Hunting is animal friendly!
By Jens Ulrik Høgh
In October 2011 the German members of Greenpeace could read an eye-opening editorial in their members magazine claiming that hunting is animal friendly with the headline “Fair, free and healthy”.
The editor, Jens Lubbadeh, clearly summed up his standpoint from the start: “Do you want to eat meat from happy animals? Should it be bio-dynamic, locally produced and climate neutral? No problem – eat more game!”
The editorial, which also explained the ethical, environmental and health benefits of sustainable hunters caused an outcry from Greenpeace’s members. Many of them simply could not bring themselves to support hunting and hunters. But despite the storm of protest the organisation’s leadership stood fast in support of this message.
It sounds like an absolute contradiction that hunting – which of course involves killing wild animals – is in reality by far the most ethical way to put meat on our plates.
Actually it is quite simple to explain the ethical implications of sustainable hunting. Imagine, if you will, two islands which both produce enough food to sustain a winter population of 1,000 deer. Both islands have an equal number of residents, all of whom eat meat.
On the first island – Stag Island – hunting is allowed.
The island’s hunters keep the deer population at a slightly lower number of animals than that there is actually enough winter forage for. This ensures there is plenty of food for all deer during the winter, which will therefore never have to starve. On this islands the hunters believe a winter population of 800 animals is about right. On Stag Island the hunters have also decided to also exert their influence on the deer herd’s composition, so that there are always more females than males. This will lead to the birth of more calves, and therefore a higher production of meat, which is what the hunters actually hunt for. The population is therefore kept at 300 males and 500 females. This results in 400 calves a year, so to maintain the population at the level desired, 400 animals have to also die each year. Natural mortality can never be entirely avoided, but hunters will typically be able to shoot 350 animals per year.
Over a 10-year period 4,000 red deer will die on Stag Island. Of these 3,500 will end up as game meat which is enough to supply the resident islanders with all the meat they need.
On the second island – Hog Island – hunting is not allowed.
On Hog Island the deer population in the spring will be the maximum number of animals for which there is enough food during the winter – that is to say 1,000 deer. Every summer around 400 calves will be born and when food starts to get scarce in the autumn there will be 1,400 animals that will have to face up to the harsh winter months. During the winter food gets more and more scarce, the animals lose weight and eventually the weakest individuals begin to succumb to hunger, disease and the cold. It is mainly a high proportion of the the youngest and oldest animals that die during the winter. On average, each spring, 1,000 very hungry deer will be left on the island. The other 400 succumbing to a natural death, which is usually a quite unromantic, painful and protracted affair.
Over a 10-year period 4,000 red deer will also die on Hog Island without any hunting – the meat ends up as food for scavengers. It is all quite natural.
Industrial meat production.
The inhabitants of Hog Island eat just as much meat as the inhabitants of Stag Island. Their meat is supplied by the island’s typical pig farm. As a Hog Island pig weighs much the same as an average red deer, the pig farmer on Hog Island needs to produce 350 pigs for slaughter annually to meet demand. These pigs are transported by lorry to an industrial abattoir to be slaughtered after a life (if you can bring yourself to call it that) of 6 months, spent in a cramped stall. For every three pigs that end up on the islander’s dinner plates, another pig dies on the farm and is taken away for destruction. This gives an additional 117 dead pigs annually, bringing the total up to 467 pigs.
Over 10 years 8,670 large mammals will die on Hog Island WITHOUT hunting, compared to 4,000 on Stag Island WITH hunting. It is a simple calculation. As far as the deer are concerned both life and death are better on Stag Island. There is sufficient food during the winter and a hunter’s bullet is a far less distressing death than a drawn out “natural” death.
In most of the western world there is none – or very few – natural predators of the large ungulates. So what happens if the Hog Island people decide to throw in a pack of wolves? With predators the future population of deer will fluctuate greatly. As the deer population will never exceed the carrying capacity of the area there will on average be a significantly smaller number of deer on Hog Island with natural predators in the equation. Fewer deer born equals fewer deer dying. But there will still be dying significantly more large mammals on Hog Island WITHOUT hunting than on Stag Island WITH hunting.
If the inhabitants of Hog Island took the step of all becoming vegans “for the sake of the animals”, the number of animals dying on their island would come down to the same level as that on Stag Island – or lower if natural predators are introduced and left unmanaged. The deer of Hog Island will however still experience either starvation every winter or death “by jaws and claws” in contrast to their counterparts on Stag Island, so if deer were able to reflect over their lives, the Stag Island model WITH hunting would always be the most attractive.
The example of these two islands of course only exists on paper. But even though the real world is far more complicated, the principles also hold true on a larger scale as long as the hunting is managed in a sustainable manner. Managing a population of game animals sustainably actually means that hunting has no influence on the population size. Hunting simply replaces a part of the natural mortality rate, which would occur under all circumstances. When it comes down to brass tacks, sustainable hunting is all about taking care of a valuable natural resources. Throughout the western world governments employ wildlife biologists, who are financed from the millions hunters pay for their hunting, to ensure populations of game animals are carefully monitored so they can be managed sustainably.
Unfortunately there are far too many people on the planet for the demand for meat to be met with meat from game alone. In reality this resource only could supply a fraction of our meat consumption. But for every pheasant, goose or roe deer that ends up on our plates, we have done the environment, animal welfare and ourselves a little service. The more game we can harvest for meat in a sustainable manner, the better it is for animal welfare, the environment and our own health in general.
The flip-side of the coin
It would of course to be dishonest not to include the animals wounded by hunters into the ethical equation. Animals are wounded when they are not killed outright by the hunters shot, which is a situation all true hunters will do everything to avoid (man is the only predator on the planet that aims for a quick, clean pain-free kill). No matter how careful hunters are, wounded game will never be eliminated totally – the animals hunted are wild and the hunters are only human – mistakes happen! On average, when hunting with a rifle, far less than five percent of the animals shot are wounded, and the majority of these animals are found quickly and put out of their misery.
Without in any way trying to brush the wounding problem under the carpet, wounded animals, are to a great extent, acceptable when the total ethics of hunting are taking into consideration. It may sound cynical but there is no reason to believe that a wounded animals suffers more than an animal dying from hunger, cold, disease or injury. Return to our island example ALL the deer on Hog Island will experience a natural – and therefore often lengthy and painful – death, while the vast majority of the deer on Stag Island will die in seconds, never knowing what hit them.
Are hunters the environmental heroes of our time? Do we go hunting primarily to save the world and be kind to animals? No – not really. We hunt because we enjoy the lifestyle and the total experience of the hunt, which can be very different from hunter to hunter. Typically this involves a continuous process with elements of habitat management, dog training, target practice, outdoor life, social activities with other hunters, hunting and the subsequent preparation of meat and possibly trophies. Of course the fact that hunting is sustainable and makes a positive contribution to animal welfare, the environment and healthy living is a vital component of this lifestyle.
But nobody is trying to hide the fact that we hunt because it is exciting, and it is also no secret that hunters are not overwhelmed by guilt every time he or she shoots and animal. In fact there is absolutely no reason to be – quite the reverse.