Trophy Hunting – The Heart of the Matter

Stephen Wiggins Article 1 Comment

Banner Image – Merelize Van Der Merwe and her Valentine’s Day present trophy hunting kill  (assisted by Professional Hunter, Chrisjan Bakker) – The Mirror, 25 February 2021 

Trophy hunting’s public reputation is not enhanced by those that seek to publicly glory in their killings, or the excuse(s) given for such killings – it’s an own goal each time it’s perpetuated.

Van Der Merwe claiming “she was actually protecting animals from extinction” (how this is evidenced in this specific case is not explained) when she killed the ‘Valentine’s Gift’ bull giraffe pictured so “a new bull can take over and provide new strong genetics for the herd” (sic).  The latter succession would have occurred by natural attrition regardless of  Van Der Merwe’s (a South African citrus grower) pre-emptive intervention of course – the pre-meditated killing was entirely unnecessary from that perspective ([update] but is common practice on managed, commercially driven captive breeding facilities where biodiversity is ‘managed’ to enhance the facility’s turnover and where the contribution to conservation of the wild species is often opaque).

[Update] “Viewer caution advised: Merelize van der Merwe posted this video of herself slaughtering a giraffe in Limpopo, South Africa on 24th February. It has been viewed by over 3,000 people and unsurprisingly resulted in international outrage” – The Steeple Times, 4 March 2021

Trophy hunters claim to respect wildlife and honour their kills (sic), which in Van Der Merwe’s case included removing the bull giraffe’s heart and then posing on her facebook page a picture of herself gleefully displaying the targeted giraffe’s heart for all to see.

“She captioned the post: ‘Ever wondered how big a giraffe’s heart is?'” The Mirror, 20 February 2021 

It is unclear what dignity is bestowed upon the target giraffe, or enhancement of trophy hunting’s public image by such actions. Such actions are certainly recognisable as only ‘honouring’ the victim with a complete lack of empathy in pursuit of the ‘trophy’ for self-gratification, bordering upon a callous obsession (Beattie, G., 2020, “Trophy Hunting – A Psychological Perspective,” Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group).

The recent furore surrounding Gordon Elliot (famous race horse trainer) sitting astride the corpse of  Morgan, a race horse/mare that died whilst training on the gallops, has led to an unprecedented backlash and sanctions for the trainer’s abhorrent lack of respect for the dead animal (much to the detriment of horse racing’s ‘public image’ and those scrambling to try to somehow salvage the situation):

Hence the incalculable damage of the photo [of Elliot sitting on the corpse of a horse in his care]: if it’s normal for a trainer to pose on a corpse like an idiot playboy on a big game hunt, then it follows that they actually don’t care, and all bets are (literally) off” – The Guardian, 2 March 2021

How are pictures of trophy hunters astride their slain victims, or displaying extracted body parts in such a dishonourable, grotesque fashion not subject to the same revulsion, sanction and automatic withdrawal from public media display?

How is such action morally and ethically acceptable – regardless of any claimed (but unproven) , consequential benefits to conservation?:

This trivialization of animal life is the result of the utilitarian narrative that grounds conservation policies reflected in international wildlife law where the end justifies all means, no matter how ethically controversial they may be” – “Trophy Hunting, Canned Hunting, Tiger Farming, and the Questionable Relevance of the Conservation Narrative Grounding International Wildlife Law,” Yann Prisner-Levyne, Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy, 2020, Vol. 23, No. 4, 239–285, Routledge Taylor & Francis

The claim that the giraffe kill “created work for 11 people that day” and “a lot of meat for the locals” (The Mirror, 20 February 2021assumes that the “£1,500” paid somehow positively offsets trophy hunting’s perceived ‘value’ of the targeted  giraffe and that ‘locals’ are incapable of feeding themselves via their own resources in trophy hunting’s absence.

The IUCN Red List classes the giraffe as “Vulnerable,” with the species’ population in decline at some 68,000 remaining globally. The Southern African population (Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana) is estimated (IUCN Red List, 2016) as 21,387 in total. The four main threats listed by the IUCN being habitat loss, civil unrest, poaching and ecological changes, but also lists “Livestock farming & ranching” and “Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals” as threats.

Where giraffes live | The map, published by a team of scientists led by David O’Connor in 2019, shows a highly fragmented giraffe habitat. In Central and East Africa in particular, it has shrunk considerably in the 20th century. The subdivision into four giraffe species made here is not generally accepted in science” – “The Cowboy of Samburu,” Spektrum.de, 8 March 2021

At CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Conference of the Parties (CoP18), Proposal 5 was accepted at Committee, 22 August 2019, up-listing “Giraffa camelopardalis [Giraffe] to Appendix II of the Convention,” thus enhancing (in theory) the species’ protection from the threats of both legal and illegal offtake for meat, trophy hunting, or for parts and products (Note: November 2019, South Africa, Eswatini, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Tanzania, DRC and Zambia filed “Reservations with reference to the amendments to Appendices I and II of the Convention and related communications” to self-exempt themselves from the up-listing of the giraffe to Appendix II).

