The Hunter’s Role in the Wild Kingdom
IMAGINE the scene. The skies are rapidly darkening, although it is only a few hours after dawn. As you keep looking, darkness gradually blankets the whole area from horizon to horizon, yet there is not a cloud in the sky. There is an ominous, deafening sound like thunder, and you cover your ears. The earth beneath your feet resonates with the roar. What violent tempest has nature unleashed? You need not be afraid. It is only birds.
No, you never saw such a magnificent display of birds. Neither did anyone alive today. But in 1813 the famed American naturalist and artist John Audubon described a spectacular display just like this. He saw the beautiful passenger pigeons passing by in such large numbers that they darkened the sun for three days!
It makes the imagination reel just to think of a flock of birds as huge as that. Yet at one time such flocks existed. A few years before Audubon’s sighting, a large flock was seen in Kentucky, U.S.A., that was believed to have in it more than 2,230,000,000 passenger pigeons. Experts believe that there were 6 billion of these birds in the United States even as late as 1885.
Surely, an inexhaustible supply, you may think. The passenger pigeon would never be in danger of extinction. But no—man the hunter accomplished the seemingly impossible. By killing on an average more than 566,000 of these beautiful birds every day of the week for over 29 years, he did it. On September 1, 1914, the very last passenger pigeon on the face of the earth, named Martha, died in an Ohio, U.S.A., zoo.
Thus, the passenger pigeon was lost to the world. Because of what one source terms “the hunters’ greed and waste,” a species that seemed completely unendangered was hunted to extinction. Does man have the right to value so lightly the lives of his fellow creatures and destroy whole species, one after the other? Moreover, why should such destroyers have the right to deny future generations the pleasure of observing the wild kingdom?
The Creator of this earth’s teeming life forms does not view their destruction lightly. Jesus once said: “Do not two sparrows sell for a coin of small value? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge”; “not one of them goes forgotten before God.” (Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6) Surely, God’s eyes have not been closed to the destruction of 6 billion passenger pigeons.
Not all have agreed with the indiscriminate killing of wildlife. In a letter written to the president of the United States in 1855, an Indian chief of the Duwamish tribe, in the state of Washington, voiced his concern about the wanton slaughter of animals: “The white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brother. I am a savage and I do not understand the other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairies left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. . . . What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast also happens to man. . . . One thing we know which the white man will one day discover. Our God is the same God. . . . This earth is precious to him. And to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.”
This Indian chief seems to have instinctively grasped something that the Bible tells us: man has been entrusted by God with stewardship over the animals. The first book of the Bible tells us of this mandate to man: “I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.” (Genesis 1:28, Today’s English Version) Man’s wanton, almost frivolous destruction of the wild kingdom is a gross abuse of that trust.
The Nimrod Syndrome
Does the fact that man has stewardship over the animals mean that he is forbidden to kill them at all? No. Remember, God himself prepared clothing from animal skins for the first human pair and accepted the sacrifice of a lamb from their son Abel. And after the Flood of Noah’s day he gave Noah and his descendants permission to eat the flesh of animals for food.—Genesis 3:21; 4:4, 5; 9:3.
However, in giving these concessions Jehovah God did not imply that animal life should be viewed lightly. To highlight the sacredness of the life of those animals that would be killed for food, God commanded that man should not eat the blood of an animal along with its flesh. The blood symbolized the animal’s life, and that belonged to God. (Genesis 9:4, 5) At no time did God give man authority to kill animals for the sheer joy of killing. Where, then, did man learn to do this?
Shortly after the Flood, a notorious man of those days, Nimrod, began to distinguish himself as an outdoor sportsman. He became “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.” (Genesis 10:8, 9) He evidently violated the God-entrusted stewardship over the animals by wantonly killing them. Others followed his lead, and soon the sport caught on in a big way. Hunting became the sport of kings.
Archaeologists have unearthed much evidence that the kings of the ancient world delighted in the hunt and boasted of their prowess. Even the Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamen fell victim to what could be called the Nimrod syndrome. Hunting scenes painted on the walls of his tomb and carvings on wooden chests pictured him standing in his chariot, riding at full speed, with bow and arrow in hand, bowstring tightly drawn and arrow ready to be released, while wild animals fled before him.
In more recent times wealthy Europeans hunted animals for sport in their own land, or traveled to India or Africa in search of more exciting game. Many decorated their homes with stuffed heads of the beautiful animals whose lives they had extinguished for sport. In the New World whole herds of buffalo were slaughtered and left rotting where they fell. And hunters came to prize moose heads, deer heads and other symbols of their hunting skills.
