Esquire and GQ, in their March 2012 issues, had in-depth features on what went down at Terry Thompson’s “farm” in Zanesville, Ohio in the minutes and hours after he cut open the fences and provided a very fleeting pathway to freedom for nearly 50 dangerous and previously captive exotic animals, including tigers, lions, wolves, and even a grizzly bear. Both accounts, chilling as they were, opened in the same way—recounting the story of Thompson’s neighbor who was out walking his horse in his pasture but then soon realized he was being watched by an African lion in a crouched position. The man, Sam Kopchak, decided to walk and not run—so as not to trigger a predatory response from the lion—toward his barn, got in, and then locked the door behind him. He then called his mother to indicate something was wrong and to tell her to stay inside her house.
As Kopchak hunkered down in the barn, sheriff’s deputies began arriving at the location and their boss, Sheriff Matt Lutz, realized, with dusk rapidly approaching, that they had to hunt down and kill the animals, some of whom had charged the sheriff’s deputies. Many of the officers said they were traumatized by the actions they took that day.
African elephants are one of the “Big Five”
sought by trophy hunters.
It got me to thinking that there are people, including Donald Trump’s two sons who were in the news yesterday, who are ready to travel to all ends of the earth to seek out opportunities to shoot and kill remarkable animals, like lions and bears, not for necessity or public safety, but for kicks and trophies. Newsday reported yesterday that Donald Trump, Jr. and his brother Eric went to Zimbabwe last year and shot elephants, crocodiles, Cape buffalo, and all manner of other animals in a killing spree.
What possesses these sons of privilege, who have the means to give to charity or do good works in the world, to destroy life for the thrill of the kill, for trophies, and for bragging rights? It’s one thing, it seems, to hunt for food and utilize the carcass, and it’s another to kill animals in a head-hunting exercise, especially if you are part of “the one percent.” Actually, it’s pretty much only folks in the one percent who can afford to travel to remote parts of the world shooting up rare species in the animal kingdom, all the while doing their damndest to attach some social benefit to the killing.
Last year, GoDaddy’s then CEO, Richard Parsons, posted a video of his own animal massacre in Zimbabwe, and apparently did so with pride, before the public latched on to his gambit and let him know how appalling it was.
But the guy who’s recently dominated the news on trophy hunting is Dan Richards, the president of the California Fish and Game Commission. The HSUS came across a picture of Richards in a pose with a lion he’d just shot, after a trophy hunting guide with a pack of dogs drove the tired lion into a tree and gave Richards the perfect set-up shot.
There’s no lion hunting in California, since voters there said they wanted no part of it more than two decades ago, but Richards decided he’d trek to Idaho to fulfill his dream of shooting a big cat. California lawmakers, urged on by The HSUS, asked him to resign for thumbing his nose at the people in his state and disrespecting his office, but Richards has stubbornly refused to do so, saying he did nothing wrong. My guess is, the lion thinks there was something pretty wrong about what Richards did.
Richards may survive the scandal. Lawmakers decided they won’t oust him just yet, largely because his term expires in less than a year. His fellow commissioners are likely to strip him of his post as president, however, and I’ll take any odds that Gov. Jerry Brown won’t appoint Richards to a second term next year.
So Richards hasn’t been fired. And Donald Trump, all-powerful though he is, cannot fire his sons, though it sounds like he might want to.
But we as a society can frown on this trophy hunting mania—this killing for killing’s sake, with all its attendant rationalizations. Joseph Wood Krutch said it best more than half a century ago: ”When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him vandal. When he wantonly destroys one of the works of God we call him sportsman.”