[Update] In May 2019 (without public consultation), the republic of South Africa (Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)) reclassified 33 wild mammal species under the Animal Improvement Act (AIA), including giraffe which are being bred commercially to profit from trade in its meat and derivative products (skins etc.). However, “game farm exploitation of wild animal species does not equate to the species being protected in the wild” (“The Possible Exploitation of Giraffes Through the CITES Appendix II Listing,” Michigan State University, College of Law, November 2019) and this exploitative profiteering is clearly evident in South Africa (“Breaking Point,” EMS Foundation, May 2020, p. 42), with dubious exports of ‘live’ specimens for consumption. Is breeding wildlife for commercial exploitation conservation? It depends on one’s interpretation of ‘conservation’ and whether such exploitation increases demand and threatens wild, protected species (reference “Does legal trade counter illicit activity?” – para 12.5). A 2018 scientific report on wildlife breeding called for by the former Minister of Environmental Affairs (DEFF) and authored by 14 of South Africa’s top wildlife scientists concluded intensive farming wildlife exploitation is a threat to biodiversity conservation:

It is concluded that intensive management and selective breeding of game poses a number of significant risks to biodiversity at landscape, ecosystem and species levels, as well as to other sectors of the biodiversity economy of South Africa, and may compromise the current and future contribution of the wildlife industry to biodiversity conservation. This assessment has identified several important direct risks and impacts on biodiversity at different scales, as well as indirect collateral negative impacts on conservation and the broader wildlife economy“ – “Government ignored its own science task team by redefining 32 wild species as farm animals,” IWB, 28 January 2020

Giraffe (Giraffa Camelopardalis) has become targeted for ‘sustainable utilisation,’ via trophy hunting with the giraffe’s skin turned into furniture coverings (with demand mainly stemming from the United States of America (USA)). Wild-sourced giraffe specimens accounted for 99.7% of specimens imported to the USA from 2006-2015 (39,397 of 39,516), about 95% of individual giraffes imported to the USA from 2006 to 2015 were for hunting trophy purposes. The top exporter of giraffe specimens for hunting trophy purposes was South Africa (3,065 or 60.8%). The top country exporting wild giraffes and their parts to the USA was South Africa (31,245 specimens representing at least 2,207 giraffes) – Giraffa camelopardalis [Giraffe] to Appendix II of the Convention:

[Update] It should be noted that Para 8.4, “Captive breeding and artificial propagation” states “Giraffes have been bred in zoos, but there is no evidence of commercial breeding operations” – which seems to miss that giraffe are being bred in captive/game farms specifically for commercial sports hunting and associated commercial income streams, like the giraffe shot by Van Der Merwe in Limpopo, South Africa – “First, the hunting facts. The giraffe, an old male affectionately known as a “stink bull” in hunting circles due to a certain fragrance they develop in old age, was raised specifically for hunting and meat on a game farm in Limpopo Province, once known as the Northern Transvaal” – Country Squire Magazine (Of course, it is duly noted that this ‘explanation’ lacks any citation to independent, peer-reviewed science that such facilities positively contribute to the conservation of the wild species [and lacks the article author’s crass claim that the RSPCA would endorse such commercial exploitation of wildlife]).  

The giraffe is designated a commodity and is priced as such by trophy hunters and the profiteering industry that surrounds it – farming giraffe as a commodity and pretending it’s conservation is not the solution (as evidenced by South Africa’s captive breeding industry). Changing the ‘valuation’ of wildlife is key, for example:

The services of forest elephants are worth $1.75m for each animal” (The Guardian, 28 January 2021) which makes any trophy hunting fee taken, usually in the range of $45,000 USD (Congressional Research Service (2019) states at Table 1) to kill an elephant look derisory. The “$1.75m” valuation of an elephant comes from the International Monetary Fund’s (Chami et al.) published work “The Secret Work of Elephants.”

Some find such ‘valuations’ “morally wrong, intellectually vacuous, emotionally alienating and self-defeating” (The Guardian, 28 January 2021), but ‘valuation’ is ingrained within trophy hunting’s attrition of wildlife and the economic arguments advocated in its support – for example, that the income (“£1,500” + taxidermy to turn the giraffe into a “floor-covering” (sic)) derived from the death of a bull giraffe should somehow be enough justification of itself.

Regardless, chopping out a recently slain giraffe’s heart and thrusting it at a camera gives a clear, moral and ethical insight into trophy hunting’s ‘valuation’ of wildlife – none.

Further Reading

Act Now For Animals,” RSPCA, May 2021 – “We urge the Government to enact its commitment to ban the import and export of hunting trophies. The ban must be comprehensive in scope and contain no loopholes which could facilitate continued trade in trophies. The Government has the opportunity to create the strongest trophy hunting trade ban in the world and to do so will send an important message to the international community

Millionaire trophy hunter, 68, is caught boasting how he helped to shoot 13,000 doves over four days on trip to Argentina – as pressure grows on UK government to implement long-promised ban on the deadly sport,” The Sunday Mirror, 2 May 2021

Hunter who brandished dead giraffe’s heart takes fresh aim at her critics,” The Times, 27 February 2021

Limpopo woman unrepentant despite global outcry for posing with heart of dead giraffe,” IoL, 26 February 2021

‘SOCIOPATH’ Thousands sign petition to ban giraffe heart trophy hunter from Facebook after posed with beast’s bloody organ,” The Sun, 25 February 2021

Merelize Van Der Merwe faces backlash for posing with heart of giraffe she killed,” The new York Post, 23 February 2021

Trophy hunter poses with ‘Valentine’s gift’ giraffe heart during shooting trip,” The Independent, 22 February 2021

Woman poses with giraffe’s HEART as she boasts about husband arranging for her to shoot the animal as a Valentine’s Day present in South Africa,” The Daily Mail, 22 February 2021

Let’s Talk About The Giraffe In The Room,” How to Spend It Ethically, 20 November 2020

“A Case of Ethics” – How Can Trophy Hunting Be ’Acceptable?’,” IWB, 22 July 2016

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