Man the Preserver
In order to protect some of the threatened animals from the hunter, governments set up hunting restrictions outlawing the killing of these animals. In the United States, for example, a herd of 3,000 Rocky Mountain mule deer in Arizona was protected. The result? With thousands of its natural predators being trapped, shot or poisoned by government hunters, the mule deer increased its population within 10 years to about 40,000 animals.
A happy result? In a way, yes. But, alas, the deer began to die en masse. What was wrong? Their habitat became overpopulated. Dead deer were found with stomachs full of pine needles, certainly not on the menu of deer unless they are on the verge of starvation. The check and balance of wildlife had been overlooked. With their natural predators destroyed, their population unchecked, they ate every vestige of food available. It was only when hunters were allowed to enter their area and harvest some of the surplus that the deer population was brought back into proportion with what their habitat could support.
Wildlife experts have learned their lesson well. From past experience they know that in order to protect the herds from starvation and disease, a harvest of surplus animals is necessary. Thus, in the United States restricted seasons are opened when licensed hunters can kill a certain number of the surplus animals each year. In other countries this is done by government game wardens and rangers.
In this way stronger herds are maintained and allowed to grow. In 1895, for example, there were only about 350,000 white-tailed deer south of Canada in continental North America. Today, there are approximately 12 million of them. In 1925 an estimated 13,000 to 26,000 pronghorn antelope survived in the United States, mostly in just two western states. Today there are at least 500,000 in all the western states. There are today about a million elk in 16 states, whereas in 1907 there were only 41,000 in one state. The official census of fur seals in the Pribilof Islands in 1911 was put at 215,900. Today, the herd is maintained at about 1.5 million. Without proper harvesting, all these now unendangered herds would be in serious trouble.
The “Disney Syndrome”
There is, however, an antihunting sentiment growing in urban United States, Canada and other countries, which wildlife management fears will be counterproductive. Some of the forces are highly organized with offices in England, the Netherlands, France, New Zealand and Australia, as well as in the United States and Canada.
Why is hunting coming under attack? “Very simply,” answered the editor of Montana Outdoors magazine, “many people today grow up without direct ties to the land and the wild creatures it sustains. Understandably, they derive most of their knowledge of wildlife from television and movies, which all too often present a distorted view of wildlife . . . and ignoring natural processes such as predation, disease and starvation.” One wildlife service director referred to this view as the “Disney syndrome.” “After watching Disney movies of animals and birds in the forest,” he said, “some people, particularly children, get the idea that animals can talk.” They think they are just like people.
Another spokesman maintained: “Youngsters simply aren’t getting the truth about wildlife. They know very little about game management or the success we’ve had with it in the last 50 years. It stands to reason that large numbers of children are turning against hunting. They think hunters are killing the few deer and other animals left in the country.”
Christians do not condemn those who kill animals for food. If, however, someone kills beyond the allotted number specified by the laws of their land, or if he kills for the thrill of it and uses the meat as an excuse, then it is to God that he is answerable. He is overstepping the stewardship that has been entrusted to mankind. And even though man is permitted to use animal skins for clothing, to hunt these creatures to extinction for unnecessary luxuries is an even worse abuse.
Many of the problems related to the wild kingdom are unsolvable in this system of things. As human populations grow, and wildlife is squeezed into smaller and smaller areas, the managing and preserving of that wildlife will become more and more difficult. And it is hard to see how governments with limited means will stop the poaching of disappearing species in this greedy, commercial system of things.
Just how many more species of animals God will allow to be destroyed before he calls a halt, we do not know. But sometime soon a halt will be called. God has promised that his Kingdom is soon to take over the day-to-day running of this earth, and at that time “they will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isaiah 11:9.
At that time man will be trained to exercise his authority over the animals in a proper way. Meantime, Christians at least can show a proper respect for animals, being realistic but compassionate as they view their relationship with the wild kingdom.
“And for them I shall certainly conclude a covenant in that day in connection with the wild beast of the field and with the flying creature of the heavens and the creeping thing of the ground, . . . and I will make them lie down in security.”—Hosea 2:18.
[Blurb on page 11]
At no time did God give man authority to kill animals for the sheer joy of killing
[Blurb on page 13]
“Youngsters simply aren’t getting the truth about wildlife”
[Picture on page 10]
The last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in an Ohio zoo in 1914
[Pictures on page 12]
1. American elk, or wapiti
2. White-tailed deer
3. Pronghorn antelope
4. North Pacific fur seal