun, quality family time some claim. Hunting for food or clothing that aren't needed really amounts to sport hunting. And, hunting is not especially "efficient" in terms of animals being killed painlessly. Some people argue that it's okay to kill in the name of conservation. Individuals of invasive species (or species more appropriately called "out of place species" according to my Australian colleague Dr. Rod Bennison in his discussion of "ecological inclusion") are often killed as are animals who humans decide are "pests". 

Next week I'll be giving a talk at a meeting in Sydney, Australia at the University of Technology called "Compassionate Conservation: Is recreational hunting defensible?" My talk is called "First do no harm: Would you kill your dog for fun?" and my colleague Dr. Daniel Ramp will talk about "Shooting Our Mouths Off About Conservation". Further information and interviews can be found here

Compassionate conservation is a growing global movement. The first meeting devoted to this topic was held at Oxford University in 2010 and was followed by another in Chengdu, China in 2011 and a workshop in London (UK) in November 2012. Individuals from around 30 countries attended these meetings. One of the goals of compassionate conservation is to focus on the importance and value of individual nonhuman animals (animals). This is because those people interested in animal welfare are drawn to the animals themselves, whereas those people interested in conservation and environmental ethics concentrate more on species of animals, animal populations and ecosystems. Individuals are considered dispensable to achieve certain goals. 

Focusing on larger entities such as species, populations and ecosystems is a fundamental driver of conservationists. Those motivated by concerns about animal welfare argue against killing individuals, whereas conservationists accept that killing individuals might be permissible 'for the good of the members of the same or other species'. The guiding principles of compassionate conservation seek to create common ground between those who are concerned with the well-being of individual animals and those who are concerned more with conservation.

What is clearly obvious from the Oxford, Chengdu, and London meetings is that people all over the globe are extremely concerned with humans continuing to move incessantly into animal habitats and redecorating nature. Once they've moved in people often label the animals as "pests" when the animals act as the beings they are. Compassionate conservation considers both human and nonhuman animals and how to work out solutions that are satisfactory to both. Often it is not possible to attain these goals and there usually are trade-offs that have to be made in the "real world". 

Pig dogging, slaughtering wolves and coyotes, and slamming squirrels

One trade-off for some (far too many), but not all, people in the name of conservation really amounts to the needless killing other animals recreationally, for fun, because they're pests (for example, iconic kangaroos and dingoes in Australia; see the website for THINKK for information about the horrific killing of kangaroos and what is being done to stop it). In the United States the war on wildlife (see also) on animals such as wolves, coyotes, and many other sentient beings results in the reprehensible and inhumane slaughter of millions up millions of individuals each and every year, at least 25 million between 2004 and 2011. In some instances the animals are tortured in the most egregious ways, such as a trapped wolf being used for target practice. (See also for information on sanctioned coyote killing contests, go here for information about a killing contest in New Mexico, and go here for information on the upstate New York Holley Fire Department's "squirrel slam" that even has a children's category; you can contact the fire department here.)

Another disgusting activity that occurs "down under" is called "pig dogging" that involves the savage killing of feral pigs by humans after they're located by packs of pig dogs. Some call pig dogging "arguably the cruellest and most brutal form of hunting still permitted in Australia today". I warn you that reading about this reprehensible and brutal form of recreational hunting or watching videos will ruin your day! Nonetheless, some support this so-called sport and some call themselves "responsible" pig doggers. Many in Australia, including government agencies, label this as responsible and effective conservation. I'll leave it to you to decide if they have a case.  

Recreationally shooting pests and other animals is not permissible in the paradigm of compassionate conservation. Indeed, killing animals for fun is ethically reprehensible and it's likely that most if not all recreational shooters would not shoot their dogs for fun. The question that should cause pauses in thought for recreational shooters is, "Why is it okay to shoot other animals for fun but not dogs?" 

The authors in my forthcoming book, Ignoring Nature No More: The Case For Compassionate Conservation, argue that humans, including conservationists, have been ignoring nature for too long, something that has to change right now, not when it's "more convenient". For example, elephant poachers in Kenya have now been educated to protect them, swapping their payments for killing for payments for protecting these magnificent animals. The compassionate conservation movement is really a social movement with a broad number of supporters. It is clear that it is our nature to be kind, empathic and compassionate. And, individual animals certainly count on the goodwill of big-brained, big-footed and invasive humans to take their lives seriously. 

For compassionate conservation the first premise is "First do no harm'" (see also) and the second is that individual lives count. By following these guidelines it will be easy for people to expand their compassion footprint and to rewild their hearts and stop killing animals for fun or for some misguided premise of saving the environment or for protecting threatened or endangered species. Slaughtering sentience is wrong. 

Again, I know that many of the issues I and others raise about sport hunting and killing in the name of conservation are highly contentious, but nothing is to be gained by pretending that people agree about the ethics of killing other animals for recreation or for conservation and that it's just perfectly okay to engage in this activity without a care in the world. Wide-ranging and much-needed discussions can be found here

Regardless of how sticky the issues are for some people and how passionate they can get, killing for fun and killing in the name of conservation should not be accepted as if they're the only shows in town. And, for those who choose to kill animals in the name of whatever serves their purpose, if you wouldn't do it to your (or a) dog, why would you choose to do it to other sentient beings?

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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