Hunting is becoming an ever increasing point of polarisation. Someone who can honestly understand both sides of the argument is hard to come by – anyone with an informed opinion is usually either totally in favour or staunchly against it.
I think that the problem here lies in the fundamental differences between two ways of perceiving nature: One way is to consider the countryside as something to be preserved and enjoyed. This is naturally more prevalent amongst those living in cities who are deprived of the countryside. On the other hand, those who depend (or used to dependent) on the countryside tend to see nature more as something to be harnessed and harvested. They feel that the countryside is their natural home – they feel a sense of ownership, and perhaps entitlement, to nature.
Obviously, these contrasting perceptions have long roots in the past. The problem however is that this past is very recent. Just going back to the time of our grandparents, the population on these islands was almost half of what it is today and farmers constituted a quarter of the workforce. Malta is now completely different, but the people and their pastimes are not that much. Without a properly managed transitionary period we are bound to continue witnessing the ongoing crusade between pro-hunters and anti-hunters.
What follows are some thoughts addressed to both sides of the battle field:
Two of the main arguments used against hunting are that hunting should be banned because illegalities are not being curbed, and because it hurts the environment. Focusing on the first one for the moment, using the same argument why don’t we ban cars from the streets? Most of us would agree that the laws are very poorly enforced here too and that these abuses also cost a significant number of innocent lives every year. Shifting the focus to the second argument, all of us who drive a car, consume electricity, etc., are all hurting the environment. Strangely, if you afford to buy loads of petrol and pay high registration fees, or high utility bills, you are allowed to hurt the environment as much as you like in these domains. Isn’t this a case of two weights two measures?
Still, I think there are many valid arguments which could be used: One is plain and simple animal cruelty and the other (for the case of spring hunting) is that autumn does provide a good alternative to hunters. Regarding the former, it cannot be denied that unlike other means of animal slaughter, using a shotgun it is very hard to control how much pain the animal’s death would involve. In the case of the second argument, the challenge is to have a reliable estimate of the number of birds which are actually being downed in autumn. This so far seems to be a big problem. However, weather radars have been used around the world to study migration populations. It shouldn’t be too difficult to have a reliable estimate of how many birds enter Maltese territory and how much make it out alive. If there is truly no way of measuring how many birds are killed in autumn and hunters insist that spring is the only satisfactory alternative, then why not lobby for closing down the five-month autumn season altogether?
I think the biggest problem of the pro hunting lobby is the image they project. Their poor use of public media is losing them sympathy from those who are not directly involved in the debate. Furthermore, they could gain credibility amongst this same audience by for example publishing the illegalities it reported to police and the number of hunters it expelled from the federation as a consequence.
Finally, I would say it is unrealistic to expect to have the same hunting indulgences our grandparents afforded. Any hunter would readily admit that migration populations are decreasing year on year. So it would be much more productive if rather than just lamenting about the depression hunters are falling into, the hunters’ federation is more proactive about it. For example by lobbying for support from government to provide alternative activities for hunters. Perhaps FKNK could bolster up its conservation aspect through such an initiative and contribute something back to Maltese society (apart from eucalyptus trees).