My wife and I recently returned from southern Africa were we experienced one of the most incredible spectacles imaginable. On our first morning in the bush our guide was driving us and another couple from the Matashu Camp through the center of the dried out Mujale River bed in the Tuli region of Botswana in search of game when a huge bull kudo burst out of the brush along the river bank.
A kudo’s panic is usually indicative of a predator, and sure enough just as we rounded the bend in the river, we watched a female leopard ambush a large male impala. Within seconds the leopard had her jaws firmly clamped on the impala’s nose & mouth as she wrestled the antelope to the ground.
After ‘pinning’ the impala, the big cat loosened her grip on the impala’s face attempting to kill her prey quickly with a throat bite. But no sooner did the leopard release the impala’s nose & mouth than the impala fought its way back to its feet thrashing with its razor-sharp hooves.
Three times the leopard wrestled the impala to the ground attempting to grab onto the animal’s throat and each time the impala would fight its way back to its feet. Finally, realizing she wasn’t going to kill the antelope with a throat bite, the leopard slowly suffocated her prey with her jaws firmly clamped on the animal’s nose and mouth—20 minutes later; all life was drained from the impala.
I suspect to some this story may sound a bit gruesome—and in retrospect I guess it was. But at the time none of us in the vehicle felt repulsed or sickened by what we had witnessed. This was life on the African savannah, savage perhaps, but nevertheless the entire event felt ‘orderly’ or fitting in some manner. An inexpressible feeling permeated our open Land Rover, but surprisingly, it wasn’t a feeling of shock or sadness, rather I think that while each of us was emotionally drained in some manner, we also realized we had been privileged front-row spectators (we were perhaps twenty-five feet away) to the natural order at work.
Meanwhile, fifty miles north in another camp, four men set out in search of an adult male lion. The group comprised a guide, two trackers and a wealthy developer from Florida who was spending in excess of $65,000 to shoot and kill an African lion. In place of Nikons and Canons these intrepid hunters carried .458 magnum rifles with hollow point ammo and telescopic sights. They were also equipped with laser range finders, micro lights, GPS and other satellite positioning equipment and tracked their quarry in a rugged 4 X 4 Land Rover outfitted with infrared night vision devices—all they lacked was close air support.
In the first scenario, nature ensured that two animals were evenly matched—yes, I know the leopard was the predator with its deadly claws and crushing canines, but the impala had the eyesight, sense of smell and hearing to detect the big cat and successfully flee. Nature had given both the impala and leopard the attributes necessary for survival, and while the death struggle was assuredly a grisly scene, it was nevertheless fair and it felt ‘ordered’ or appropriate. A big male impala was dead, but a young female leopard lived another day because of her prey’s demise.
However, at the second camp, the “trophy hunt” was hardly what one could call fair or even a true hunt for that matter. The huntsmen from camp #2 weren’t attempting to provide food for their families; nor were they engaged in ‘sport,’ because sport by definition entails an activity of a competitive nature. And with their array of hi-tech gadgetry, this “hunt” was about as competitive as shooting deer in a zoo.
No, our heroes weren’t seeking sport, they were seeking the pleasure of shooting and killing one of the most regal creatures that has ever graced this planet—which by the way may soon be extinct as there are now fewer than 20,000 lions remaining in Africa.
It is beyond my comprehension how anyone can observe a lion, leopard, rhino or elephant in the wild and receive pleasure or enjoyment in pulling the trigger and ending the life of one of these truly magnificent creatures. There will always be men who choose to shoot and kill these animals as a form of recreation; but for the life of me, I’ll never understand how they can actually take pleasure from doing so.
Quote of the day: “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”—Immanual Kant