My Facebook wall has recently been fairly covered with images and rants (for and against) Kendall Jones. If you are fortunate enough not to know who Kendall Jones is, she is a Texas Tech cheerleader who hunts big game. She has generated a lot of controversy by posting pictures of her with her kills, and taking a combative position on her hunting. There is a Change.org petition to bar her from traveling to Africa (that's a US petition to bar a US citizen from legally travelling to engage in legal activities on a different continent), and there are people literally calling for her to be killed. Much of the outrage seems to stem from the mistaken belief that non-lethal eco-tourism is a better and more effective way to promote and effect conservation. Many people who oppose hunting honestly believe that photographing wildlife does more to preserve species than killing them does. It makes sense, it's logical, it's false.
According to National Geographic the 18,500 hunters that annually travel to Africa to hunt big game animals bring in 200 million dollars a year. That averages out to US$ 10,810 per hunter. That is just what they are paying to hunt. That is not the cost of flights and accommodations. How many eco-tourists could or would pay ten thousand dollars for a photo tour?
But let's take a look closer to home. If you enjoy seeing wildlife, and you live in the lower 48, you should thank a hunter. There were 12.5 million hunters in the US in 2006. That was a drop of 1.6 million over the preceding period of 15 years. That means that less than five percent of the population was hunting. But that five percent accounted for 75% of the funding for state wildlife agencies. And that does not factor in Federal Duck Stamps which can be thanked for 5.2 million preserved acres (National Geographic, November 2007). The Fish and Wildlife Service has a little blurb about this.
In the US we have lots of numbers being tracked. One number that the US Fish and Wildlife Service tracks is how many people are "wildlife watching participants." Wildlife watching participants are the people who are out enjoying the wildlife and taking pictures. Those people number 71 million, and comprise 30% of the population. Six times as many people are engaging in non-hunting wilderness activities, but they provide only a fraction of the revenue from their actions. It is nice to imagine that hiking and bird-watching do more to protect species than the slaughter of innocent animals, but it is a pretty lie.
On a personal level, I do not understand the desire to hunt predators. I have not been an active hunter in recent years, though I hope to change that in the relatively near future. I have killed a number of animals, but for food or to put them out of their misery. I do not like killing animals. Every time I have to kill something it is a psychic pain, and for me that pain is managed by knowing that the animal will be used respectfully, or will no longer be suffering. When I do hunt I am happy to let someone else do the shooting and I'll do the skinning and cleaning. For me the killing of animals is not fun, and that is true for many people. That is not true for many hunters, and obviously not for Kendall Jones.
On a deep level I find safari style big game hunts unseemly.
While I do not understand the desire to hunt predators, I am glad that there are people who do along with laws to control their behaviors. I understand that most people from the Lower 48 have grown up in a setting where the wilderness is contained and their ancestors wiped out most of the animals that would kill them and eat them. When apex predators are not a part of your life it can be hard to remember that they are in fact dangerous. It is seductive to believe that nature is naturally balanced and without human interference life simply moves along with all animals at stable levels. The science does not support this however, animal populations fluctuate. During times of plentiful food prey animal populations rise. This is followed by predator population rises. Predators hunt the prey until populations drop to a point where the predators start to stave and die off.
For an example of the effect of predators on prey populations we can look at Yellowstone. In 1995 the elk population had risen to over 19,000. That year wolves were reintroduced. In 2012 there were 4,174. In 2013 there were 3,915. If we want to keep a healthy elk population and wolf population we are going to need to control the wolf population.
But back to Kendall and her African safaris. Is there a measurable benefit to allowing hunters to kill endangered animals? According to National Geographic there is. In the same article I linked to earlier National Geographic claims that regulated hunts can be thanked for bringing the white rhino population from 50 to over 11,000 because the hunts gave ranch owners an incentive to repopulate their properties. This is where we get to the meat of what hunting does for species.
When people just want to take pictures of majestic animals they are not likely to be willing to pay thousands of dollars to take one picture. Africa is not a continent sized game preserve. It is a continent with dozens of countries and more than 1.03 billion people on it. Those are 1.03 billion people who need to eat and don't want to be killed by animals. If there is no economic incentive to keeping dangerous animals around, how are they going to be protected. The animals that we like so much (lions, cheetahs, leopards, rhinos, hippos, elephants, etc) are threats to people who live with them. A lion might be majestic, but the majesty of the lion might be tarnished in your eyes if it ate your children and livestock. Why would you protect an animal that will only harm you? If you could make a living off of the management of lions you would have an incentive to protect them. Maybe you could then afford better housing and protection for your livestock.
Legal big game hunts are vital to the survival of endangered animals. Maybe someday humanity will be evolved enough that we need no motivation beyond love of wilderness to create adequate protections for animals, but someday is not today. Right now we still need incentives to live with violent and dangerous animals.
Still, I don't think that the vitriol aimed at Kendall Jones is based on rational thought about the welfare of species. Kendall occupies a bizarre intersection of feminism and misogyny. She is a stereotypically attractive young woman. She has orange skin, lots of makeup, and she is thin; the American ideal. She also has a bright smile that she flashes in her photos with dead animals. You can find plenty of article claiming a feminist perspective that characterize her hunting as catering to misogynistic hunter goddess stereotypes. You can also find plenty of articles that imply that her taking pleasure in the hunt is unwomanly and unseemly.
She also courts controversy. She posts inflammatory statements. She makes her hunts a political statement. It should not be surprising that she has run afoul of a lot of feminists when she has positioned herself in opposition to many progressive values. But I think it is a bit of hypocrisy to promote female equality and then excoriate a young woman for hunting. But that is just my perspective. I consider myself a feminist, but for me the goal of feminism is to make a world where my daughter can choose to live how she wants to live. I do not want my daughter to feel forced to conform to a feminist ideal of how she should live her life any more than I want her forced to wear a burqua. That said, I would be much more understanding if she wanted to be a vegetarian lesbian investment banker than if she wanted to wear a burqua... But I like to think that I would try to give her space to make her choices (please Abby, no burquas).
Kendall Jones seems like a bit of a jerk to me. I'm fine with her hunting, and helping conservation with her activities. I'm fine with her pursuing atypical interests. I'm even fine with her cynical courting of controversy. But I do not like the conflation of fame and infamy. But it is not Kendall's fault that being a jerk is just as good as having talent to achieve notoriety in our country. She is not committing crimes, she is just riling people up. And in our country riling people up is an effective way to get attention and support. If you want Kendall Jones to go away, just shut up about her.