I stood over my near kill, ready to do the noble thing: to put it out of its misery. I had winged the garden lizard with a shot from my air gun taken from our fourth-floor Mumbai flat. Point blank I took aim and fired. The wretched air gun jammed: repeatedly. Merci-fully the lizard took matters in its own hand and died.
I had never felt so bankrupt before. I obviously hadn’t thought this through before firing. What was I going to do with my “kill”? Certainly not skin it and barbeque it over a fire, or, mount its head on my bedroom wall.
The incident took place donkeys’ years ago. After that, I never pointed the gun at any living creature. I can understand hunting to stay alive but how hunting is deemed as a “sport” is beyond my comprehension. Sport implies that both sides have an equal opportunity to win. Here, the quarry has next to no chance at winning, at best it can possibly escape, hopefully without injury. Which is why today there are so few wild animals – tigers, leopards, wolves, rhinoceros, elephants – left.
For hunting to be a sport, one should set out on foot, alone, with, at the most, a hunting knife in the belt (unarmed you stand no chance against even a langur!). Not in a Jeep with searchlights and you with a sniper’s rifle equipped with telescopic sights, range finder, night-vision and, maybe, a silencer (if you are pragmatic), capable of taking down a 2-ton rhino at 2,000m.
Certainly, it was much worse in the past, when the killing was at genocidal levels. In one notorious shoot, Lord Linlithgow (then Viceroy of India) and party took down over 4,000 ducks in a single day’s shoot in Bharatpur. Thousands of tigers were killed in the 19th and 20th centuries by hunters – white and royal – in elaborate shoots involving war elephants and armies of beaters: sport again! Of course, we’ve banned most hunting in India since 1972 and have been exhorting wildlife conservation (even though these days, wildlife seems to be looking down the barrel of a gun held by the government slated to protect it).
Which is why it is so appalling that celebrities keep getting caught hunting illegally, some brazenly so, in wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks. These role models for millions across the country behave like rogue models. Their mindset is simple: we’re privileged, we can do anything we like and will somehow be able to wriggle out of a sticky situation should one arise. No problem! Get into the Jeep and tally-ho! This is the message being sent out. You can imagine the effect this has on testosterone-fuelled youths hell-bent upon impressing their girlfriends.
Sure, big game hunting no longer happens anywhere near the scale it did in the past, but the “lesser” animals, and, especially birds, are still “fair game” — and are taken down. As are those animals which have been declared “vermin” as wild boar and nilgai in some states.
But I guess we should be grateful for small mercies. We are nowhere as bad as South Africa and the US, where hunting is permitted in specific (usually privately owned) wildernesses in specific seasons. What is the pits is the practice of “canned hunting”, where, in private wildlife parks (in both South Africa and the US, and maybe other countries too), wild animals — tiger, lion, deer, bear, antelope, elephant, rhino and more — are assembly-line bred for the kill.
Inbreeding is rampant and often cubs are removed from their mothers soon after birth so she can have another litter Asap (this is the equivalent of what, for example, a new male lion does when he takes over a pride of females — kills all the existing cubs so he can quickly expand his gene pool). These animals are let out into large enclosures and the brave hunter goes in after them (in a vehicle or maybe even on foot, with or without dogs) and takes down the “kill” with his magnificent rifle. There was a furor a year or two ago when a famous (and good-looking) lion was taken down by an American dentist on one such “safari”. Of course, the “hunters” have to pay through their noses for the “sport”, but that’s how these places survive and thrive (their defence: it’s better to allow this kind of hunting since it protects true wild stock).
The other sick aspect of hunting is how the head, skin or stuffed body of the kill can be regarded as a “trophy”. Can you imagine what we’d think of a serial killer who did this with the heads or skins or bodies of his victims? (headhunters kept skulls in the past; Madame Tussauds keeps famous bodies today, mercifully made with wax!)
As for me, I need to make a small confession: While I will never point a gun at any living creature, I will not hesitate to take the toilet brush to a psychotic centipede charging at me in the shower! Or, maliciously squish a mosquito so bloated with my blood it can’t even stagger away, let alone fly. And that’s only fair because it hunted me down while I was sleeping. That’s as bad as canning hunting!