This should be the time of year when Arsenal fans start talking about trophy hunting – but not the sort that's been splashed across the media over the past 24 hours.
Owner Stan Kroenke is in the news after launching a TV channel which will show hunting, shooting and fishing videos. The channel is already available in the US, so maybe Mr Kroenke thought it would be an easy transition to bring it to the UK.
Not so. First lesson, Mr Kroenke – don’t force a channel that glorifies the killing of lions and elephants onto a nation of animal lovers.
Bosses at the channel have defended it, saying that it will show ‘ethical, fair chase and legal’ hunting. There’s a case to say that some of the hunting will be legal, but ethical and ‘fair chase’?
A game of two halves?
It’s probably hard for many of us to work out what is ethical about killing an animal for fun. At the League Against Cruel Sports though, we’re used to people trying to find ways to justify their bloodlust.
Fox hunters in the UK try to claim they are engaging in ‘wildlife management’. Those who shoot ‘game’ birds like pheasants – up to 100,000 a day during the season – say they are benefitting conservation. In the same way, trophy hunters try to justify killing lions, elephants and other animals by saying that the money raised goes towards conservation and helping local communities and endangered species.
Reports have shown however that this argument does not ring true. During an undercover League Against Cruel Sports investigation in spring 2004, Sir Edward Dashwood, director of the E J Churchill Sporting Agency, admitted to investigators that "90% of the trophy fee goes straight into some Nigerian's pocket or African politician or whatever it is."
Other reports have put the amount of money raised by trophy hunting that goes back into some local African communities as around 3%.
In 2016a new report by the Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee, cited by The New York Times, found there was ‘little evidence that the money is being used to help threatened species, mostly because of rampant corruption in some countries and poorly managed wildlife programs. It concludes that trophy hunting may be contributing to the extinction of certain animals.’
Evidence also shows that tourist safaris to watch animals in the wild are worth far more to local economies than trophy hunting. A 2004 study by the University of Port Elizabeth estimated that eco-tourism on private game reserves generated "more than 15 times the income of livestock or 'game' rearing or overseas hunting".
Far sicker than a parrot
As for ‘fair chase’. What is possibly fair about a chase involving an elephant and an idiot with a gun?
The channel owners will claim that they are supplying a demand by showing the ‘reality’ of hunting and shooting, as they will feel that trophy hunting has a bad rap. But what’s the reality of hunting?
A couple of years ago a famous lion, called Cecil, was shot by an arrow fired by an American dentist. If this channel had wanted to show the reality of Cecil’s death, then it would have required 40 hours of broadcast time – because that is how long it took Cecil to die, before he was killed by a bullet.
That’s the reality of trophy hunting – many animals will die a prolonged and painful death.
It’s not just an ‘away’ game
All of this may seem a long way from home for people in the UK, but it’s closer than we think.
Many people in the UK, particularly gap-year students, head to southern Africa to see wildlife. Opportunities to ‘walk with lion cubs’ are very popular. The problem is, what happens to those cubs when they get too big to cuddle? Many of them end up as victims of ‘canned hunting’ - the hunting of animals in an enclosure too small to allow an animal any chance of escape. Trophy hunters can then ‘hunt’ these lions – which are accustomed to humans and have no means of escape.
Back in the UK, our own trophy hunting exists in the form of stag hunting. While illegal, it still continues as the hunts use exemptions in the law to get away with it.
Victory from defeat?
Come on, Mr Kroenke. It’s not too late to pull this one back. Cancel the roll-out of this tasteless channel, and focus on helping the animals that your audiences like to see killed. Many of our most stunning animals are approaching extinction – use your power to help them. And let’s be honest: a wildlife safari – the non-violent kind – is one of the most spectacular, and, if you’re interested, lucrative, spectator sports around.
Chris Pitt is deputy director of Policy, Communications & Campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports.