One of a reported 50,000 elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.  There's nearly as many elephants in the room when it comes to the anti's allegations against Glenn McGrath (image: Martin Auldist).

OPINION: McGrath critics caught short on facts

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that two of my great passions are cricket and hunting. It’s with great interest, therefore, that I’ve been following developments since photos emerged late last week of cricketing great Glenn McGrath’s 2008 hunting safari in Zimbabwe. In short, the whole episode has left me feeling somewhat disappointed and more than a little frustrated.

My disappointment stems from the reaction of the great man himself when, shortly after the photos hit the Twittersphere, he issued a statement saying that the hunt was “inappropriate” and that he “deeply regretted” participating in it. In essence he was apologising for being a hunter and, worse, he blamed the sad death of his wife Jane for somehow clouding his judgement. I’m disappointed for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that I don’t believe it. McGrath is a good country lad from Narromine who, it is well known, has always loved hunting and who had long dreamt of undertaking an African safari. This fact was once documented in an article in the SSAA publication Australian Shooter, the cover of which was graced by a happy snap of McGrath with a recently deceased feral pig. So, I just don’t buy it that he now regrets his African safari, or that it was something that he suddenly decided to try while shrouded in a debilitating fog of grief.

I am disappointed, too, because, besides his boundless skill as a cricketer and the fact that through his charitable work he has done far more for his fellow man than most of us could contemplate, I thought McGrath was one of us. A proud hunter. I still believe that he is. That makes it all the more disappointing that he is trying to distance himself from his passion and, thereby, from the rest of us. With his huge national profile, here was a chance for him to publically short-circuit the baseless bleatings of the anti-hunters, to publicise all that is great about hunting, and to explain to the great unwashed the huge contribution that hunting makes to economies and environments. Instead, he rolled over. It was an act of surrender such as he never showed on the cricket field, but one that at once distanced many fellow hunters and gave the circling sharks a sniff of vindication. I comfort myself by believing that the statement did not emanate from McGrath’s own pen, but was instead crafted by a misguided publicist looking to stem the perceived damage to his charitable trust, the McGrath Foundation, which does such great work for those affected by breast cancer. On this score, I am willing to give the bowler the benefit of the doubt.

At the same time, I have been astounded by the social media response from those think that the remote anonymity of the internet somehow annuls the normal protocols of behaviour in a civilised society. Some of the hate-filled threats spewing forth from these permanently outraged keyboard warriors towards McGrath and his family would surely see them arrested and charged if made face-to-face in real life…not that the cowards would be brave enough to do that. Worst of all, though, is that such a volume of abusive opinion can be generated on the basis of an equally spectacular lack of understanding about the subject at hand. It seems that the sum knowledge of African wildlife possessed by the majority of these self-appointed arbitrators of right and wrong has been attained from nothing more substantial than repeated viewings of Madagascar and Discovery Channel documentaries. Pretty well none of the arguments they pose against trophy hunting stand up to scrutiny.

Just for a bit of fun, let’s briefly run the lie detector over some of the recurring statements I have seen on the internet this week.

1. This is a scandal. No, it isn’t. It is a bloke carrying out a perfectly legal recreational activity, just as hundreds of thousands of other Australians do each year. It’s not even news.

2. Hunting is immoral and wrong. No, it isn’t. There are some that hold the opinion that hunting is wrong and, of course, they are perfectly entitled to that opinion. In the end, though, that’s all it is: their opinion. No matter how widely and vociferously they express it, no matter how much hate they wrap it in, and no many how many pixels they sacrifice plastering it all over cyberspace, it doesn’t make their opinion fact. I happen to hold the opposing opinion that hunting is right. That it is a wholesome, active, fulfilling, challenging recreation that puts healthy food on the table and which contributes in spades to economic and environmental outcomes. What’s more I am comfortable that on this matter my opinion is grounded far more in fact than that of the vast majority of those who have so happily vilified McGrath this week.

3. Elephants are endangered. No, they’re not. Not in Zimbabwe, anyway, which is where McGrath undertook his hunt. Elephants are more plentiful in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries than anywhere else in Africa. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists elephants in southern Africa as “Least Concern”. What’s more, the population of elephants is increasing and there are considerably more elephants today than in the 1970s. In some parts of Zimbabwe, the population of elephants far exceeds the carrying capacity of the land. In Hwange National Park, for example, there are up to 50,000 elephants while the carrying capacity of the park is some 15,000 and the need for culling urgent. I have been to Hwange as recently as last year. I saw lots of elephants. What I didn’t see was a tree that hadn’t been destroyed.

