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- Henry David Thoreau


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Environment

May 30, 2018

Opinion: Inside the Mind of a Lion Murderer

This is an opinion article courtesy of Alexander Anghelou who is a psychologist specialising in cognitive behaviour therapy, who is passionate about nature and wildlife.

WRITTEN BY

Alexander Anghelou

Why would anyone be interested in killing lions? Even if it was for free, which it is not. As a psychologist, this is what I try to understand.

In 2014, after visiting South Africa, I wrote an article entitled “Lion Canned Hunting, the person behind the ‘Hunter”. This was before the infamous “Cecil the Lion” incident which sparked the world, and exposed the brutal and pitiful practice of canned hunting. At the time, the psychopathic industry of canned hunting was unknown to most people.

On the first of July 2015, Cecil the emblematic lion in Zimbabwe, is killed by an American dentist and exposed this barbaric kind of hunting to the world. Hearing of this industry for the first time, people were shocked and disgusted that this existed, and was even legal. I decided to look back at my article and see how things have evolved, but also analyze the persona who indulges in such practices. 

It’s over-compensation to avoid the reality that they are not 100% in control.

For those who have not heard of lion canned hunting, it consists of putting an adult lion (which has been hand reared and habituated to humans), in an enclosure, where a trophy hunter kills the lion with a rifle, gun, or crossbow from the safety of a jeep. There is no possibility of escape, and no ‘skill’ required. The lion, that has been habituated to humans, is calm until it gets shot, usually more than once, before dying an agonizing death. After killing the lion, ‘the brave hunter’ poses for a picture with the dead animal, before getting it shipped home to hang on their wall. A dirty business built on animal suffering and money.  

Four years after first hearing about canned hunting, I still believe that we live in a fast pace world that makes us feel less in control, and therefore less secure. To feel secure, many seek to over compensate by seeking an unrealistic degree of control, this strategy backfires as it leads in the opposite direction where one eventually ends up feeling helpless, and therefore more anxious and more insecure.

Born to Die. Photo: Alexander Anghelou

Read on The Outdoor Journal: Capt. Paul Watson’s Commentary, ‘Human Lives are Not More Important Than Animal Lives”.

In the case of canned hunters, I believe that it is over-compensation, to avoid the reality that they are not 100% in control.  I believe that the power and thrill the hunter feels by killing lions, which are symbols of power, is due to the fact that they feel reassured by fooling themselves that they have more power than they actually have, and therefore temporarily feel more secure.

The problem with reassurance is that it is addictive, the more we have it, the more we need it.  Since we habituate to it, our need for it escalates, we need more of it to get the same effect.

Behaviour isn’t random; it always serves a purpose and has a function.  We do many things to feel more secure. The more control we feel, we experience greater security, but it’s a self defeating trap because as soon as the illusion of control is exposed, we end up feeling more anxious and insecure than before. A growing number of people have expectations of 100% control, whilst each trophy hunter has individual twists and subtleties, I am confident that this is an important component and a common denominator. I would expect to see an expectation of control, in a mild or significant way, in each one of them. 

Boasting about killing an animal isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a sign of insecurity.

To be secure is to accept that our control is limited.  Only then do we maximise our feeling of control.  When we feel secure we do not feel the need to dominate and kill.  I do not include hunters, that hunt to eat or people who are in a situation where they need to defend themselves.  I am referring to the hunters who fly to the other end of the world to kill for the ‘entertainment and thrill.’ Boasting about killing an animal isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a sign of insecurity.

The way to address this insecurity isn’t by escaping or over-compensating, but instead coming to terms with reality. We do not have 100% control over our lives, we never did and never will, but that does not mean we should live in fear.

Imprisoned Lion. Photo: Alanxader Anghelou

The Situation:

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the animal massacre that is happening in Africa today, here are a few figures from Conservation Action Trust in South Africa

“Research reveals that in 14 years (between 2001 and 2015) South Africa and Tanzania alone represent the biggest exporters of animals in Africa.  During this period, they shipped 10,273 dead animals and 6,208 living animals of various species.
An astonishing 81,572 hunting trophies from African Bush Elephants were exported from Africa in this time – including skin pieces, tusks, feet and ivory carvings. 
In the same 14-year time frame 17,000 African lions were killed for sport resulting in their pelts, heads and bones exported for hunting trophies.”

