Healing Our World Commentary: Environmental Illness Sufferers Foretell Our Future

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

The Lowest Form of Life

"Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity
for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin.
It is the knowledge that there can never really be
any peace and joy for me
until there is peace and joy finally for you too."

-- Frederick Buechner

"The cause of violence is not ignorance.
It is self-interest. ...
Only reverence can restrain violence --
reverence for human life and the environment."

-- William Sloan Coffin, Jr.

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
-- Isaac Asimov

Besides harming children, there is no more cowardly an act than murdering an animal for sport. What could possible be "sporting" about shooting a healthy elk, deer, bird, or prairie dog from 350 yards away with a high-powered rifle while hiding in a tree?

Even more cowardly and obscene, though, may be the hunters who pay a fee to game preserve owners for the right to kill an animal from a few yards or even a few feet away, often while the animal is in a cage. There may be no greater example of the profound disconnection from the natural world that is plaguing our world.


Hunter with bull elk on Montana game ranch (Photo courtesy Broken Hart Ranch)
According to “Time” magazine’s March 11, 2002 issue, as many as 2,000 hunting preserves may exist in the U.S. with 500 in Texas alone. Most offer a guarantee that if you don’t kill something, you don’t pay. In order to offer such a promise, traditional rules of sport hunting are usually suspended.

The animals at these ranges are made accustomed to human contact and some are trained to come to the sound of a rattling food bucket. Some are confined to small areas where they can’t hide for very long. And many don’t even make it out of their cages before being murdered.

There is good money in this obscene practice for the range operators. Exotic animals like the Nubian ibex, the Arabian Oryx, rhinoceros, zebra or tigers can command $20,000 or more.

Even some hunters object to the practice. Perry Arnold of Lake City, Florida, who has been hunting since he was seven years old, told “Time,” he disapproves of these canned hunts. “What they got going on now, that ain’t hunting. That’s a slaughter.”

I have seen video footage, obtained by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), of a black leopard whose claws had been removed that was released from a cage in the back of a pickup truck. It was chased by barking dogs and hid, terrified and trembling, beneath the truck. The hunter who had paid for this “hunt,” got on his knees with his high powered rifle just feet from the truck and shot the frightened, cowering animal. It was the most pathetic example of how brutal a human can be towards an animal that I had ever seen.

Animals hunted for trophies, whether they are killed in canned hunts or in regular sport hunting, suffer much more than any animal killed for food. Since the hunter wants an intact head for display, they will not kill the animal quickly by shooting it in the head. Instead, they use arrows or bullets aimed at the body of the animal, usually resulting in a wounded animal staggering, limping, and panicked while the killer continues to shoot. Death is often slow and painful. But the hunter has his or her trophy head to show friends and to brag about his bravery and courage in the fight.

Acts like this are repeated every day around the nation. But where are these greedy, soulless preserve owners getting these animals?

You will be shocked and surprised at the answer, especially if you have taken your children to the local zoo to see their favorite beloved animal.

There are 2,500 licensed animal exhibitors in the U.S. and many of the animals in captivity will breed. Some estimates say that when you count the unlicensed ones, there are over 15,000 animal exhibitors. Also, many zoos have successful breeding programs that get public donations to support their fforts to repopulate depleted, even endangered species.

Well, what the public doesn’t hear about is that when these breeding programs are successful, they often result in more animals than the zoo can care for with limited space and resources.


Black leopard in Oaklawn Farm Zoo, Aylesford, Nova Scotia (Photo courtesy Oaklawn Farm Zoo)
But wait a minute! You probably thought that the resulting animals from these programs would be returned to the wild to repopulate the species. Unfortunately, often money does not exist to carry out those lofty aims and the animals become surplus. Animals that are not endangered in the wild will breed as well, resulting in more giraffes, monkeys, and rhinos than zoos can house and feed.

The Singapore Zoo freely admits that even endangered species bred in captivity have little chance of being returned to the wild. At the zoo's website, officials state, “While for many reasons, it may not be possible to reintroduce most captive-bred endangered animals into the wild, such animals can be used in exchange programmes among zoos.” They claim that this results in fewer animals having to be taken from the wild.

Legitimate, well known zoos sell surplus animals to brokers. Even zoos that are members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which condemns canned hunts, will not ask their brokers where they intend to sell the animals. Many wind up in canned hunts.

