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Bear ‘harvest’ and other ‘authorized’ hypocrisies

In the early 1970s, the black bear population in Florida was fewer than 300. In October 2015, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “harvest objectives” for the week-long bear hunt was 320 bears.

Weapons allowed included shotguns, bows, pistols, revolvers and crossbows. Rules prohibited the use of bait or dogs to lure the bears, and permitted the killing of bears only weighing more than 100 pounds and without any cubs present. 33 stations were set up where hunters had to record each kill within 12 hours. Non-compliance of rules inculcated a fine of $50 to $500 and 60 days in prison.

In 1974, the black bear was categorized as a threatened species in the state and soon, hunting was banned. In 2012, when the numbers rose, the animal was taken off the protected list. In October 2015, with 3000 or more bears inhabiting Florida’s forests and swamps, the state saw an “authorized hunting” season for the first time in 21 years to cull the numbers.

It is rather hypocritical that a nation which causes so much hullabaloo over the moralities of the Yulin Dog festival doesn’t create that much of a furor in this case of “authorized hunting” where bears are “harvested” with the likeness of crops. Even though a few other states also employ hunting seasons to cut down the bear population, Florida, being the nation’s third most populated state with 20 million residents is hardly likely to need such a rash measure to cull the black bear numbers.

Despite several protests and lawsuits, 3,778 hunting permits were issued by the state, each permitting one kill. The permits were priced at $100 for Florida residents and $300 for non-residents. While Florida has indeed seen a rise in black bear-caused nuisance with 49,000 statewide incidents within the period of 1994-2014 (according to a National Geographic article), such a step spells disaster in the direction that we have come with respect to animal protection over the years.

Though a majority of the FWC signed off on the hunt citing “environment management”, the step is “an assertion of the dominance of one species over another”, as said by Laurie MacDonald, Florida director for the Defenders of Wildlife according to a tampabay.com article.

People opposing the hunt argued that a better waste management system that ensured no open dumpsters or trash cans would ensure less interaction between humans and bears as the smell of food was the main reason that bears were lured into residential areas. Others cited human development as the main issue which caused an infiltration by humans into the bear territory.

In a report on abcnews.go.com, Diane Eggeman, division director for the state’s hunting and game management agency, said that hunting was the “only effective tool we have for managing these growing populations at large scale”.

However, co-founder of the Central Florida Bear Hunters Association Brad McNaughton wasn’t among the hunters. Despite stating that the bear season was necessary he felt that “It’s going to take several years before they work out the kinks and there will be times when it’s not pretty.”

The process undertaken with vague objectives is rather poor as it doesn’t ensure a proper surgical method and targets a random bear population rather than pinpointing individual bears prone to nuisance. Moreover, inexperienced hunters might kill bears which are too young or wound others which might result in grave consequences later on.

Such was the primitive drive to hunt that within a span of just two days, 295 bears were killed. In a statement released late on Sunday, the Commission declared the “harvest” over in all four of the state’s seven BMUs (Bear Management Units) that offered bear hunting.

While the petition against the Yulin Dog Festival gained more than 4 million signatures, such an incident taking place in the States itself couldn’t be stopped by the common man’s choice. FWC called for public input on the decision and out of the 40,000 inputs, 75% opposed the decision. The Commission still went ahead.

The muted reaction to this “authorized hunting” season shows the selective reaction of the media and the masses to animal cruelty.

While dogs are viewed as our furry companions and are thus considered a taboo form of food, none bat an eyelid at the prospect of a pig, cow, or chicken going through similar torture in the “authorized” slaughterhouse procedures.

Such is our mindset, that a tradition which predates written history in China garners a worldwide protest at the atrocities committed on dogs and even cats at the Yulin Dog Festival, but we turn a blind eye to the daily torture that farm animals go through as they are gassed, often unsuccessfully, their throats slit and they are hung up upside down to drain out.

Social media doesn’t tell us how phrases like “free range” and “barn raised” are just fancy words hiding the appalling conditions in which chicken and turkey are raised. Male chicks are thrown alive into shredders after they are born as they are deemed of “no use”. Turkeys and chickens are pumped up with hormones to make them fatter and juicier and millions of these birds are killed for Christmas this year, yet we don’t see any media frenzy to shut down the poultry farms.

Four million is also the number of people celebrating the Gadhimai festival, in Nepal, which involves the large scale sacrificial slaughter of animals including water buffaloes, pigs, goats, chickens, and pigeons – to please Gadhimai, the goddess of power. The sacrificial aspect was called to a halt in July this year and the next festival in 2019 will be a “momentous celebration of life” instead of an animal sacrifice, according to the Gadhimai temple chairman Ram Chandra Shah.

As the masses rush to sign petitions urged on by photographs of animals in distress, they forget that what the media is showing them is mirrored indirectly in the meat farms and slaughterhouses in their very own countries and states; that the beef burger which tastes so good now was perhaps a few hours ago, an animal in utter distress, lying fully conscious as a result of a missed stun attempt, and condemned to a long drawn painful death.

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