In 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under the Obama administration stopped the import of lion trophies from South Africa. This was due to the listing of Panthera Leo as threatened on the Endangered Species Act, the African lion population had decline by 43 percent between 1993 and 2014. The Trump administration is set to undo the Obama legislation by legalizing the importation of lion and elephant trophies into the United States, but this decision was put on hold, leaving the situation unclear.

One should note that fifty years ago, there were around 500,000 lions in Africa,  today there are less than 20,000, and should this continue, within the next 15 years there might not be any wild and free lions in Africa.  Recent data from the DEA (South African Department of Environmental Affairs) estimate around 7000 captive lions being bred for ‘the bullet’ in approximately 260 facilities (100 more than in 2014).

Read Next on TOJ: Demand in Asia’s Legal Markets is Destroying Africa’s Wildlife.

Some Lion kisses. Photo: Alexander Anghelou

What’s Being Done

In November of 2015, the movie ‘Blood Lions’ by Ian Michler exposing canned lion hunting is projected at the European parliament. This movie played a big role in raising awareness of killing lions.  In the past 4 years, I have seen great efforts made to raise awareness, and to engage companies or legislative bodies to defend lions from this industry. There have been efforts to block the import of trophies into Europe, as well as to encourage airlines to refuse the transport of animal parts or ‘trophies’. 

Also in 2015, the Australian Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, announced a ban on the importation of lion trophies as part of a crackdown on canned hunting. This made Australia the first country to make the import of Lion trophies illegal. Shortly after, over 40 airline companies started refusing the transport of big-game trophies.

Possibly the greatest news is that on the 3rd of February 2018 in Las Vegas, a surprising milestone was reached. The world’s largest hunting club, Safari Club International (SCI) announced at its annual convention, that it condemned and would no longer advertise or accept hunts of captive bred lions. This greatly affecting the canned hunting industry in South Africa.

The world is reacting to this immoral industry, but no changes have been seen within the South African government, who continues to support the canned hunting of lions. 

I would like to thank and show my gratitude to the many dedicated people who have been working hard for lions. I encourage anyone who is touched by this piece to contribute in their own way.

Here are just a few heroes trying to bring an end to killing lions and canned hunting: Kevin & Mandy Richardson – www.lionwhisperer.co.za, Luis and CJ Munoz: Chelui4lions [Facebook], Chris Mercer www.cannedlion.org, and Julie Lasne (CACH)

Read Next: Capt. Paul Watson’s Commentary, ‘Human Lives Are Not More Important Than Animal Lives’.

About the Author: Alexander Anghelou is a psychologist specialised in cognitive behaviour therapy and is passionate about nature and wildlife.  www.cbt-brussels.eu

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Focus

Oct 01, 2018

The Forbidden Zone: Mongols, to Your Horses

The rolling green hills, rocky passes, flower-laden meadows and clear streams of Gorkhi Terelj National Park in northern Mongolia is the birthplace of the Mongols. The Outdoor Journal spent a week on horseback with Stone Horse Expeditions in the heart of this country’s vast wilderness.

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WRITTEN BY

Apoorva Prasad

Tdrihe Khan Khentii mountains stretched before us, from one end of the azure sky to the other. Tegri, the Great Sky God, watched us with his infinite panorama. From here, I could see miles and miles into the distance. This was the “Forbidden Zone”, that unknown wilderness where Genghis Khan was born. As a child and then again much later on, he hunted here, his true home, on a horse, sheltered in a ger or under the blue sky. When he was a boy, exiled with his family into the cold and harsh wilderness of the northern Mongolian hills, his only friends were what these lands contained. After he built an empire and died, it became a sacred and taboo zone, left to the deer and wolves. For decades the area had been closed off. The Soviets enforced it as a Highly Restricted Area to allow them to do what they wished with it – from logging and military exercises, to also countering any potential rise of Mongolian nationalism around the great Khan. Despite those years, the Area remained wild.

No wonder the Mongols worshipped it.

A day before, we had crossed fresh bear tracks. There were no signs of human presence apart from our train of horses and riders. And now, this vista lay in front of us, green and yellow grassy hills, long valleys, meadows of flowers stretching to higher mountains all the way to Siberia, some still snow-dusted despite the summer sun. Burkhan Khaldun stood further behind higher peaks. And that incredible sky. No wonder the Mongols worshipped it. We all lived once under this blue infinity. As we’d ridden northwards away from Ulan Bator, the city’s pollution had faded away long ago, the gray curse had lifted and my eyes had once again accustomed themselves to what they had evolved to do – see long distances, look for hares, deer, bears, navigate passes and ford streams, climb rocks, and watch falcons circle on thermals above. And over the last few days, we had done all these things.

