Opinion

Auctioning of polar bear hunts in Las Vegas is an affront to humanity

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”

       —Albert Schweitzer  

“When the last living thing

Has died on account of us,

How poetical it would be

If Earth could say,

perhaps,

from the floor

Of the Grand Canyon,

‘It is done.’

People did not like it here.”

     —Kurt Vonnegut, “Man Without a Country”

To see the polar bear is to witness the great living ghost of the North — but with trophy hunting and climate change its population might well be tested in the coming decades. As the movement to ban trophy imports accelerates in the U.K., there are equally avid aficionados of the killing game as Eduardo Goncalves has called them who have recently decided to auction off polar bears in Las Vegas as well as highlighting in their macabre showcase an entire arsenal of vanquished creatures who once lived wild, free and unhindered in the few remaining square feet of wildness that still exists on the planet.

it should also come as no surprise that there are those who would auction off the possibility to kill off a few of these sublime monarchs, just for recreation, to be able to say they derived some great pleasure driving a projectile through the flesh of a being that evolved over hundreds of millennia in the hardest conditions on Earth. To finally possess the being in death. A great being had been subdued. Utterly vanquished. The whole ritual akin to the slow death we are imposing on our host as a whole, the Earth. 

As opposed to the local people who made the polar bear a sacrosanct member of their cosmology and who honored even the supervening spirit bear. A being visiting us from another planet would have to say that to derive satisfaction in taking out the life of such a being for no reason other than enjoying its subjugation was tantamount to killing a member of one’s own family. They might emphasize that we deserved extinction for such grotesque behavior.  

There is movement about to stop the killing of the innocent; trophy imports of all kinds of imperiled species into the U.K. may soon be forbidden. It is the decision to oppose the adorning of living rooms with mutilated effigies of bears that has taken the United Kingdom by storm. The decision will have worldwide implications. In opposed to the movement to try to ban trophy imports in England there are some who have decided upon themselves to try to auction off polar bears in Las Vegas at Safari Club International’s 50 Anniversary gathering.

The searing desert of a perfectly synthetic city is the best place to remind Americans of the endangered ice at the top of the world. Safari Club International members have recently convened to try to sell licenses to enable hunters to shoot the greatest predator on Earth — the polar bear, among many other species trying to survive the full range of inhumanity. They seem to be trying to outwit, antagonize and play a game of oneupmanship on what is happening in the U.K.  

For cynegetic — hunting — man nature functioned as a syntax, Paul Shepard reminds us. Man needed to hunt to survive. In this “economic and cultural system we have fabricated, we live in an anthropocentric fantasy world of economic exchanges and entertainment, all of which is a second nature.” Primary nature has become almost superfluous. The motion to stop the importation of trophies in the U.K. has its demonic doppelgänger in those who continue to rationalize extermination. 

Author Morten Jorgensen from Norway says killing polar bears for trophies is gravely jeopardizing the great predator of the highest latitude. In “Polar Bears on the Edge,” he stated that “Almost all current polar bear hunting happens in violation of the 1973 agreement signed by all polar bear range states.” Fifty years ago there may have been as few as 12,000 polar bears, and while there may be as many as 20,000 or more, today some believe there may have been 50,000 a century ago. Black bears — one of the most important animal families in the northern hemisphere — continue to be killed in the tens of thousands in America. Humans continue to mutilate and sacrifice bears, perhaps the most vital animal in the memory of our northern hemispheric existence in the name of vanity.

Of late, there have been more polar bears coming into towns across the Arctic, especially coming into direct contact with Indigenous people who have always depended on the bear as subsistence hunters. That the bear should come into more frequent contact with humans should come as no surprise considering their normal platform of operation is melting, but this does not mean that polar bear numbers are increasing. As we learned several years ago from Madsen, an elder from Ittoqqortoormiit, eastern Greenland, while years ago one had to go hours out of one’s way to find polar bears, that is no longer the case. Sometimes polar bear come into town to eat leftovers of dog food, and Madsen would be charged with scaring the bears off so no children would be hurt. It was nearly a full-time job. Polar bears would now come into town all year round. Polar bears are staying on land longer than on the ice especially with peaks in January and July. The places that used to have sea ice are now devoid of sea ice. Polar bears are getting hungrier and hungrier.

As one elder has said, “because of the new ice conditions …the ice disappears and there is a lot less, when it finally comes, it disappears.” Sea ice freezes much later in the season, and what sea ice there is, is far more dangerous to sled on. Most Inuit agree that bears are more aggressive now. While years ago bears feared humans more, now they are more aggressive. As their food supply is diminished, polar bears are become more daring going as far as eating even the bones of seals and not just their fat and skins. Some are even eating themselves. This is what our species has foisted upon the greatest land predator on Earth.

Polar bears face an increasingly tenuous future. As their interactions with the ice has changed, so have their interactions with humans. Their most toxic relationship is with trophy hunters who wear their profligate behavior as if it were a badge of honor. Professor Andrew Derocher of the University of Alberta is not pro-hunting or anti-hunting when it comes to the Inuit, but recognizes that if there were a decline in polar bears in the Canada or Alaska, the Inuit would be the first to acknowledge the issue and stop hunting or follow a moratorium. As a scientist he makes no moral or ethical judgement on the shooting of polar bear for people who have depended on them for millennia for food and clothing and even ceremonial practices. Andrew does not believe polar bears will go extinct anytime soon but admits we are still in the early phases of climate change. He is presently more concerned with risk factors such as parasites and pollution from industry which take a toll on bear health across the Arctic but readily admits that the Inuit will be the first to willingly stop hunting if climate change proves to be a menace to polar bears to the point where populations are threatened. The Inuit, however, do not like trophy hunters. They have lived off the body of the polar bear for millennia and respected every part of the flesh and spirit of the ice bear. So called sport hunting had no place in their world view.

The latest attempt to sell licenses to enable “sportsmen” in Las Vegas to kill polar bears is vulgarity, and depravity emblematic of a certain segment of America. I have heard it said about elephants, that those who willingly kill elephants for no reason are cursed. I would not be surprised if there were one last elder in Nunavut in the high Arctic who knew the old ways, who once recited prayers to the spirit of the polar bear and who believes the same thing about those who wantonly kill polar bear. That elder would send a curse out to those who gained power over a once supreme being who is now lifeless, inert, and stuffed, gazing with glass eyes over the soulless antics of those who share stories of hunts and kills at dinner parties while the world melts. The spirit of those polar bears will have the last laugh.

“The world of culture and nature which is actual is almost a shadow world now, and the insubstantial world of political jurisdictions and rarefied economics is what passes for reality.” 

     —Gary Synder

“I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission.”

     —EB White

Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson’s work at their website.

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