Extra! Republicans Murder Elephants
Mort Rosenblum / Reader Supported News
TUCSON (April 30, 2021) — Months after the Sandy Hook gunman killed 20 schoolkids and six adults, Wayne LaPierre went to Botswana, eager to make a National Rifle Association promo video, a brave white hunter in mortal combat with a raging bull elephant. It didn’t happen that way.
The New Yorker unearthed the video eight years after the NRA buried it. It shows LaPierre, ham-handed and nervous, botch an up-close execution of his docile prey. Two guides praise him profusely, then shake their heads in contemptuous disbelief behind his back.
With several off-mark bullets, he wounds his quarry. One guide helps him aim a final coup de grace. As he preens for photos with his kill, the other one directs his wife’s tripod-mounted gun so that she can murder her own elephant, standing still a short distance away.
Lots of pictures show Don Jr. and Eric Trump posed triumphantly over noble African beasts they dispatched in similar fashion. But the LaPierres, giddy with glee as they fondle massive ivory tusks and saw off leathery tails, reach to the depths of human depravity.
During the mid-80s, I spent months in the Okavango Delta, that same part of Botswana, researching a book titled Squandering Eden. Later, I tracked supply chains to ivory and rhino horn markets in Asia.
In 1984, Burundi was down to its last elephant. Yet it exported 100 tons of ivory – tusks from 11,000 elephants illegally trafficked from other African countries. Ten million elephants roamed the continent in the 1930s. Today, estimates number them at near 400,000.
The problem is complex in Africa, where mushrooming human populations look askance at lumbering pachyderms that trample crops and devastate trees with their trunks. Game wardens need to cull old bulls in big herds to maintain a natural balance.
But there is money to be made, legitimately or otherwise, on an unruly continent in a world where rich high-rollers, Chinese chefs, Asian healers, and others spare little thought to the population crash, if not extinction, of creatures great and small.
Safari operators that charge up to $50,000 for an elephant hunt lobby hard for the privilege. Poachers with automatic weapons, hardly concerned with sustainability, massacre at random. They hack out tusks with machetes and leave the rest to rot.
Big-game hunting still had a certain panache in the 1980s. Lionel Palmer, a Botswana legend, made his clients work for their trophies and kept his camp in tune with the wilds. Once he silenced one of his bearer’s loud radio with a .357 rifle blast.
But Lloyd Wilmot saw the future. We toured the Okavango in a stripped-down Land Rover and then crisscrossed above savannahs in his Cessna to follow depleted herds. “It’s shocking,” he said. “Killing is peanuts with modern weapons. Hemingway did enormous damage to African wildlife by making hunting macho.”
Though modest in manner and stature, Lloyd was fearless. He was nearly trampled three times by elephants – and once by hippos while skin diving in a swamp. His father, Bobby, notched up 45,000 crocodiles in the Okavango until a black mamba got him in 1968.
In 1970, he decided that animals should be seen, not shot, and he set up Lloyd’s Camp at Savuti. Tourists loved it. One wrote in his guestbook: “If Lloyd is my shepherd, I Wilmot want.” He is still there, but many of those herds and prides he showed me are not.
The trend is grim for all African wildlife. In 2019, CNN produced a piece on cheetahs, handsome cats that can pace a Ferrari in first gear. Fewer than 7,500 then remained in the wild, experts estimated, and 1,000 were kept as exotic pets in Arab Gulf states.
Hundreds are captured annually in the Horn of Africa, smuggled out of Somaliland to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Cheetahs languish in captivity; many die within the year. Simple math suggests a crash from which they may not recover.
With Asian tigers in short supply, traditional Chinese medicine men instead grind up lion bones for assorted maladies, mostly one more effectively treated with Viagra.
Even tall blond giraffes are targeted, a bellwether that reflects deepening global crises. Food grows scarce as temperatures rise, and locusts ravage crops that survive drought. And as heavy weapons flood into Africa, game wardens are no match for armed gangs.
Traditional poachers are now joined by zealots from the defeated Islamic State, who moved deep into Africa where they link up with local Muslim terrorist groups. In areas they control, no hunting rules apply. For hungry villagers elsewhere, anything is fair game.
Hunters kill giraffes for their meat. They take what they can carry away and, like those slaughtered de-tusked elephant carcasses, the rest is left for the hyenas and vultures.
Overall, well-heeled foreigners account for a small part of the decline in African big game, and the morality of guided safaris with high-tech firepower is a personal call. My own inclination is to lump them together with those vultures and hyenas.
I am still haunted by a photo spread, years ago, in London’s Sunday Times. It showed aging American millionaires with self-satisfied smiles in vast trophy rooms displaying mounted heads and stuffed pelts: lions, leopards, buffalo and the rest, even a few rhinos.
All that needless plunder raises the obvious question: How much good might been done in Africa if the cost of all those safaris went toward helping people? Live animals, protected in natural habitat game parks, generate income for Africans who badly need it.
Watching that New Yorker video (the link is attached) adds another question. Just how much money did the NRA squander for scrapped propaganda meant to portray its spendthrift director as a skilled role-model sportsman?
It is sickening enough to see a hobby hunter gloat over an elephant that in a fair matchup would stomp him into mush. In the case of Wayne LaPierre, a wimp warrior who callously condones so many human gun deaths at home, it is beyond obscene.
Mort Rosenblum has reported from seven continents as Associated Press special correspondent, edited the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and written 14 books on subjects ranging from global geopolitics to chocolate. He now runs MortReport.org.
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