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Column - Why beam proudly after killing an elephant?

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While channel-surfing one night, I chanced upon a sight that outraged me.

A couple of professional hunters, gussied up in Safari garb, were standing next to a fallen elephant.

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They were grinning like a couple of idiots high on drugs.

"What a fantastic experience," one of them said. "I was fortunate enough to take the elephant bull I always dreamed of. Elephant hunting is really my passion."

The other guy kept patting the shoulder of the newly killed elephant.

"It's such a beautiful, beautiful old elephant," he said as if he were in a trance.

Didn't he mean WAS a beautiful old elephant?

Later in the program, I learned it is considered "unethical" to shoot an elephant at a watering hole. But it is perfectly fine for these "ethical" sportsmen and sportswomen to spend hours and even days tracking an elephant so they can blast the life out of it and then stand there grinning over its "beautiful" carcass. Killing an elephant - gee, what an achievement!

What is wrong with these people? How can anyone be thrilled by taking the life of such a wonderful creature?

Oh yes, I know all the arguments: Many animals, including elephants, must be killed because of a number of reasons (danger to human villages, overpopulation of herds, the possibility of starvation, the animals' devastation of forested or agricultural lands). Yes, there is some truth to all of that, but much of that "truth" is because humans have encroached so much onto animal habitats. How would we feel if someone - a tyrant or aliens - determined humans must be "culled" because we are damaging the planet?

Apparently, highly trained rangers regularly "cull" elephant herds, often by shooting them from the air. It's a heartbreaking slaughter I saw years ago in a documentary, and I hope never to see it again.

Earlier this week, I spent the better part of a day researching elephants on the Internet. There are many websites dedicated to elephant hunting, not to mention the Safari-style hunting of leopards, lions and water buffalo. One website calls elephant-hunting an "art." The promo for a video disc for sale promises "the drama and excitement that hunting this magnificent animal will produce." It costs anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 to join one of these killing trips - or "safaris" as they call them.

Another website lures potential joiners with this line: "You may be one of the lucky hunters that takes a tusker in the 70-pound-plus range."

These websites also feature films of elephant killing.

We keep hearing hunters' rationales:

"They're only animals."

"They'd just die anyway if we didn't kill them."

"God made animals for man to kill - for our food."

Early humans had a reverence for the animals they killed for food; they identified with them as fellow creatures in an inter-related ecosystem, even though they sometimes had to kill them for sustenance.

Elephants, who can live 70 years and more, are very intelligent and very sensitive social creatures. They love to play, they've been known to "cry," they deeply grieve the loss of a loved one, they have incredible memories and they've been known to approach other (non-elephant) animals that are wounded or in distress and touch and caress them.

For centuries, these poor creatures were slaughtered for their ivory tusks. Fortunately, the ivory trade is now illegal, in most places, although unscrupulous creeps still poach and sell ivory on the black market. And some safari killers still love to display tusks as trophies in their homes.

Culling of elephants, when it's sadly necessary, is one thing. Standing there grinning proudly after killing one of these magnificent animals is quite another.

Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at dennisdalman@jetup.net.

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