On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a segment dissecting high-fence hunting ranches and the growth of exotic species in Texas. If you watch closely, the segment does a beautiful job contrasting the way hunters and anti-hunters go about conserving (and thinking about) a species.
In the segment, correspondent Lara Logan highlighted how high-fence ranches and hunting in Texas helped save three antelope species that have essentially gone extinct in Africa. She mostly focused on the scimitar-horned oryx. Here's her report in a nutshell…
For 50 years private ranchers in Texas have been collecting exotic game species from all over the world. Over that time, many of these species have done better in their highly regulated, fenced-in habitats in Texas than they have in their native lands where they are plagued by poaching and habitat loss (the scimitar oryx has actually been classified as extinct by the IUCN). The species that do the best in Texas are the ones that are hunted. That's because hunting dollars paid to ranchers allow them to spend more resources on raising more animals (this is the way wildlife conservation works in North America). In many instances, the hunts on these ranches are far from "canned" with the ranches spanning thousands and even tens of thousands of acres. Some ranches have become so successful at growing these rare species that they are now sending animals back to Africa in hopes that they can repopulate their native lands.
But the story is too good to last. Enter the President of anti-hunting organization Friends of Animals, Priscilla Feral, who worked to help pass a law requiring a federal permit to hunt scimitar oryx.
Ranchers and hunters say that the permit will be all but impossible to obtain, and will submarine the value of the oryx as a game animal. Once the hunting dollars stop flowing in, the scimitar oryx will slowly fade from the Texas hill country and in to extinction. Feral says in segment that it would be better for the scimitar oryx to no longer exist as a species than for it to be hunted on ranches in Texas (apparently Feral never read the Aldo Leopold essay about the importance of every cog in the wheel).
Feral's sentiment is disturbing, even somewhat insane, but important because it gives us an honest look at the difference between anti-hunters and hunters. Both parties care about wildlife, but our approach in conserving it could not be more different.
First, most anti-hunters care about animals at an individual level. They think each animal deserves to live a long, healthy happy life. In the segment Feral describes hunting as too "violent" and "disrespectful." It's clear that the argument of an anti-hunter is an emotional one, not a quantitative one.
Second, most anti-hunters consider themselves separate from nature. You can see it in the names they come up with for their organizations like say, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Friends of Animals. Animals are in one category, humans are in another category and it's the homo sapiens' job to care for the animals.
But as a hunter, I consider myself a part of nature, not a separate, all-powerful protector of it. Hunters care about animals at an individual level too, but more importantly, we care about the species (and the natural cycle) as a whole. We know that death is part of the deal and some animals must die so that a species can survive.
If it's not Texas hunters killing scimitar oryx, it will be African leopards or poachers or worse, nothing at all.