The thousands of petting zoos, roadside zoos, and smaller exhibitors have no reason to adhere to any rules or guidelines.

The Humane Society reports that the San Antonio Zoo in Texas sold its animals openly and even included owners of canned hunting facilities on the zoo's board of directors. In 1994, HSUS reported that San Antonio Zoological Society board member Betty Kelso and her husband Robert owned the Auerhahn Ranch in Texas and purchased exotic animals directly from the zoo for years.

Doctors, lawyers and professionals from all walks of life leave the suburbs for a weekend killing spree, and high priced lobbyists entertain politicians on shooting preserves. The Wildlife Protection Network says, “Canned hunting preserves have begun to rival golf courses as favorite landscapes [for] wheeling and dealing.” They report that former President George Bush celebrated his victory after the 1988 presidential election at the Lazy F Ranch near Beeville, Texas.


Quail hunting in Georgia (Photo courtesy Riverview Plantation)
"These aren't animals, these are wild quail," he later said to criticism of his yearly hunt. Bush apparently never studied biology, and has an odd definition of "wild." The birds he shot were captive birds that were hand fed and raised in pens.

President Bill Clinton hunted on shooting preserves during his presidency. The Wildlife Protection Network says, “Two days after Christmas in 1993, President Clinton killed a captive bred mallard duck on a Maryland shooting preserve owned by lobbyist John W. Tieder, Jr. Tieder is the treasurer of DUCPAC, a pro-hunting political action committee that has given over $35,000 in campaign contributions to political candidates.”

The “San Jose Mercury News,” in a 1999 series of articles on surplus zoo animals, reported that the world famous San Diego Zoo has "sold, loaned, traded or donated 33 percent of its surplus animals to dealers, auctions, game or hunting ranches, unidentified private individuals or unaccredited zoos whose owners deal heavily in the exotic animal trade."

There may be no greater obstacle to reestablishing a connection with the natural world and eliminating our many social and environmental dysfunctions than the assumptions we make every day about how the world works. Zoos are not benign facilities providing educational viewing of animals in their natural habitats. They are businesses where animals are exploited yet again in our culture.

Sick animals are sometimes ignored to save money and zookeepers are often unskilled people who have worked their way up from jobs on the loading dock to supervisory positions managing the lives of exotic animals. The animals are on display in the most unnatural of conditions. How can an animal who is used to roaming an area of hundreds of square miles be content in a 200 foot long enclosure?

And as if the practices of zoos and animal exhibitors are not bad enough on their own, now we learn that they have been supplying the obscene canned hunt trade with surplus animals that your children may have laughed at just a few weeks ago.

Until we stop treating animals that have proven time and time again that they are thinking, feeling, reasoning beings as slaves and exhibits, we will have no chance of healing the isolation we feel from the world and from each other.

And until we end the brutal killing of animals for sport and stop these senseless canned hunts, there will be no question about who represents the lowest form of life on Earth.


1. See a list of things you can do to end canned hunts from HSUS and keep track of current legislation at: http://www.hsus.org/ace/12090

2. See more issues about zoos from HSUS at: http://www.hsus.org/ace/12095

3. Learn more about these obscene canned hunts at: http://www.wildlifeprotection.net/CannedHunt/cannedhuntindex.html

4. See a Fund for Animals report on canned hunts at: http://fund.org/library/documentViewer.asp?ID=338&table=documents

5. Read about case of illegal wildlife trade at the San Diego Zoo at: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/news002.htm

6. See the Singapore Zoo website at: http://www.zoo.com.sg/openzoo/conser/c-conser.htm

7. See some surplus animal lists from Australian, African, and Asian zoos at: http://www.seaza.org/animal_exchange/animal_exchange.htm

8. See the website of the National Organization to Abolish Zoos at: http://www.noazark.org/Company/philosphy.htm See their list of Zoo Myths at: http://www.noazark.org/myths/Index.htm

9. Read an account of a canned hunt at: http://www.enkosini.com/TrophyHunting.htm

10. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Tell them that they must enact legislation banning canned hunts in all 50 states. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html

11. Contact your state representatives and insist that they sponsor laws banning canned hunts.

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He can be found wondering what to tell his son when he is old enough to want to go to the zoo. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}