“…how he got in my pajamas, I’ll never know,” quipped Groucho in Animal Crackers.* Curiously, I was once invited to shoot an elephant but did not take up the offer (nor went to work with anti-communist guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi in Angola, the required first step). I am glad, and rather hope that “my” elephant is living out her eighty years, guiding her elephantine grandchildren to the best watering holes, and mourning their dead (for they do, you know). I am soft-hearted.
So are Tanzanians, among whom I worked for several years. Man, woman and child, they are soft-hearted, lacking the hard-edged tribalism and related unpleasantness of their Kenyan neighbours to the north. I have always suspected that, when God made Tanzanians, His hand slipped and spilt in extra sugar. Not that they are free from sin and even corruption, but they are somehow nice about it.
Hence this thing about wild animals: Tanzanians love them and appear to always have. Their favourite is the giraffe, their national mascot. “It doesn’t kill anybody,” drawled a Tanzanian colleague exhibiting their dry humour. A muzunga (white woman) colleague from the BBC, heading off on her umpteenth safari, had waxed romantic about lions. She was taking a break from waxing frightened of global warming, waxing wroth about economic inequality, waxing distain for the middle class (to which she belonged), and waxing her underarms.
Lions, my chum explained evenly, eat people while giraffes do not. The well-educated civil servant, dignified as he became, had grown up in a remote village where, for all I know, swains and damsels had to spray themselves down with lion repellent before going on dates. Alternately, the closest giraffes come to endangering humans, I suppose, is, if someone were going to a costume party dressed as Adam or Eve, an uncommonly cheeky but vegetarian giraffe may make off with one’s fig-leaf, whereas a stray lion would bite off one’s leg. So why anyone would like to shoot a giraffe mystifies the Tanzanians and me.
Yet an American did, not long ago, and posed beside the dead body with a beatific grin on her face. It makes little sense. One of my father’s patients, a keen deer hunter from Michigan, applied over many years for a license to shoot a moose; he finally won the draw and set off for Maine or somewhere. He returned without his gun, which he had given away. The moose had “just looked at me, chewing its cud,” he recounted. “It was like shooting a cow,” he confessed ashamedly. Bagging a ruminant moose or giraffe is hardly taking down a charging rhino with a single-shot Martini-Henry at thirty paces; or, better yet, a ravening tiger in the jungles of Cooch-Bihar.
The handsome Texan apparently killed the giraffe with a bow and arrow, which is slightly more sporting than using the traditional, muzzle-loading, 50 calibre elephant gun, or the more modern Kalashnikov (as I would have been lent in Angola). There is possible risk, I guess, that while the assassin is fumbling with her quiver (or quivering with her fumble—I do not understand the nomenclature) another giraffe might sneak up behind her and kick her in the head. The trouble is, from my perspective and probably that of giraffes, is the abundance of heads that need kicking-in.
No sooner had the woman posted the photograph online than the outrage began. Nowadays an opinionated nobody, knowing nothing, is still a credible source for news; and to prove it, into the fray waddled Mr. “Ricky” Gervais, a British comedian relocated to Hollywood, whose work I have never seen, on purpose. Communicating in short bursts or blasts to some seven million online fans, he asked, “What must have happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal; then lie next to it smiling?” (proving that he is more familiar with the use of semi-colons than commas). A respondent then wished the woman a painful death, while others called for her outright murder. We are left to guess which political party they support.
The woman apparently won US television’s “Extreme Huntress” award in 2010; unwittingly demonstrating how that insatiable medium is starved for material, and how an adjective formerly applied to the Ku Klux Klan is now a term of American approval—no doubt there is “extreme” ice-cream on sale at every shopping mall. Then, defending herself effectively, she explained that she had hunted since childhood; that her husband and she routinely bag elks (presumably not the kind drinking Budweiser in lodges), and that her grandchildren are learning the hobby. “Fair dinkum,” as the Australians say approvingly—but they hunt kangaroos while riding on the hoods of pick-up trucks, wielding baseball bats (they do, and alcohol helps). She continued by pleading that the slain giraffe was old and male (so rather like former US Senator Bob Dole), had been booted out of his herd (again resembling Senator Dole), and so killing it was an act of mercy; as was, apparently, posing beside the carcass with an orgiastic look on her face.
Even less convincingly to me, then she bowed to America’s Progressive Orthodoxy (as best she could, given that she was slaying innocent furry creatures). A newspaper said: “She is a strong advocate of the sport for women, leading a number of trips for women to hunt bears, moose, caribou and dall sheep (ovis dali, a big-horned, North American species).” She would have scored more Progressive points had she taken gay men hunting (except that they are often too busy hunting one another in saloons redolent of disinfectant), or lesbians who may not approve of that sort of thing.
The newspaper quoted her summation: “’For me, there is nothing more empowering than sharing that special moment of success with another female who is chasing her dreams.” Presumably after the abortion, before graduating from law school and chairing the campus “Hillary in 2016” campaign, while donning camo-gear. It is the dreams that matter, after all. Still, the internet abounds in photos of her posing beside dead animals with no other women in sight, unless they snapped the pictures. Indeed, the only member of Class Mammalia that she does not appear to have bagged is a politician (fraudulenti Americani, but they are nearly impossible to clean afterwards).
All this must upset my Tanzanian former colleagues, because they love all African animals (apart from lions). They support regulated hunting because the fees paid by visiting big-game hunters allow their government to protect many other rare beasts, even of the same species. The scientifically knowledgeable and ever-entertaining foe of all Progressive Orthodoxy, James Delingpole (whom I described before), taunts “If Gervais really cared about Africa’s wildlife, he’d put his money where his mouth is… man up and go and bag himself a rhino. (Or, if he’s too chicken, a giraffe).”
He quotes Tanzania’s director of wildlife, explaining that a paltry two hundred lions, shot each year under license, generate almost two million US dollars for preservation. That does not include money spent on accommodation, transportation and local jobs (where, believe me, a law degree and chairing the local “Elect Hillary” campaign does not get you employed deep in the bush). Nor does it include fees for bagging dangerous Cape Buffalo and even more deadly hippopotami (Q: How do you stop a hippopotamus from charging? A: Take away its credit card. Sorry).
We are left with three questions. First, is hunting wrong? Tanzanians think not. Just to make certain I asked several deer, which without culling might die more hideous deaths from overpopulated starvation. On balance they agreed, but each preferred that humans shoot that other deer behind the tree over there.
Our second question is what does this tell us about The Good, the True and The Beautiful? Nothing really, apart from life’s multiplicity of pleasures. I remain tolerant; but if my Maker had intended me to slog through wilderness in order to kill some beast going innocently about its business, then why does Our Bountiful Lord provide me with Madeira, Fribourg & Treyer’s best snuff and good books?
The last question, perhaps of value to all of us everywhere, is how to cancel one’s Internet subscription, freeing one from the piddling opinions of unmentionables conveyed by greedy nitwits desperate to hype any absurdity—the hallmarks of our popular (so-called) culture. I would relish the return to stationery, stamps and envelopes, twice-daily postal delivery (in bygone England, at least) and newspapers that quoted people who mattered, on matters of relative importance. But (sigh) such is progress.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.