Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kendall Jones and the Spector of Colonialism

The controversy over a 19 year-old US citizen, a student attending Texas Tech University, Kendall Jones visiting South Africa and Zimbabwe to hunt and kill big game such as lions, leopards, rhinos and later posting her conquests on Facebook is alarming in ways that people are not discussing. Yes, I agree with those protesting that it is horrible to view her postings as these are animals that have not recovered completely from their threatened or endangered status, and despite the fact that she paid the necessary fees to legally hunt and kill these animals, her publicizing it through Facebook only encourages others (both legally and illegally) to hunt/poach these animals. This is the issue that the media, her supporters and those in protest are talking about. But there is more at hand here. 
For one, the comparison of her to Theodore « Teddy » Roosevelt and his achievements during an African safari is an inappropriate comparison. The circumstances of Roosevelt’s era and Kendall Jones’s are not the same. 100 years ago, elephants, lions, rhinos, and leopards were not endangered or a threatened species. They became one or the other by the 1960s, and while their numbers may have increased and hunting is allowed under strict regulations (granted conditions that Kendall Jones abided by), this does not prevent poachers and other illegal acts from occurring. Elephant ivory is in great demand in the production of souvenirs and jewelry, rhinoceros horn is used in Asian traditional medicine and in the making of ornamental knives in Oman and Yemen, the pelts of cheetahs and leopards are highly prized as well as the meat from all African animals to supply an exotic meat industry. Other animal parts are in demand for traditional medicinal use, sold at local apothecaries. 

Second, Teddy Roosevelt was hunting big game in the wild; Kendall Jones was hunting in a game park where the animals are fed at specific locations, conditioning the animals to appear for hunters in order to facilitate a kill. Despite the fact that these animals are dangerous, they are certainly not living the same lives as their ancestors. It is true there is a certain amount of danger in moving through a wild animal’s habitat and these animals are not domesticated like sheep, yet they are placed in situations where they are brought in for the slaughter. One can argue whether this situation is a form of domestication, but one cannot dispute that lions, elephants and rhinos are limited in their escape routes and the hunter’s bullet has greater chance of ending their lives. 
What is perhaps, the greatest consequence of Kendall Jones’s callous actions and pride in presenting them on Facebook will be response of people both outside and in Africa. It was already mentioned above that such grandstanding will encourage other game hunters like her and poachers to follow in her tracks. This creates problems for the conservation effort to bring these animals’ populations up to a healthy number. Non-Americans sympathetic to animal rights movements will point to the arrogance and audacity of Americans in displaying these slain animals. And the average African, as well, will only view this as a typical act of Neo-colonialism, where privileged White people can take, consume, waste and kill any resource in Africa without repercussion. After all, they have watched for sixty years now, their states and authorities go to great length to attract such individuals and groups (like Kendall Jones and her family), foreign donors and corporations for income.  

Kendall Jones defends her actions by pointing out that her costs in hunting these game go for conservation efforts of the same species she killed. This justification overlooks the possibility that the money she spent in Africa could have been used in more productive way. It could have been used directly through her touring game parks and safaris without the purpose of hunting, essentially shooting photographs, not bullets or arrows. It could have also gone indirectly in aiding conservation efforts by helping out local African communities that neighbor game parks. Money could have been used in supplying basic needs like the construction of a well, supplying medicine and vaccinations to a near by hospital or the installation of a solar energy project. But then such actions would deprive Kendall Jones of displaying narcissistic, ‘macho’ photographs of her and her victims on social media. Well, she could have had photos with local Africans, farmers, nurses and community leaders, but with no blowback from the people outraged by her conquests.