Melissa Bachman, an avid huntress and television personality, posted a controversial photo on Twitter in early November. Some would call it shocking, horrifying, even; others would say it is just a part of life. The photo features Bachman and a massive lion she had shot and killed in South Africa.
This is not unusual, as Melissa hunts on television for a living and frequently posts photos of her most impressive kills. However, this photo ruffled more feathers than usual because of its evocative nature.
Bachman, the star of the Pursuit Channel’s Winchester Deadly Passion, is a huntress through and through. She grew up with the sport in central Minnesota and her role as hostess of the show is her idea of a dream job. The show’s primary sponsor, Winchester, is a company that sells guns and ammunition. Bachman travels across the country, trailed by video cameras, picking off big game one by one. Bears, hogs, zebras, wolves; you name it, she has shot it and broadcast the kill.
Interestingly, Bachman was slated to be a contestant on National Geographic Channel’s Ultimate Survivor Alaska in the fall of 2012. However, she was eliminated after Florida resident Tim Martell created a petition on Change.org. The petition called for a boycott of the National Geographic channel “until they agree not to condone or support trophy killing.”
Martell prevailed, with over 13,400 virtual signatures gathered in less than 24 hours.
National Geographic released this statement in response: “Upon further reflection we plan to eliminate one of the survivalists from the ensemble cast, Melissa Bachman. Hunting is not the focus of the show, and we regret the misinformation that has clouded what we hope will be an exciting adventure series set in the incredible Alaskan landscape.”
In response to Bachman’s controversial Twitter post, vexed Internet user Elan Burman of South Africa turned to the same online petition site Martell had perused months before. His goal was to deny Bachman further entry into South Africa. The petition, addressed to the Government of the Republic of South Africa, reached 487,608 supporters before it was shut down.
In his description of the cause, Burman states that “Melissa Bachman has made a career out of hunting wildlife, for pure sport. Her antics are captured extensively on her personal website. She is an absolute contradiction to the culture of conservation this country prides itself on. Her latest Facebook post features her with a lion she has just executed and murdered in our country.”
Thousands of people on Twitter and other social media denounced Bachman for her actions, but are they justified in their accusations? Is it possible to have a clear “right” and “wrong” in this situation?
The issue is shrouded in controversy for a few reasons.
Melissa Bachman’s actions were completely within her legal rights. She was in an area where hunting is legal, she had a permit, and she was working through a private organization called the Maroi Conservancy.
The Conservancy’s focus is mainly on commercial hunting, in contrast to a wildlife preserve, whose focus is on the conservation of wildlife through observation and generally bans hunting. The Conservancy, along with other similar organizations, facilitates excursions like Bachman’s for many hunters (60% of whom are American), if they’re willing to pay a rather hefty price. Groups like the Maroi Conservancy often donate meat from kills made on site to local communities.
Many animal lovers are averse to the idea that killing for sport can be helpful for the environment, but there are certain benefits. Hunters often pay up to $125,000 to shoot a male lion. While only a small portion of the money goes to local communities, the rest of it keeps the hunting reserves in business. This, in turn, keeps acres of natural wildlife protected. Many hunting reserves would be converted to farmland without the revenues from the hunting industry and its need for lots of natural space.
In a study prepared by Economists at Large for The African Lion Coalition in February of last year, it was concluded that “Authors from all sides of hunting and conservation debates agree that local communities are key stakeholders for conservation initiatives, yet they generally receive minimal benefits from trophy hunting.”
Another aspect to be considered: a “canned” versus wild hunt.
A National Geographic expert says of hunting in an article published November 19, “It’s a completely artificial industry, where these animals are bred, sold, then released in paddocks to be shot.”
This is true for such “canned” hunts. 5,000 – 6,000 lions are bred in captivity, then released into enclosed spaces when they are about 5 years old to be hunted down. However, there is also the possibility of a wild lion hunt, which is generally longer, more expensive, and possesses a marginally smaller success rate.
Barb Keystun, a commenter on the National Geographic article, believes that trophy hunting is “an illness, and nothing less.”
However, the practice is often deemed a necessary evil.
Dr. Luke Hunter, Executive Vice President of Panthera (an organization dedicated to wild cat conservation), expresses his thoughts in a statement addressing the topic, “I think sport hunting big cats is repellent and I would welcome its demise. But my personal distaste for hunting won’t help lions if shutting it down removes protection from African wilderness. Whatever one’s personal feeling, hunting should be regarded as yet another tool in the arsenal of options we must consider if we are to conserve the lion.”
Trophy hunting has already been outlawed in countries such as Uganda and Botswana in an effort to protect lion populations. Should South Africa do the same? Hunting may be a conservation tool, but is it necessarily the best tool?
The goal of a trophy hunt is to kill an impressive male lion and take home its carcass as a prize. This often has dire repercussions. When a prominent male lion in a pride is killed, its death often leads to more deaths in the population. Other males will fight to take over; whichever one is successful will often kill the cubs of the dead lion, sometimes eradicating a large number of the males in a certain generation.
“Trophy hunting is also counter-evolutionary,” notes the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s North American director Jeff Flocken, “As it’s based on selectively taking the large, robust, and healthy males from a population for a hunter’s trophy room.”
While there is revenue on a grand scale from the hunting industry (with 18,000+ hunters paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per carcass), the money is going into the pockets of a select few people.
Flocken states, “The money that does come into Africa from hunting pales in comparison to the billions and billions generated from tourists who come just to watch wildlife. If lions and other animals continue to disappear from Africa, this vital source of income—nonconsumptive tourism—will end, adversely impacting people all over Africa.”
The uproar over Melissa Bachman’s actions is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. The issue of sustainable trophy hunting in the name of conservation is a controversial topic with both sides fighting hard. The debate will continue as long as there are still lions and other big game to hunt.
Correction: In the print edition of the Paper Tiger, we wrongly captioned the photo as Michelle Bachman, coming from Michelle Bachman’s Twitter. The photo is of Melissa Bachman, from Melissa Bachman’s Twitter.