This newspaper published a picture last week of four people with a California bighorn ram.
The only one not smiling was the ram, which is understandable given that it was dead and, indeed, bodiless. When it was shot in 1920 it was believed to be close to a world record.
Not having further use for the stuffed head, the nice lady who inherited it thoughtfully turned it over to the Rocky Mountain Rangers, as a ram forms part of the company’s insignia.
I propose no criticism of this kindly gesture, though I’ve always found taxidermy to be a grotesque, albeit skilled, practice. This is because I find the notion of killing animals whose only offence is to be the biggest, strongest or prettiest of their species disturbing.
Trophy hunting is an aberrant twist on the concept of wildlife stewardship. I recently talked with a pleasant gentleman who likes to go to Africa to shoot animals, the bigger the better. I presume he’s a member of a group known as the Boone and Crocket Club, whose major raison d’etre is to hunt down the best examples of the gene pools of species throughout the world.
When they “bag” a “good one” (and there are criteria for determining what is “a good one” and what isn’t) they are awarded points. The ultimate brass ring is entry into the club’s records book.
The record for an elk, for example, is a magnificent bull with nine points on one antler and 14 on the other. It is, the B&C acknowledges, an “incredible” specimen. His descendants, if any survive, would be proud, I’m sure.
(For the record, as it were, the largest land mammal ever shot for “sport” was a 13-ft.-high Angolan elephant brought down by three hunters who blazed away at it for several hours one day in 1956.)
At this time of year, when most of us are thinking of Santa and eight tiny reindeer, trophy hunters have visions of a nice set of antlers above the mantle.
Being a trophy hunter is no easy gig. The rigours of tracking down four-hoofed adversaries are explained in the latest edition of Outdoor Life magazine: “You’re cold, you’re tired and you’re frustrated. The last remaining days of deer season might not be for the faint of heart, but it’s a great time to take the biggest deer of your life.”
One veritably weeps in sympathy for the gallant “sportsman” who has little more than a 4X4, thermal long johns and a high-powered rifle for defence against the vicious ungulates that prowl the forests.
It has been said homo sapiens is the only species on the planet that kills for fun. That’s not quite true — my old cat Square Box seemed to find pleasure, on occasion, in tossing around a fat mousie before crunching it up.
Non-human hunters, though, take what they can find; they don’t go looking to cull prime specimens. Even Square Box enjoyed a tiny vole as much as he did a two-pound pack rat.
No, I’m afraid you’ll never hear me compliment a trophy hunter on bagging a big one.
In a world in which we regard animals as our play things rather than sentient beings, how encouraging it is to learn, on these same pages, of the man who is trying to stop careless motorists from slaughtering deer as they cross busy Westsyde Road.
Thank you, Gerd Dessau, for reminding us there are still people among us who understand the definition of stewardship.