American television host and blogger Melissa Bachman has sparked controversy among animal rights activists and hunters that has crossed borders and ignited a campaign to have her banned from South Africa. Bachman, a Minnesota native and host of Winchester Deadly Passion, recently visited the country for the purpose of filming for the show. After hunting and killing a male lion a photograph of her and the carcass circulated Twitter before quickly making rounds on national news.
Bachman’s expedition took place at the Maori Conservancy in South Africa, north of Johannesburg. Regardless of whether one innately believes Bachman’s actions were unethical or fair-game in the sport of Big-game hunting, it is important to note that she did so with a legal permit in an area that promotes “sustainable hunting of wild game as a way to promote healthy herd growth of many species,” according to Maori’s website. Although historically associated with lions, elephants, bison, leopards, and rhinoceros, Big-game hunting also encompasses North American animals as well, including moose, bears, and bison and has been a topic of hot debate in the U.S. for years.
However, this is not to say that Bachman’s actions should be condoned, nor that she should immediately be banned from the country. The problem with her “safari” is she had a permit that easily costs thousands of dollars, which more than likely came from funding for her show that legally gave her the right to hunt within the boundaries of her permit and the grounds of the conservancy she visited. In terms of ethical behavior, her hunting was not poaching and she and her team went through the necessary hoops to do so.
However, a major issue is her total lack of sensitivity to the culture of those who welcomed her into their country. This is a problem many younger people have now: the issue of constantly show-and-telling on social media without thinking first. Bachman is bound to face criticism because of the field of work and the hobby she chose regardless of where she is from. She is not South African. Was she informed of the issues of legality of hunting in the country? Did she inform herself of local customs and opinions and did she see the controversy in her actions? Does it matter whether or not thousands of people are upset enough to sign a petition to ban her if she was simply doing something she loved? If she did, the criticism is well deserved and she should handle it professionally.
What the money inadvertently supported and what became of the animal bodies is an entirely different discussion in itself. Allowing hunters to practice their profession in a designated area promotes what Maori calls, “conservation through sustainable hunting,” and the costs of permits ranging well up to $125,000 can certainly aid conservation efforts. Hunting has become a part of a sustainable economy not only in Africa but in the U.S. as well; however, one needs to be informed of the practices of the group or conservancy they choose to utilize. It is very possible that the death of the male lion that Bachman hunted disrupted the social structure of a pride. It is also very possible that the money Bachman’s team paid will never see a true conservation effort.
As children we are taught to cherish and love the safari animals we have on the wallpaper of our nurseries, in the coloring books we use, and in the cartoons we watch. Does it seem backwards to support conservation through killing? Yes. Should we chastise Bachman for legally killing an animal? No. What matters is that her unfortunate use of social media can be used to open a discussion of what needs to be done to protect animals in all countries and what it means to be culturally sensitive and informed.