I see from the Letters pages that some controversy has brewed up over the estimable Country Gun?s views on hunting certain African big game, notably leopards and elephants (Out of Africa, 16 February).
I have a personal interest here, because I, too, was once opposed to the idea of people sport-hunting such ?charismatic mega-fauna?. But then I started going to Africa and I have to say that I changed my mind. It?s not that I myself would like to bag a heffalump. Or, at least, not when I think about it in the cold, grey light of a British working day. But when I am seated round the campfire in the African bush, swigging a cold beer and gazing at the stars above, well, all bets are off. I have spoken to people who have hunted the mighty pachyderm on foot in close country. They make a compelling case for it being the toughest, most dangerous, in-your-face and downright exciting form of hunting on this planet. Not that this is the only consideration, of course. American writer John Geirach wrote that he was happy to hunt deer, but not moose. A moose is an awfully big death, he explained. I understand that. How much would it apply to an elephant? I don?t suppose that I shall ever find out, but I do know that elephants are hunted legally and sustainably in many parts of Africa, including some world-famous national parks.
As for leopards, they are locally plentiful in some regions, though people seldom actually see one because they are nocturnal and exceptionally secretive. They seem to have benefited in certain localities from the availability of prey in the form of domestic livestock, while their favourite snack is supposed to be dog. (It is said that they will sneak right through a farmhouse and grab a dog from the foot of its master?s bed). In short, leopards can look after themselves.
Shooting is a broad church. I shall never forget a fanatical driven pheasant shooter?s reaction when, over lunch, I described a recent roe-stalking foray. ?Frankly, I don?t think it?s fair to sneak through a wood and assassinate an unsuspecting animal,? he said. I was left speechless. Some roughshooters look askance at driven pheasant shooting, even though some might say that bagging a bird that?s doing 40mph, 35 yards up, takes a tad more skill than shooting it up the backside at close range.
No doubt the roughshooter would retort that hunting up your bird is a finer sport than merely standing on a peg. And so it goes on.
It just goes to show that we hunters are deeply interested in the ethics of our activity. In other words, we care.
Taking a cheep shot
Have I unfairly maligned the RSPB? Last week, I wrote rather disparagingly of the free survey service it is offering farmers thinking of entering land for the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme. Despite filling in the forms, I had heard nothing more and a local farm adviser told me that he didn?t know of anybody in my area who had ever actually had a survey carried out.
Well, lo and behold, last Wednesday, with Shooting Times hot off the press, a nice person from the RSPB left a message on my answering machine. She was surprised I thought that the organisation wasn’t going to do a survey, as it most certainly was.
Now, on one level, this proves that the RSPB reads Shooting Times (or, more probably, the charity?s press office has an efficient press cutting service). Besides, some might say you get special treatment simply because you are a columnist and write about stuff.
Yet, before we jump to conclusions, I have to admit that, since I wrote the piece in question, no less a personage than Shooting Times?s Editor has informed me that he has personal knowledge of at least one farm where the RSPB has indeed conducted a free HLS survey. Damn. Objectivity can be so very inconvenient.
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