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The weary horseriders arrive in the ger to refresh themselves.

We had left our last camp around mid-morning, some hours ago. One half of the party broke away to ride into another valley out west, while Keith and I wanted to ride up and to the pass in the range of hills that separated the Gorkhi Terelj from the Khan Khentii. We skirted the granite mounds which punctuated the ends of this valley, forded a marshy grassland below the campsite, fought off the bloodsucking horseflies that made our horses’ lives miserable for a little while, eventually entering a tall forest of larch and birch. The ground began to rise as we entered a narrow rocky trail that started to wind uphill. Jerry, my sturdy, stubborn little Mongolian horse plodded on. This easy gait was infinitely more comfortable than the long trots of our previous days in the saddle. Keith Swenson, a taciturn, the 64 year-old owner of Stone Horse Expeditions along with his wife Sabine Schmidt, showed none of the wear I felt – my skin of my thighs were quite literally raw after 50 kilometers of riding and trotting in the wilderness. After a few days Keith opened up with wisecracks. “People ask what do you do, and I say I’m a rider”, says Keith, punning on his American accent. “They think I mean ‘writer’, “and they ask, what have you written?” “So I say, Blackie, Brownie, Ol Dirty Face…”, naming his horses.

These lands, however remote, are important.

Halfway up the trail was a shaman’s totem, poles placed on the ground to make a conical structure, wrapped with bits of fabric and ribbons. But at the base, and near a tree, we also found broken shards of glass, vodka bottles drunk and thrown by unknown travelers who no longer respected their old ways. We’d been riding for an hour or so and we stopped for a short break in the little opening in the forest. It was quite warm in the strong sun, perhaps 30C like every day of the summer, but cold at nights, often dipping below freezing.

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These Mongolian horses play a huge role in making a trip across the steppe easy and fun for riders. Each horse has a unique personality. Big Dirty Face pictured here loves coffee and will drink it straight from your cup if you let him.

The Mongols invented the modern world*

The old ways are important. These lands, however remote, are important. The Mongols invented the modern world*. When, at the age of 55, Genghis Khan rode out into Asia and Europe, he created the largest empire known to humanity, as well as its first international postal system, and the largest free-flowing network of ideas, trade and culture. But today, Mongolia feels relatively isolated and far away, landlocked in the Eurasian continent. And getting there turned out to be a greater adventure than we’d expected. Instead of flying, we took the famous Trans-Mongolian from Beijing to Ulan Bator. At 11pm, the train pulled into the last station on the China-Mongolia border to change the undercarriage (the railway gauge is different in Mongolia). Three hours later we got back on the train and waited patiently for the Chinese guards to hand us all our passports back. Our intern’s passport was returned ripped from its cover. Before anyone could make a move, the train entered Mongolia… where the Mongolian border guard insisted that the 18-year old girl get off the train because she wasn’t allowed to enter on an invalid passport. Twenty minutes of arguing later, at nearly three am, we got off and watched the train leave without us.

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Mongolian cuisine is typically meat and dairy products. Vegans beware.

Fifteen hours later, after many phone calls and emails to various embassies and important officials, she was finally allowed to enter the country. The Trans-Mongolian having long gone, we finagled an eight-hour taxi ride across the great steppes (on a second-hand car coming off a goods train) for $45. Welcome to Mongolia.

REAL MEN TROT

I did not have much riding experience, but I usually don’t let a little thing like that deter me from a trip. Keith, once also a climber, agreed that anyone up for adventure would be perfectly fine on a Mongolian horse. They were sturdy and forgiving. We all gathered at their staging camp an hour’s drive from Ulan Bator – a Singaporean couple on their second trip with Stone Horse, their friend from Hong Kong, a French diplomat from Swaziland, our team of three, Keith, Sabine and their crew – Nyamaa, Buyana and Jackson, the American intern. Soon, our team of 16 horses and Stinky the Mongolian Dog, a most genuine companion if there ever was one, were off towards the north. Day one went reasonably well, with a short four hour ride to our first campsite inside the Gorkhi Terelj National Park. The other experienced riders asked me various questions about how I felt and whether my horse had cantered or galloped, and I said I didn’t know, but the horse seemed to know what it was doing. Apparently, they have many gaits.

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Nomads Yadmaa and Tavaasurn inside their summer ger, just outside Gorkhi Terelj.

