Change the channel on trophy hunters

Markis and friend with their unfortunate victim. Image: c. NBC Sports NetworkUPDATED - 9.30.13: NBC Sports has canceled “Under Wild Skies” in response to the outpouring of public anger over the sickening images. Tony Makris didn’t help his case by comparing critics to Hitler. Whatever the network execs’ reason, good riddance.

ORIGINAL POST: Along with many of you, I believe animal suffering shouldn’t be celebrated through glorified images. The latest egregious example comes from an episode of NBC Sports Network’s “Under Wild Skies” in which National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist and show host Tony Makris shoots a bull elephant multiple times, eventually raising his rifle to shoot the animal in the face.  Makris and his hunting companion later stand over the dead bull, boasting of how they approached the animal “right in this guy’s bedroom.” “Look at this,” Makris says. “This is where he hangs out.” Of course, no elephant hunt would be complete without a glass of champagne, and Makris obliges with a bottle of bubbly beside his dead trophy.

Makris’ action—the decision to kill an animal as social and intelligent as an elephant, just for fun—is terrible enough, and the obvious glee he feels makes it even more disturbing.  NBC Sports’ decision to air this NRA-sponsored program is offensive. In showcasing Makris, by exalting the arrogance, privilege and technology that allows him to kill a vulnerable animal, NBC Sports is complicit in the offenses of Makris and his fellow trophy hunters.

The actions of Makris, the NRA and NBC Sports inhabit that gray zone where our laws—what we’re allowed to do—haven’t caught up to what we should do. We at IFAW call for an end to all trophy hunting and advocate real, meaningful conservation efforts and community solutions. Fortunately, Botswana, where the show was taped, has already announced that commercial hunting will be banned by 2014 because, as Botswana’s president observed, “We have realized that if we do not take care of our animals, we will have a huge problem in terms of tourism.”

The timing on this episode really couldn’t have been much worse. Over the last several years, poaching has spiked to meet a renewed demand for black market ivory, and tens of thousands of elephants are shot or poisoned each year for their tusks. With as few as 450,000 individuals left in the wild across the entire continent, the species is in real jeopardy and, although the international community is starting to mobilize to save them, it will be a long hard road to recovery. If ever there was a time for some humility on the part of trophy hunters, it’s now.

NBC Sports is part of the problem in this case, but we ought to recognize Makris’ actions for what they are: the vainglorious actions of a small man approaching a big, magnificent animal with a big gun.


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