Trophy Hunting: How I see it!
Trophy Hunting: How I see it!
by Dieter Schramm, President CIC International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation
The trophies from my last Central African Hunt were overdue for many months already – finally, the taxidermist called ”your trophies arrived – but forget it – the buffalo skulls were over- cooked, the bone is porous, black, rotten, the bosses have shrunk, there’s no way I can save them….!”
Why was I so shocked, why indeed? Was it the financial loss – no, not really. Was it the loss of a big “record” trophy? No, the horns were rather insignificant on this scale. Why then did I feel deceived, why did I feel a sense of hurt and loss? It’s quite simple – because my personal mementos of an unforgettable chase in wild lands, the tangible memories of a true hunt, had been ruined beyond repair.
For me, the remembrance of a hunting experience through the trophy carries the deeper meaning of collecting trophies. Yet I appreciate that other people can have different motives – so let us have a more detailed look at the controversial phenomenon what is commonly called a hunting “trophy”.
Linguistically, the term trophy originates from the Greek “tropaion” – in its direct translation “a sign of victory”, which originally was nothing but a signpost placed by the victorious army at exactly the point, where the enemy was turned to flight – hence was defeated. Since we as “fair chase” hunters do not consider game our enemy, this interpretation from the ancient Greeks leads us nowhere; it is, therefore, not applicable in a hunting context.
Delving a bit deeper into the matter, we discover, however, a second aspect, which is also somewhat connected with victory – the celebration of a successful endeavor. “Trophy” in this context describes the celebration of something memorable! The trophy may thus be considered a sort of memorabilia to mark an experience crowned by success. As such the symbolic value of a trophy is relatively easy to understand. When the hunter looks at the trophies on the wall, she or he is engaging in one of humanity’s primary privileges: self-assertion and the experience of joy and happiness.
To this we may add another human trait – striving to be equal, or superior, to others. After all, it is “my trophy” I am looking at, hard-earned and well-deserved. The chicken in the hen house have a pecking order; the wolf pack is lead by an Alpha pair. But social hierarchy is by no means a privilege of the chicken or the wolves. Simply said, we, as members of the human race, also live in our hen house and try to obtain and/or maintain our adequate rank there. Let’s take a closer look at the trophy in this context as well.
If we accept the term trophy as a symbol of success – then we have nowadays far more trophies than our ancestors ever dreamt of: there are trophies in all forms of competitive sports; there are other trophies, some taking form of “proof of success”, in most of our daily activities. Just look at school reports, university certificates, medals, and a wide array of titles of whatever connotation. I am also certainly not far off the mark when I identify the social significance of certain status symbols such as expensive automobiles, boats, private planes and even – my lady readers hopefully condone what follows – second, third and forth “trophy wives”, as originating in our ancestral hunting culture. The hunter who supplied sufficient food for the tribe was duly recognized and honored with a “trophy” in terms of an elevated position in his society. Most of them – to some extent, at least – are considered acceptable human behavioral traits.
But let’s look at one obviously negative aspect. I am talking about exaggeration – the going beyond the bounds of reason or as a matter of fact, beyond the bounds of good taste.
We encounter this when we enter the realm of the braggart, the egotistic trophy-maniac. Bragging, obviously, is one distinctly human attribute and by no means part of the trophy. Rather, the braggart misuses the trophy for egotistical reasons. We all know that any type of excess generates reactions. And excessive trophy-centered behavior does just this – it provokes many of the non-hunters in our society.
Of course, we also want to “record” the result of the sustainable hunting harvest – but the hunters need to redefine the innocent word “record trophy” since it is, unfortunately, perceived now with a very negative image in non-hunting circles of society. Abominable excesses, like the artificial manipulation of semi or fully domesticated so-called game animals with homunculus horns or antlers to be released on shooting-preserves for the executioner’s rifle in Europe, New Zealand and North America, or the soon to be abandoned practice of canned lion shooting in South Africa, must be exposed as what they are. These activities are neither wildlife management, nor hunting – and the horns and antlers obtained there cannot be hunting trophies!
The reduction of the individual and very personal value of hunting trophies to score sheets with numbers is deplorable. In fact, trophy mania destroys our hunting culture and makes mockery of our traditions. I state this as President of CIC, an organization which gained acknowledgement over many decades through its formulas for trophy scoring. The CIC has never shied from assuming responsibility; therefore we address the issues connected with the misuse of scoring systems by some. We consider the recording of trophies and the respective databases as conservation tool to show the value of sustainable and regulated hunting. Within this trophy philosophy, we place emphasis on bio zindicators and good wildlife management practices; large antlers or horns of a mature trophy are the natural result of a vibrant game population. Within this philosophy we also need to publicly recognize that the often cited “representative” trophy and not the occasional “world’s record” or the few exceptionally high-scoring ones are the normative of the mentioned indicators. The CIC has again taken an initiative by fostering a platform for dialogue during this year’s General Assembly in Belgrade with the symposium “Trophy Hunting, Hunting Trophies and Trophy Recording: Facts, Risks and Opportunities”.
The rare super trophies are luxuries of nature. The hunter who is lucky enough to kill a game animal with exceptional horns or antlers under fair chase conditions has all the right to celebrate this accordingly. We also recognize that global recreational hunting as one important tool in wildlife conservation would not exist without trophy hunting. The traveling hunters, who spend serious money to hunt in far-flung corners of the world, wish to bring home tangible memories from an exciting country, remarkable people and an exhilarating outdoor experience. These tangible memories find expression in the hunting trophies. The excitement of fair chase, the experience of the land and its people, and the harvesting a mature specimen which lived and died in its natural habitat, finds a just expression in the preservation of its trophy attributes. The tactful display of such a trophy immortalizes the animal and the experience.
Some might call this vanity, but I suggest that there is nothing wrong with such vanity. Indeed, let’s not be naive: vanity, particularly recognizable in the species Homo venator, is a common human behavioral pattern. And, without a doubt, it contributes to our highly personal and individualistic well being. In this context vanity is very much acceptable. Let me repeat: it is the exaggeration of glorifying the hunter, who most likely has anyhow only been extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time, which I deeply deplore.
In order to avoid any misunderstanding: I treasure my own hunting trophies! I want to make it unmistakably clear that this joy, this feeling of happiness and gratification, is an integral part of hunting. However those, who claim that ultimate happiness as a hunter lies in the scoring sheet and the ranking of a trophy, that their trophy rankings determine their hunting prowess over other hunters, are truly poor. They do not understand what hunting really means and they are certainly unable to convey the true character and meaning of the hunt to non-hunters.
To summarize: I do consider the term “trophy” as a prototype of the status symbol and as an expression of success in society. Consequently, the hunter’s success manifested in the trophy of game taken can be linked perfectly into the framework of cultural validation. In our social consciousness of today, however, the archaic hunting success has been superseded by economic success and the achievement of ranking positions of the ladder of social hierarchy. Yet, there are areas, where the economic success is not automatically considered the highest social achievement – the achievements of philosophers, painters, po- ets, composers, and so forth can never be fully measured in economic terms.
Likewise, the utilitarian and cultural changes in hunting – from subsistence to recreational hunting – have engendered changes in its social relevance. The perception of hunting has changed. Consequently, the hunter needs to adapt too, especially with regards to trophy hunting. Well regulated and ethically conducted trophy hunting plays today an important role in nature conservation. Let us not demean this importance. Let us rather honor a hunting trophy for what it represents – the individual and personal memory of an extraordinary experience, the recognition of many unfathomable strokes of luck coming together and, most of all the joy and pride in the results of sustainable wildlife management and a successful end to a fair chase.