Trophy :a cup or other decorative object awarded as a prize for a victory or success.
Trophy hunting in British Colombia is big business. The target? The grizzly bear. Why? For sport. Recently, a short film was released highlighting the activities of trophy hunting in British Colombia. The feature, named ‘Trophy’, has been created for one purpose: to raise awareness of the sport of trophy hunting and its impacts on the populations of the grizzly bear in North America. A wonderfully put together piece, it includes the views and experiences of many individuals who live and work in close proximity to grizzly bears every day of their lives. At times, the footage was more than difficult to watch, including segments of recordings taken from the films of hunters and I am not ashamed or afraid to admit that long before the conclusion of the feature, I had been reduced to tears.
Being home to approximately a quarter of the entire North American population, The Great Bear Rainforest of British Colombia is considered a haven for grizzly bears. However, this time, the word ‘haven’ has been somewhat misrepresented, because although it does indeed hold a large population of grizzly bears, it also attracts hundreds of trophy hunters who have one aim in mind: to kill a grizzly. Those who travel to the province can pay anything up to $25,000 to be involved in a hunt, whilst those who within the province pay little more than $80. After the hunt, the hunters usually take home the head, paws and hide of the bear, discarding all else that remains. In the USA, grizzly bears have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1975, yet they still occupy only 2% of their historical range. In Yellowstone National Park, the future of the grizzly bear is uncertain, as the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing their protection status. Should they be de-listed, management of the bears will fall to Idaho and Wyoming, who are thought to endorse trophy hunting. In 2015, 289 grizzly bears were killed by trophy hunters in British Colombia.
The theory behind trophy hunting centres around the belief that it is a highly necessary and highly effective management tool, reducing grizzly and human conflict and maintaining populations at a healthy level. In addition, it is argued that the money that is provided by trophy hunting actually benefits conservation in British Colombia, bringing in $2 million every year. However, ‘Trophy’ puts forward the argument that wildlife enthusiasts who come to view and photograph the bears bring in far more revenue than hunters, almost 10 times as much and that the damage that hunting does to the population, far outweighs any possible benefits.
Unfortunately, the negative attitudes that surround grizzly bears has jeopardised their very survival. Bears having ‘tastes for human flesh’ and even suggestions that the reason some grizzlies grow so large is because they attack humans and ‘consume human stem cells’ have been put forward. These beliefs are of course little short of ridiculous, but they are believed by some individuals. The majority of people are afraid of this animal due to their reputation as a strong, powerful, formidable species with teeth and claws that can kill a human. However, killing or attacking humans is not the natural or normal behaviour of a grizzly bear. Grizzly bears are omnivores, they are scavengers, they eat meat, but they also consume a considerable amount of grasses and berries. Those that live close to them describe them as ‘peaceful’ and ‘sensitive’ creatures that they co-exist with in harmony. Native American tribes also respect the grizzly bear and its importance to the natural world and made history this year when more than 50 tribes signed a treaty vowing to protect the grizzly bear and to fight against its de-listing in Yellowstone. The Chief of the Hopi Bear Clan stated that:
“The grizzly bear is not a trophy for the affluent to kill for ‘sport’. The grizzly bear is sacred. Our people have a connection to the grizzly bear since our ancient migrations.”
But what about grizzly bear attacks? They happen, they are real of course, but usually occur when a bear is either surprised, protecting its cubs or literally starving to death; not because they are ruthless man hunters.
Grizzly bears are vital to the ecosystems that they are a part of. Grizzlies are both ‘keystone species’ and ‘ecosystem engineers’, helping to regulate prey species and dispersing the seeds of a number of plant species, including buffaloberry and blueberry. As avid root diggers, they also aerate soils and provide vital fertiliser to the forest through the transportation of thousands of salmon carcasses, which are very high in nitrogen and valuable to forest ecosystems. Trophy hunting aside, grizzly bears are already at threat from climate change and habitat loss and fragmentation; hunting is an unnecessary and avoidable stressor.
Trophy hunters take pride in their victory and in their success when they kill a grizzly bear. They have killed an animal that is strong and powerful and many admit to taking satisfaction from that. But this is where my confusion lies; what is victorious about taking a gun and shooting a bear? Defenceless is perhaps not the word one would associate with a grizzly bear, but stalked tirelessly and up against a gun, or several guns, that is exactly what they become. In British Colombia between 1977 and 2009, 11,000 grizzly bears were killed by hunters.
Grizzly bears are an important species with a vital place in their ecosystems. If we want to fight the extinction of this species there are two changes that need to take place; habitat protection and reducing human induced mortality. The grizzly bear is an endangered species facing numerous threats to its survival, for hundreds to be killed each year in the name of trophy hunting is something that should stir one overwhelming emotion in the human race. Total and utter shame.
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