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Mulugeta: The hidden dangers of big-game hunting

BY MIKAEL MULUGETA | JULY 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old cheerleader at Texas Tech, recently gained Internet notoriety because of photos she posted on her Facebook page. The photos displayed her posing with various big game animals she had hunted while in Africa. For a variety of reasons, people took issue with the photos and demanded she remove them. An online petition was started to force Jones to remove the photos, a petition more than 130,000 people signed.

According to the Huffington Post, Jones, a Texas native, has spent the summer hunting in Zimbabwe. She brought a camera crew along to document her exploits and capture her trophy photos. Since the photos went up, Jones has faced pressure to delete the photos, and she’s even received death threats.

Jones made a point of noting that all of the hunts were legal and not poaching. All the animals killed are listed by iucnredlist.org as vulnerable, not endangered. In the case of the rhino she was pictured with, the animal was reportedly tranquilized, treated, then released back into the wild.

Since the initial uproar, Facebook has removed the photos. The social-media website categorized them under “content that promotes poaching of endangered species, the sale of animals for organized fight or content that includes extreme acts of animal abuse.” Jones has tried to remind people that leopards, lions, and elephants are not endangered species and that the photos do not include any of the animals fighting each other  —  conscious for that matter. By process of elimination, Facebook likely felt that her photos fit the criteria for the last policy.

The most disappointing thing for me to watch has been how critics and supporters of Jones have both been engaging in poorly structured debates and blatant mudslinging. Yet another opportunity for intellectual debate on a polarizing issue passes America by. Those objecting to the hunting of lions because they believe they’re “majestic” are not practicing ethics but arbitrary favoritism.

Designating a species as special — worthy of an exemption from fair-game rules and the rampant abuse of a human being following said rules — because of its perceived beauty is ridiculous. The reasoning for valuing a creature’s life should be more than skin- deep.

When Jones refers to a slain elephant in one of her videos, she noted that the villagers were excited to eat the animal, that it could potentially feed more than 100 families. So the animal was not endangered, and its meat went to good use. If true, critics who participate in the consumption of local meat products — Americans do love their beef — anywhere can’t condemn her for replicating a system they benefit from. 

However Jones has made inconsistent arguments of her own. She continues to defend herself on her Facebook page, noting that the hunting community has restored the populations of several endangered species, including elk and turkey. This is a logical non sequitur. The money and resources provided by the hunters are the cause for the restoration, not the act of hunting these animals. Donations alone could be made, and the goal of conservation would be reached without hunting, though she isn’t totally incorrect.

A less concrete, yet understandable, argument is that Jones’ alleged pride and posing with her kills is distasteful. Jones appears in all of the pictures, smiling and striking poses ranging from playful to triumphant. This irked many people who felt that her glee at using the animals as props in her photo shoot was indicative of sadistic behavior. I do agree that her pride seems unwarranted. Paying thousands to fly to Africa, have guides lead you to napping or feeding animals, and then shooting at them from a safe distance is not a testament to any hunting ability one may possess. Such behavior falls more along the lines of bragging about financial status, quite distasteful, fulfilling the cliché romanticism of big-game hunting and wealth invented in the early 20th century.

So what’s next for the polarizing, gun-toting cheerleader? Jones has used this attention as fuel for her plan to host her own reality show.  According to FoxSports.com, Jones’s show is planned to début on the Sportsman Channel in 2015. If and when the show débuts, let’s hope interest in productive debate is what trends.


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