Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
There are quite a lot of feral goats in the UK derived from escaped or abandoned domestic flocks. From Lynton in North Devon, to the mountains of Sutherland, from North Wales to Northumberland thousands of goats live alongside rural communities and most are managed to a greater or lesser degree. Private landowners and institutions like the National Trust and RSPB carry out culls as feral goats, technically an invasive alien species, can cause significant environmental damage as population densities rise. Sometimes that culling will include landowners taking paying clients out to shoot a goat with the aim often being to take a male with a head that might end up being mounted by a taxidermist. I know that most of you will not be surprised about any of this, nor would you consider it newsworthy. Yet this week a picture of a goat shot on Islay, and the American woman who shot it, have adorned the front page of national newspapers and inspired a hysterical outburst across social media.
The lady in question is, apparently, something of a ‘hunting celebrity’ in the States and obviously has an interest in self-promotion. Her approach is jarring by more reserved British standards, but the extraordinary reaction to her hunting holiday photographs is still difficult to explain in logical terms. Logic is, however, not something to be relied on in terms of public reaction to issues like this and the reality is that the allegations of ‘cruelty’ are not related to animal welfare, but a reaction to the motivation of the hunter.
Whether we like it or not in nearly every argument about hunting and wildlife management public reaction is defined by the perception of the individuals involved, not whether the death of an animal was humane.
Those who are upset by the fact that people take enjoyment from stalking a deer (or a goat), from shooting a pheasant or hunting a fox cannot produce a logical argument against such activities in terms of animal welfare or wildlife management so they inevitably revert to claims that they are morally or ethically wrong. There is apparently a ‘moral outrage’ against the shooting of the Islay goat, last month the Welsh Government Environment Minister stated that the Labour government had an ‘ethical objection’ to game shooting, even the courts can revert to this justification as in the human rights case against the Hunting Act in which the judges ruled that in the absence of evidence that hunting caused unnecessary suffering MPs were entitled to take an ‘ethical view about the morality’ of hunting.
Of course, that ‘ethical view’ is nothing more than the imposition of the prejudice of one part of society on another, but it is the route by which many of our activities are, and will continue to be, judged. We must always remember that logic, evidence and principle are largely irrelevant in debates about wild animals. Perception and prejudice trump them every time.
Follow me at @CA_TimB