API Wildlife Campaign Director, Camilla Fox, was invited by North American Hunter magazine to submit a piece on the animal rights perspective of sport hunting. This is what the editors received.
The Animal Protection Institute (API), a national nonprofit organization with 85,000 members and supporters, is dedicated to protecting animals from cruelty and exploitation. API opposes the killing of animals for “sport” on the grounds that it is contrary to public sentiment, ecologically destructive, unnecessary, and unethical.
Public opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Americans oppose the killing of animals for “sport” or “recreation.” Fewer than 6% of Americans hunt today — roughly half as many as in the early 1970s. On the other hand, participation in non-consumptive wildlife activities has increased dramatically over the last decade. Today, more than 31% of Americans enjoy some form of wildlife-watching recreation. Still, wildlife agencies continue to “manage” wildlife and habitat to ensure a healthy supply of “game” animals for hunters and a constant source of revenue from license sales. Non-game and endangered species and habitat protection programs, however, remain chronically underfunded.
Sport hunters argue, often vehemently, that they are true conservationists. However, conservation in the hunter’s mind seems to mean ensuring an adequate supply of targets, often at the peril of non-hunted native species. A recent study in the Wildlife Society Bulletin cites numerous examples of hunter groups resisting and even impeding efforts to restore native wildlife or to protect biodiversity. According to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 29% of avian species and 54% of mammalian species currently threatened or endangered are still jeopardized by hunting. The U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance — the largest sport hunting lobbying group in America, representing more than 1,000 sportsmen organizations — has attempted to dismantle the Endangered Species Act and actively promotes polices that destroy wildlife habitat. How is this consistent with conservation?
Perhaps most disturbing to Americans is the idea of killing for “sport.” Sport implies two players on an equal playing field. Where is the sport in shooting captive-raised elk on game farms? Or in chasing down coyotes and wolves with aircraft and snowmobiles? Or in baiting black bears with jelly donuts to shoot them from the safety of a nearby tree? Some hunters argue that bowhunting has brought back the fair chase in hunting. But where is the fair play when one animal escapes wounded for every animal killed? If sport hunters are truly interested in good sportsmanship then why haven’t more hunters challenged these practices?
Fortunately, sport hunting is declining as fewer and fewer Americans find pleasure in killing animals for recreation. Many former hunters find the spiritual connection with nature and thrill of stalking and shooting an animal with a camera or binoculars. Indeed, the three fastest-growing outdoor activities among persons 16 years or older in the United States are birdwatching, hiking, and backpacking.
It is our hope that when hunters come to truly empathize with the animals they wound or kill and see them as sentient beings — as many hunters eventually do — they will stop hunting. The evolution toward a more compassionate relationship with animals is evident and should be commended. Hunters would do well for themselves — and the animals they purport to conserve and revere — by also making this great leap forward and calling off the hunt.