I learned what that meant the next day.

The morning begins easily and we move along a gentle valley. At a stream, the horses bend to drink. They’re herd animals, comfortable only in their own numbers. Suddenly, there’s a commotion as one of the pack horses spooks and bolts. We’re unprepared, and good old Jerry decides to follow the bolting horse too, suddenly turning 180 degrees and galloping wildly. I have to pull firmly on the reins to stop him, while the teamsters have to get the other fella back. He’s bucking around wildly, his unshod feet stamping, his grass-eating brain telling him that that bee sting he felt on his hind was a wolf’s nip. Stinky ignores the commotion, running ahead happily back in his favorite hunting grounds, chasing ground squirrels to their holes. We continue, entering a forest and then riding uphill to a pass. On the other side, a wide open valley, and our first real gallop. Now I feel the sensation, riding with the animal as one, gently cycling my feet in the stirrups and gripping with my knees, all of it coming naturally to me and I urge Jerry on, on, on. Chhoo, Jerry, Chhoo! We stop at a babbling brook in the valley below where we wash our faces. Are we in paradise?

And then the long trot begins. For a horse, it’s the most comfortable way to move. But it’s bouncy. I try to “post” like all the real riders. Watching me grimace in agony, Keith smiled and said, “real men trot,” as he rode along comfortably with that rolling ankle movement to compensate for the horse’s bumpy ride. “Trotting is how the Mongols moved such vast distances. If you make him gallop, you won’t get very far, you’ll kill the horse”.

a melting pot of humanity and ethnicities

But Mongolia changed the course of human history since long before the great Khan and his riders, the ultimate, self-sufficient soldiers. Apart from the Mongols, it is also the original homeland of the Huns and the Turks. It is a melting pot of humanity and ethnicities, where thousands of years ago two language families met and separated – the Indo-Europeans and the Altaics – and possibly where the wild horse was first tamed, thereby changing the course of history. When men on horses first raced out of Central Asia, first ancient Mesopotamia, then Egypt fell. Europe’s original ‘mother culture’ and India’s Harappan civilization disappeared. Humans, moving incredible distances on horses, spread across Asia, from the western end of Europe to Korea, all the way down to Arabia and India, creating nearly all the cultures we know today. Some of the languages they spoke evolved today into English, and others evolved into Japanese, but some of their words have become so intermingled that it’s hard to distinguish which came from which. Hindi is an Indo-European language, but today the common Hindi word for “home” is “ghar” (from the Sanskrit “grhá”) which is nearly identical to the Altaic Mongolian’s word for home, ger.

When the Hunnu (“Huns”) fought the Chinese Hans, the clans that lost fled towards Europe, creating Hungary, as well as leading to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire. Centuries later, the Turkics originally from the Mongolian steppes came hurtling into Constantinople, wiping out the Eastern Roman Empire.

We ride through rocky hills and rock formations, up and down defiles, over passes and across shallow streams, through meadows of flowers and knee-high grass. We ride all day, and every evening set up our traveling camp like the Mongols of old. We sleep in modern-day lightweight tents, under trees or under the stars, breathing cold clear air, drinking from fresh rain-fed streams, eating atop rocks while falcons circle above and the horses graze.

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The Stone Horse team from left to right – Jackson, Keith, Buyana, Nyamaa and Sabine.

The world has continued to change, but horses and men will forever ride together.

One day we stretched out the ride to reach a farther campsite, a Hunnu gravesite. We set up our tents atop 2000-year old graves, low mounds of stones marking the places where men, women, children and horses were laid to rest. “I believe that these people would have loved us to be here, living like they did,” said Keith. When they hear our horses, they’ll feel alive”. The next morning, I pulled my horse off to a side and to a vantage point to shoot the group riding further down the valley. Jerry stomped and neighed angrily as the herd passed him by, but I held him back. When the group disappeared into the distance, I quickly packed my camera gear back into the saddlebags. Then jumping back on, I let the horse fly as he wished, back to his herd. Jerry, the funny but tough little horse, galloped madly a mile north over the gently rising slope. Our hooves rang out in the valley, as two large round mounds, Hun graves, emerged in front on the mountainside. Neither Jerry nor I needed to veer, and we galloped directly over the centre of the mounds, the sound of our hoofbeats gladdening passed Hunnu souls. Their ancestors, our ancestors, had once tamed wild horses, and together changed the world. The world has continued to change, but horses and men will forever ride together.

Images by Madhuri chowdhury.

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