I’ve been devoted to animal protection for 30 years, and while I’ve seen extraordinary cases of heroism and sacrifice, I’ve also seen so many unconscionable acts of cruelty—so much pain and disregard for the value of life. While I often think I’ve seen everything, there are times when I see a level and expression of malice that I’ve not witnessed ever before.
That’s the reaction I had when I watched an American trophy hunter, from Columbus, Ohio, engage in a stunningly unethical trophy hunt for a black bear in Alberta—a three-faceted act of evil. Josh Bowmar, 26, baited the animal, even though baiting is widely frowned upon by any self-respecting hunter as unfair and is outlawed for bear hunting in the vast majority of U.S. states. He conducted the hunt during the spring, when mothers are nursing dependent cubs; if the hunter shoots a lactating mother, the trophy hunter dooms the entire family group. And worst of all—and the distinguishing feature of this incident—the hunter used a homemade seven-foot-long spear to impale this poor creature, who was just trying to get a snack at the bait site.
The worst part of the spectacle, which Bowmar and his wife recorded as some sort of audio-visual memento—in part by attaching a GoPro camera to his homemade spear—was the awful scream of the bear. But what was also shocking was the breathless celebration of the hunter, acting as if he had really gotten somewhere in life and achieved something no one had done before. He’s probably right—very few people have ever engaged in depravity and evil quite like he did. He’s so deeply disconnected from the suffering of an innocent creature that he felt free to yell and prance with joy as the life was spilling out of this innocent animal.
Now the man’s face is all over global media—not because anybody thinks he did something special, but because he is a sociopath. He’s this year’s version of Walter Palmer—who, before he killed a lion after luring him from a national park, had been arrested for the unethical killing of a black bear in Wisconsin. Black bears are the world’s most sought after hunting trophy, by far surpassing any other in terms of global trade. A sad fate for these powerful yet typically very gentle creatures.
Many hunters will denounce Bowmar for damaging the reputation of sport hunting. But it appears that there will be no serious legal consequences for what he did.
Cases like this remind us that we must strengthen the law. Our attitudes toward animals evolve for the better, and there is more antipathy for acts of cruelty like the one from Alberta. At one time, cockfighting and dogfighting were legal. Then we got our act together as a society and forbade these practices as depraved, archaic, and inhumane.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service recently adopted a series of rules to prohibit unethical hunting and killing practices on 100 million acres of national wildlife refuges and national preserves in Alaska. Their rules, which still have some holes in them, are a triumph. Yet Alaska’s congressional delegation is screaming bloody murder that there’s a federal overreach, and we are going to face an epic battle in Congress to preserve the rulemakings and prevent them from being overturned.
But how can any self-respecting person tolerate aerial hunting of grizzly bears, the killing of wolves and their pups in their dens, and the baiting of grizzly bears— the sorts of practices that the federal government has banned on the most important federal lands in Alaska. These are the very definition of appalling acts—right in line with what Josh Bowmar and Walter Palmer did. We shouldn’t need a picture (Walter Palmer) or a video (Josh Bowmar) to remind us of evil conduct. Certain things are just beyond the pale. We know plenty right now. These despicable acts should have no apologists, and no lawful practitioners.