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It is true that the human imagination knows no bounds and especially excels in coming up with new and innovative ways to exterminate the world. Nothing has escaped the wrath of the plague that is man, not animals, not forests, not rivers, not oceans and ironically not even man himself (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, anyone?). We kill for pleasure, not necessity, and what is even worse is the fact that we find a it to be completely natural. A hunter bagging a mighty beast surely looks and sounds heroic, doesn’t it? What if we were to switch sides from being the hunter to the hunted? If only we imagined the pain and sorrow that we inflict on other creatures, would we continue to do so? If the same was to be done to us, would it not be poetic justice?
The film Planet of the Apes showed us what it would be like if the roles were reversed. The scene depicting the hunt of humans by a group of chimpanzees excellently portrayed the nature of human atrocities committed against wildlife, using one excuse after another. What is more interesting about the scene is what happens after the hunt. The hunters stand proudly atop the mounds of the dead and pose for photographs, in exactly the same way as human hunters pose over a dead lion, to flaunt their bravery to their fellow beings when they return home. The scene was shocking because the victims were humans and not the other way around. So if it is so sad to see our comrades fall down at the hands of another species, why is it glorious when we kill others? The saddest part of the scene was its irony, the fact that it was the complete inverse of reality. The disgust that we felt for the chimpanzees was in fact what we should feel for ourselves, the only problem is that we don’t, but why?
Before diving straight into the problem, let’s first analyze the extent of the it. Neither majestic beasts nor small creatures have escaped the wrath of humans. Over-hunting alone has brought many species to their end. Three sub-species of the black rhinoceros remain after the extinction of the famous West African black rhinoceros sub-species in 2011, which was hunted for its horns because of the belief that it contains medicinal properties, although this belief was never scientifically validated. But what we do know for sure is that these magnificent creatures are no more. The Tasmanian tiger also found its death at the hands of man, who spared no effort in exterminating this one-of-a-kind creature. The small and lovely dodo bird of Mauritius, an island to the east of Madagascar, was not spared either. Scientists believe that the dodo was a living fossil – it existed from the time of dinosaurs and was the sole survivor among its type of birds. Just imagine the scientific breakthroughs in evolution and paleontology if only the dodo was alive for scientific studies. We have missed this opportunity only because of the greed and ego of our ancestors who saw fit to kill everything but themselves. So if it is perfectly normal to brag about killing these animals and displaying their stuffed bodies in our homes, why was the human hunt scene so unnatural? Weren’t those apes thinking about doing the exact same thing to their human victims?
Is hunting a sport or a necessity? Spoiler alert, it’s none. Primitive humans relied on hunting and foraging as their main source of food. In fact they spent almost their entire day carrying out these activities, men were the hunters whereas the women foraged. These small hunter gatherer tribes evolved over time into modern society which we know today. This social evolution was mainly attributed to a switch from hunting to livestock rearing and from foraging to agriculture. Hence, with the advent of these two techniques, hunting as an institution was no longer required, yet people continued to practice it. These people included noblemen who hunted for sport, although some might argue that the use of the term sport is incorrect, as the opposing party is not only unequipped but also unaware of the rules. An animal head trophy in someone’s living room cannot be a sports trophy – the animal never even played the game it was a one sided strike. This blood sport as some might phrase it, continues even to this day, not out of necessity, as we don’t depend on it for food, but merely for pleasure. An even greater problem lies with poachers, who have no regard for the balance of nature or the rules associated with its protection. These people not only hunt in excess, usually for valuable animal products, but also have no regard for the sanctity of protected areas. Even the mighty lions have fallen prey to their human victimizers, although the portrayal in popular media is the exact opposite, with lions depicted as the bad guys. Similarly, the awe inspiring behemoths known to us by the name of elephants have suffered as a consequence of the price put on their tusks by their killers.
Whatever excuse is used to kill these animals, the story is incomplete without looking at the hunted side. The fact is that these animals were here long before Adam set foot on this planet. Hence it is certain that the problem is not with them but with us. And they are here for a reason - the environment would become imbalanced without them. Their existence is what keeps the various components of the ecosystem in its place, which can get pretty nasty if unleashed. In simple words, the wrath of nature may just be one more extinction away. The anthropocentric views of modern society may provide a good enough reason to subjugate everything else but this view is not going to stop the destruction brought in the wake of natural disasters, which would set upon us if all the elements keeping them from surfacing are wiped off. For instance, our hatred towards carnivores tends to drive us to going to any extent to kill them, the simple logic being: they kill our cattle and our people, so we kill them. Yes they do, what else can they do when all of their natural prey has been depleted due to our encroachment on their territory? And if we do manage to kill these carnivores, the problem won’t end, but rather a new and more serious threat will come to haunt us – the herbivores, usually ungulates (goats, sheep, etc.), with their predators out of the way will experience a population explosion and wipe out all pastures. These herbivores will even spread diseases among domesticated animals, causing their deaths, as these animals would have no prior exposure to such disease agents and would not be prepared to fight against them. Moreover, the delicate balance of nature, when disturbed, can literally destroy everything.
In fact this selfish human behaviour was used as an excuse by chimpanzees for their maltreatment (in the movie). Humans were viewed as disgusting objects, not without reason, and treated as inferior beings – in fact not even as beings but rather as a disease which demands immediate extermination. Ironically this is how we behave towards wildlife, we treat any animal species which comes in our way, due to our intrusion, as pests that have to be exterminated if we are to be comfortable. The irony of the movie is that chimpanzees have been accurately anthropomorphized and humans have been reduced to nothing but primitive animals with no IQ whatsoever. The movie perfectly summarizes the crimes committed by man on everything else and how karma would work in this regard.
We do know that government laws can and should be enforced in order to mitigate this problem. But the role of ordinary citizens is also important in this matter. The first and foremost action that we can take is to boycott all products made from hunted animals, such as ivory, animal hides, teeth and claws (if they brought good luck, don’t you think the animal would have still been alive), or live wild animals as pets, all these are usually illegal and have serious implications on wild populations. Another step that can be taken in this regard is to spread awareness to one's friends and relatives and warn them of the dangers of buying such products. With the demand of animal products down in the dust there won’t be any reason for poachers to kill them. Animals, like us, are living beings, with the right to live, perhaps even more so than us, to be on this planet. Around 99 per cent of all species that ever inhabited this little planet of ours are no longer and unless we stop killing and destroying everything around us, we might also join those relics of the past. The moviemakers may have meant something different from the human hunt scene but I saw man being punished for the relentless destruction of all wildlife that he caused, and heaven forbid if such a day should come when our species is indeed punished for its sins in this regard. At least let us stand tall on that day and proudly declare that we did all that we could to save wildlife.
Syed Muhammad Khan is studying Zoology at Government Science College, Lahore.