4. It was a canned hunt. No, it wasn’t. Detractors of trophy hunting like to refer to all hunting in Africa as canned hunting, just to belittle it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Canned hunting is shooting an animal in a cage or small enclosure. The vast majority of hunting in Africa, in contrast, is for free ranging wild animals conducted on fenced game reserves of many thousands of hectares or on huge unfenced concessions and private property. I don’t actually know where or under what circumstances McGrath hunted his animals. I don’t even know if he actually shot that elephant. Neither do those that are saying how terrible it is. I do know that nowhere on the Chipitani Safaris website do they offer canned hunting as an option. Rather, they offer free range hunting on concessions of up to a million hectares.

5. Trophy hunters are wiping out wildlife. No, they’re not. In stark contrast to the effects of illegal poaching, not a single African species is endangered or even in decline because of well-managed, regulated trophy hunting. Quite the opposite. As much as the opponents of hunting don’t want to hear it, trophy hunting is a key plank in the successful wildlife management strategies of many African countries, and is supported by the World Wildlife Fund. In simple terms, trophy hunting brings money, lots of money, much more than any number of photographic safaris, and with very little impact on the environment. This money provides the capacity and incentive for landowners, governments and local communities to promote and protect wildlife populations as a resource, rather than slaughter it. Poachers are kept at bay, environments are improved, watering points are installed. Sometimes animals are bred and re-released as a boost for wild populations. It’s a “kill one to save many” strategy that has seen wildlife populations increase, or at least stabilise, in many countries that have embraced it. In areas where there is no hunting, the opposite occurs. If you don’t believe me, take a drive from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls and keep an eye out for wildlife. You’ll be lucky to see so much as a ground squirrel anywhere outside hunting areas and National Parks. The starving masses ate everything else long ago.

6. Hunters are deranged/stupid/morons/sick/neanderthaals/loners/etc. No, we’re not. A common strategy of people arguing against something they don’t like without any proper reason or information is to resort to unsubstantiated personal insults. Nowhere will you find a better example of this than when anti-hunters attempt to argue against hunting. They love to assume the high intellectual ground and present themselves as somehow being a higher form of life than those who stoop to “killing animals for pleasure”.  Trouble is, again, the facts don’t support this proposition. A comprehensive recent study of hunting in Victoria found that almost all hunters have some kind of post-school qualifications, have full time employment, and are living in a household as a couple with children. I’d love to see those stats for the extreme Greens and animal liberationists!. Don’t forget, too, that hunting in Africa, in particular, costs a lot of dough. Those that partake of it must be reasonably proficient at gathering that dough in the first place.

7. This photo shows Brett Lee with a dead deer in South Africa. No, it doesn’t. What frothing mouths there were when the lynch mob thought they had claimed another scalp with the “discovery” of a photo showing former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee standing next to a dead deer. Many papers and the Sunrise program fell about themselves reporting that it was killed in South Africa. Wrong. It was shot in New Zealand, where deer are an introduced species. Whoops.

8. A good way to get back at McGrath is to stop donating to his Foundation. No, it isn’t. McGrath himself doesn’t benefit from the funds donated to the McGrath Foundation you twits, at least not in any pecuniary way. That’s why is called a charity. Those who will suffer from donations withdrawn are breast cancer victims and their families and friends. Putting the life of an animal ahead of the life of a human: now that is immoral. For rabid animal libbers it wouldn’t be the first time.

So, that’s my spin on the McGrath non-scandal. I remain unconvinced by the ‘arguments’ against hunting and I think the vilification of McGrath says more about his detractors than it does about him. Far from “saving animals”, recreational hunting, including trophy hunting in Africa, is entirely consistent with positive environmental outcomes including the management and/or growth of wildlife populations. That being the case, if it’s all very well with everyone else, I’d like to continue with my chosen recreation for a good while yet. I hope McGrath does too.

In case you’ve been hiding under a dead elephant for the last week, there are links to some news items listed below so you can catch up. In the meantime you can lend your support to McGrath on this Facebook page, or donate to the McGrath Foundation of hunters HERE.

Horribly biased and/or factually incorrect: Herald Sun; Woman’s Day;; Derryn Hinch;; Sunrise.

Spot on: Christie Pisani, Daily Telegraph; Robert Borsak, Sydney Morning Herald; Nicole Flint, Adelaide Now; Guns in Australia; Colin Bettles, Queensland Country Life; David Polkinghorne, Sydney Morning Herald, Garry Mallard, The Hunters Stand.




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