Hunting requires a moral position and its not always clearcut

The hunting season has reopened once more and the usual commentary has re- surfaced. Facebook opinions aside there are two distinct views as concerns slaughter wildlife in Trinidad and Tobago. On the one side there are the conservationists and on the other are the hunters. Neither has conceded to being wrong. As a long suffering steward of nature Environment Tobago by default is pro-conservation but we at ET are not unaware of the reasons people hunt – and would encourage discussion on the topic.

To begin with T&T law allows hunting. Yet hunters in the main have other vocations and sometimes those interests are not covered by the traditionally simple hunting season. For instance hunters can also be farmers, some will be family men with pots or pockets to satisfy. Farmers for example despise agoutis as mere pests which can clean out a cassava field overnight. A jobless man, with a hungry brood must feed them and hunting in that situation is not sport. In such situations or from that viewpoint hunting may be a justifiable occupation, man’s right to eat and all that. To those with the naturalist bent however, the privileges modern hunters enjoy (in the name of culture or lifestyle) are unimaginable travesties on the wild animal’s right to life. This is where looking closer at the current hunting scene can’t hurt.

When we examine the the root of the problem in the man versus animal story – right away habitat expansion surfaces as a major point in the conflict. Because long ago Man took over the lands he wanted for agriculture, housing and afterward for even more for recreation and business. And, as is so very apparent now, the creature kingdom was eventually eased out, decimated, extirpated or even hybridised if it suited. Before we open up the hunt or not to hunt conversation however we want to stick a pin right about here. Consider. Man also fished/overfished the rivers seas and ocean - which is technically hunting. But since armchair conservationists do not always appreciate the loss of water-based wildlife, in fact many are comfortable arguing against hunting – taking it to mean killing meat is not for them, their protein needs covered by the plant and fish kingdoms. Hypocrisy? Possible. More likely though its oversight.

In this day and age, all life including man’s requires regulating. The premise of ‘regulating’ wildlife therefore allows for culling – a process which can enable both recreational and food source hunting. In Trinidad and Tobago the Forestry Department has long argued for wildlife farms, because even wilderness - especially in crowded small island spaces requires tending. This is possibly a biased argument. Historically Forestry (Div) has existed for the cultivation and care of commercially important woods so possibly, the wildlife farm suggestion took root over time without full appraisal.Hopefully Forestry today in T&T means trees for harvesting along with habitats left for plants, fishes and animals.

Whatever transpires, we do know that animals in wildlife farms do not require a full or functional ecosystems as their kin in the woods and its very possible that popular hunted species say agouti can be pen raised. However its also easy to project that the ‘hunter’ who has access to all the meat he requires (for big shot parties or those critically important homestead pots) will still feel overriding need to ‘exercise the dogs’ or ‘shoot pests’ that attack gardeners vergeside plots. This perhaps is what really triggers conservationist anger. They see people going out to hunt for no other reason except the thrill of the chase and the experience of the kill. Hunters themselves are dishonest as they do not admit this. Actually some of them hedge. They’ll talk about ‘culture’ but do not elaborate. They’ll talk about appreciation for nature – yeh right, walkabout with a five shooter, the thing is, hunting in Trinidad and Tobago, whether morally wrong or not, could do with better management.

The authorities of not unaware of this state of affairs a course actions is underway. If we can forget for a moment the painfully slow process it takes to get things done we can expect the TT hunting community will one day only be able to hunt vermin and pests, preserving that ritual form – but only in private property not state lands or forest reserves and hopefully the latter may become complete no take zones. Actually six national conversations are presently underway guided by government’s policy reforms for management of biodiversity and for the sustainable management of forestry and protected areas. That means even if for now agouti and iguana etcetera are still under the gun, hopefully the discussions arguments and quarrels between the conservationists and the hunters will soon be resolved.