Legal High and Cecil

Barry Birch spain

I have a confession to make, I enjoy sharing a legal high. I get such a buzz and sense of well-being from it that it really is hard to come back down to earth again.

No, I’m not referring to some drug-induced euphoric state but rather the joy of flying, being as free as a bird with nothing but the winds to guide me and the sunrise on my face.

I am a hot-air balloon pilot and I share with my adventurous passengers not only the thrill of being airborne but also the raw beauty of nature and all from the confines of a wicker basket.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on my time spent in Africa flying over the biggest animal migration on earth, that of the wildebeest in the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. The animals in Africa are what touch our very souls and when you’ve seen them up close, in their own habitat, it all makes sense and their beauty just instantly connects. Protecting their well-being is vital for future generations and I feel we all need to do our bit.

I, like many people, was shocked to hear of the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, this has thrown a much-needed spotlight on the gruesome sport that is licensed hunting. This atavistic activity is largely the dominion of wealthy individuals who are intent on tearing apart the delicate fabric that is African wildlife in the pursuit of their blood-stained trophies. To me, this senseless slaughter is as barbaric as poaching. When you spend time in the bush as I do, the death of any animal is quickly known by all. The sharp-eyed park rangers would bring news to our lodge of any fresh animal kill site, as this would offer great photographic opportunities for guests on safari. But they would also report the illegal kills, animals poached and taken for their tusks or horns or heads as trophies. This news was always the worst to hear. For, as time passes by, you begin to identify the animals and become familiar with their ways. The loss of just one would somehow diminish us all.

I feel sport hunting diminishes us. Although banned in Kenya, many countries offer licensed shooting as an alleged source of revenue which is disguised as a bona fide tourist activity. But the benefits are few and it’s practised by an elite and abhorred by many.

Being human we have a choice. I choose not to kill but it seems that hunters cannot help themselves and the only fix for their addiction, is to spend more money in pursuit of their next big bounty. I would like to see them use their cash for killing in a more pro-active way, on increasing animal numbers. We need more rhinos, more leopards, more lions and more elephants. Instead of taking lives with a gun, be positive, invest in conservation projects and help combat illegal poaching so that in the future everyone can benefit and we slowly redress the imbalance of too few animals left in the wilds of Africa.

As a balloon pilot in the game reserves you feel privileged to drift over the spectacle of wild animals in their natural habitat. My legal high I can share with all who are willing to jump into my basket to enjoy the world from above and nature at its best.

The same cannot be said for licensed sport hunting. There is no mass sharing, no enjoyment, no great thrill for us all. It is done furtively and exclusively, away from public view. And it’s shameful and cruel and shows man at his worst.

If we adopted their mind-set and all became hunters exchanging our cameras for crossbows and our smartphones for shotguns how long until all the animals were slaughtered? In no time hunting would be extinct!

The pointless and cruel death of Cecil went viral on the internet and now social media has got hunting in its cross hairs. By the sheer numbers involved in this web-sharing process, the hunters have been exposed and now they are the prey. With every click and every view means they have nowhere to hide.

And people power brings change. Online petitioning is already forcing airlines to stop carrying trophies brought back from the kill. Hunters need these trophies, it’s proof of their prowess and without them they are as pitiful and as useless as the very activity they’re involved in.

So I’m going to keep on sharing my passion for flying and love of the wild and point up the horror that is hunting, in the knowledge that our collective compassion will surely silence their guns. And when hunting is gone, animals will do what they’ve always done, live their lives in peace.

Barry Birch

Lynda Woodin, our publisher, who has vast experience of Africa, having grown up there in Zimbabwe, adds her perspective to this sad wildlife tale

Hunting is a passion for some and murder to others! Think before you shoot!

Coming from Africa, I have been surrounded by hunting or culling all my life, mainly in Botswana, however this was done humanely and only executed during the “culling” season. If this is humane at all, I keep asking myself?  Sadly this needs to happen in the bush, as the game would take over the continent completely if it wasn’t either, cut back by fences, or culled at the right time, and right season. This needs to be done whilst the game is not reproducing, being tagged for research, or in fact trying to find a mate, in order to keep the correct flow of the ecological balance  of that  particular species.

What has been happening recently is simply atrocious hunting. It is now a “sport” done to order, for the animal and for money. It’s all about how much can we sell, whatever kind of trophy, for the bloodthirsty tourist!   It’s not about the lives of these wonderful animals and sea-life and their families, it’s about me, me and more me!

Recently, a major haul of Seals was discovered on one of the Galapagos Islands, which had been killed to export, I suppose to one of the eastern countries for meat and soup!  A beautiful lion, which was almost tame and not afraid of humans, was slaughtered in Zimbabwe, where I grew up, and now one of his offspring has been killed by another male lion in the same area, in order for him to take over the patch of land where “Cecil” was king! What I find abhorrent is that the hunter then cut off Cecil’s head, and skinned him to take home as a trophy! But is this what it is all about? Trophies to hang on someone’s wall?

I am delighted that there is a new movement to get the airlines to refuse to take on board any trophies from these awful expeditions and that some people unbelievably find fun! The Elephants have a very strong family hierarchy, and to take out one of them, for no justifiable reason, especially for their ivory, breaks up the family and they will go back and back again to the place their family member was slaughtered, to pay their respects, until the next one gets taken out by the poachers or so called “Hunters”.

I once was in South Luangwa, in the Zambezi valley, where they were developing the game reserve for the conservation of wild animals.  They were trying to build up their game content, to be able to, eventually, put in lodges so us humans could go and visit them in their natural habitat.  We came across a camp, which had been used by poachers and they had killed, we have no idea how much game, but also killed the game keeper who was only 21 years old!  He was trying to save his animals from the poachers, which is a very difficult job. We actually saw the poachers later in the same area and they were dressed like the game keepers and from Korea I believe.  We were all very nervous as we had the head of the game keeper in our vehicle. Zambia has now been built up as a tourist destination, so some of us can go and visit these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.

Botswana now have a few rhino reintroduced as they had been ‘shot out’ by hunting in the past,  but they are being killed in South Africa at a huge rate, so they are now on the endangered species list. The black rhino is already there and has been for many years. What have they done to deserve this? It’s appalling to think that the last white Rhino needs to have 24 hours protection by gamekeepers. What a damning indictment of the human race.

We need to think before we shoot. Let’s save the game for our children and their children to enjoy. The animals were here long before us. We are the ones destroying them. We can shoot them, but with long-range cameras. This is the best way, as tourist revenues for this type of “hunting with cameras” bring in billions, whereas hunting with guns bring  in millions and only for some delusional person who thinks the parts of the animal are going to help their libido.

Lynda  Woodin

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