Take a look at the two photos below. The UK shooting industry will tell anyone who listens that they show two totally different things – I’m not quoting directly of course, but I’m guessing the phrases would include: shows “an organised day out” “enjoyed by country folk” “conservation-friendly”, the other shows “random slaughter of migratory birds” “lone poacher” “no conservation value”.
Pippa Middleton and friends with dead birds, Scotland 2013
Elie Mazraani with dead Golden Orioles, Lebanon 2013
Look again though: two piles of dead birds, the same pride, the same sense of detachment from once living animals. And the same result: dead birds, killed for the pleasure of ‘hunting’, lined up and displayed as objects in the same disturbing way.
The UK hunting industry tries very hard to show the ‘nice’ side of killing birds. Images like the one above of Pippa Middleton et al are intended to sell an image of bird slaughter sweetened with pretty, well-dressed, well-educated young women ‘enjoying’ a day in the countryside. The Lebanese Hunting Club doesn’t bother with dressing things up: killing birds is visceral, it’s ‘manly’, it’s unsympathetic and it’s rough. No need for wellies and the ‘right clothes’, just get a gun, get out into the countryside, and go kill something.
I really do believe that when you think about it there is little underlying difference in these two photos though. Golden Orioles may be a vanishing migratory species that simply can not withstand this kind of slaughter on top of habitat and climate change, and pheasants may be an introduced species being bred in its millions and fed to the waiting guns, but both images are being used to promote the same thing: killing birds for no point other than pleasure. And it hardly goes without saying that both disgust me and both make me very sad.
As much as I fundamentally disagree with him, though, I can at least try and understand the actions of Elie Mazraani – certainly more so than I can those of Pippa and her merry posse anyway (which the Daily Mail gleefully described as including a “kick-boxer, popstar James Blunt’s ex and a Doctor Who girl“)*. The Lebanon can be a hard place to live. It’s been at war for decades, there is virtually no conservation movement or conservation education, little to counter the tradition of killing wildlife. Elie Mazraani may know about the declines in migratory bird life across Europe and the Middle East, but it’s at least conceivable that he may not. I would guess that he has no idea of the revulsion and anger images like this of dead migrant birds cause.
On the other hand, Pippa Middleton and her ‘chums’ are surrounded by comfort and privilege, will have had world-class education, and will have had access to every sort of information as they grew up. They may live in such a bubble that they have no understanding of the level of disgust images of them posing over the corpses of dead birds might cause in people who hate this kind of slaughter, but it’s unlikely. Far more likely is that they simply don’t care. That they have been brought up in a world that said it was okay for them not to care what other people think and not to care about the birds that are flushed up in front of them to kill.
In my opinion the hunting and shooting industry in the UK – and make no mistake this photo is promoting the UK shooting industry – has had too far an easy ride so far. It has been allowed to sell killing wildlife as glamorous for hundreds of years. Many people have never questioned what the industry actually does or stands for. But that’s changing. A growing number of us don’t support the slaughter of birds whether they are bred to be killed or are migrating from their wintering range to a woodland somewhere in Europe. Using Pippa Middleton as a poster girl for the acceptable side of killing wildlife doesn’t work like it would have once done. We’re not impressed by well-educated people having fun killing things. We no longer think that what the so-called ‘upper classes’ do is none of our business. More and more of us are looking at the end result, not the wrapping the slaughter is packaged in. And the end result is pain and death for millions of birds, and profits for the people who serve up the birds for others to kill. It’s an industry, and it’s not glamorous in any way at all.
Nor does the conservation argument hold water for many of us. There is no conservation in rearing millions of birds to be killed, no conservation in the snaring, trapping, shooting, and destruction of buzzards and harriers, foxes, stoats and weasels simply that more birds survive long enough to be killed by fun-seekers on a day out.
No, the shooting industry might try and persuade us that getting together a group of chums for a day out blasting shot into semi-domesticated, battery-reared birds is fun and perfectly acceptable, but my personal opinion is that it’s simply not – and I’m going to do whatever I can over the coming years to persuade as many people as I can that I’m right…
- I don’t believe for a second that using birds as live target practice is a class-issue incidentally, unlike the Daily Mail apparently. The by-line I quoted above leads into an almost unbelievably sycophantic, sneering, and typically divisive article which begins with these sentences:
“Just minutes from the centre of Edinburgh sits a magnificent Palladian stately home called The Drum.
Like the pyramids in Egypt, which are close to a slum area, it is an architectural wonder perched surprisingly near an ugly part of the ancient Scottish capital.
Those fortunate to be invited to the shoots that are regularly held on the estate will see unlovely council blocks in the distance as they walk over its 500 acres.
But these environmental scars can’t spoil the convivial shooting days at The Drum hosted by Edinburgh society stalwarts Alan and Patrea More Nisbett and their three strapping sons.”
How terribly awful for such well-brought up folk to have been so close to that “ugly part of the ancient Scottish capital”. Still, at least they were able to console themselves by ending the lives of fifty birds…