Dalai Lama hits sport hunting
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2002:
DHARAMSALA, India–Making perhaps his strongest statement
yet on behalf of animals, the Dalai Lama on March 29 reminded
Buddhists that sport hunting is contrary to the teachings of the
The Dalai Lama had been asked to address the growth of trophy
hunting in Mongolia by Fund for Animals spiritual outreach director
Norm Phelps, who practices Tibetan Buddhism. Phelps outlined the
recent heavy investment of trophy hunting outfitters in promoting
safaris to kill argali sheep, snow leopards, Bactrian camels and
other species, many of which may not be legally hunted anywhere else.
Phelps pointed out that “An estimated 95% of the Mongolian
population of 2.5 million are Tibetan Buddhists.”
The Dalai Lama responded with an open appeal issued in his
official capacity as spirtual head of the Tibetan Buddhist religion.
“I am deeply saddened to learn that Mongolia encourages
trophy hunting of rare and endangered species for tourism,” the
Dalai Lama wrote. “We all know that taking others’ lives is in
general against Buddhist principles. How can we destroy and play
with the lives of animals merely for fun, pleasure, and sports? It
is unthinkable. Tibet, as a Buddhist country, in the past had
banned hunting of animals in any form. Today there is greater
awareness worldwide for the protection of not only the environment
but also of animals, their rights, and their protection against
torture. And therefore, even in countries where there are strong
traditions of hunting, people are passing laws to ban it. A good
case in point is the recent ban on fox hunting by the Scottish
“I therefore appeal to all concerned in Mongolia not to
indulge in trophy hunting of rare and endangered species,” the Dalai
Lama concluded. “I make this appeal as a Buddhist because of our
respect and compassion for all living beings.”
The condemnation of sport hunting by the Dalai Lama will have
resonance with Buddhists around the world–and among other people
where the moral legitimacy of hunting is currently at issue,
especially in India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile at
Dharamsala; Nepal, the other ancient Himalyan mountain kingdom;
and the U.S. where the life of the Dalai Lama has been subject of
several popular films, many books, and celebrity press coverage for
more than 40 years.
The opposition of the Dalai Lama to sport hunting may also
cause discomfort to many well-placed Republican conservatives, who
have long embraced the Dalai Lama as a living symbol of resistance to
Communism, and frequently cite the forced annexation of Tibet in
1953 in statements of opposition to liberalizing trade and political
relations with the Chinese Communist regime.
The strength of Tibetan Buddism in Mongolia despite decades
of Communist repression is still evident, but during the past 20
years the Safari Club International has probably had more access to
political decision-makers there than the Dalai Lama has ever enjoyed,
beginning with back-door entry during the Communist era.
Mongolia under Communism was mostly aligned with the former
Soviet Union. The constant presence of Soviet troops from the 1920s
on probably prevented China from annexing Mongolia as it annexed
Tibet. Until the mid-1980s, trophy hunting access was mostly
restricted to well-connected Soviet military and political figures,
and hunting was conducted at a relatively restrained level.
Mongolian trophy hunting opportunities opened to European and
North American hunters after the Soviet and Mongolian Communist
governments fell in 1990–and that brought a hunting boom. The basic
arrangements had already been developed through many years of
behind-the-scenes activity by prominent U.S. trophy hunters who were
especially anxious to kill the argali sheep they needed to qualify
for some of the most coveted awards offered by the Safari Club
As Phelps explained, “The argali is the world’s largest wild
sheep, whose spectacular curved horns make it a prime target.”
Mission to Mongolia
Backed by the Safari Club, Smith-sonian Institution staff
biologist Richard Mitchell in 1984 founded the American Ecological
Union to promote sport hunting in both China and Mongolia. The
Smithsonian then loaned Mitchell to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service for a year to study the endangered species status of the
argali, the snow leopard, and other rare Mongolian animals.
During that year, Mitchell arranged an argali sheep hunt in
Mongolia, presented to the Smithsonian as a research expedition.
Participants included former Texas gubernatorial candidate Clayton
Williams, his wife Modesta, and several friends–all of them
associates and political allies of former U.S. President George H.
Bush and current President George W. Bush, his son. Both Bushes are
life members of the Safari Club.
Mitchell, Williams, and friends killed and imported the
trophies from four argali sheep. Charged by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service with violating the Endangered Species Act, Williams
got the case dropped, reportedly with help from U.S. Senators Lloyd
Bentsen (D-Texas) and Pete Wilson (R-Calif., later governor of
California), and Represent-ative Jack Fields (R-Texas).
Mitchell himself was in 1993 convicted of illegally importing
a urial sheep pelt, but was fined just $1,000, served two years on
probation, and continued to review endangered species trophy import
applications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of
Scientific Authority until June 1996. The Smithsonian Institution
reportedly spent more than $650,000 to defend Mitchell against the
charges, which were brought by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Mongolian ministry for nature and the environment became
aware by 1995 that trophy hunting pressure was already depleting
native wildlife, and in June 1995 introduced a conservation law
which banned killing snow leopards; stipulated that only 15 permits
per year would be offered to hunt the argali, at $10,000 each; and
introduced limited protection for musk oxen, antelopes, Siberian
elk, reindeer, beavers, hyenas, otters, bustards, pheasants,
swans, cranes, wild horses, Bactrian camels, and sturgeon.
Reuter correspondent Irja Halasz wrote then that although
19-day safaris to hunt snow leopards were offered to Americans at
$25,000 apiece, “pelts from the rare cats can be bought from local
hunters for as little as $25 apiece” on the streets of Ulan Bator,
the Mongolian capital.
Enforcing the Mongolian legislation proved difficult,
however, as subsequent summer droughts and harsh winters have
devastated the rural economy and increased the incentives for hunting
guides to take a bribe and look away if a hunter wants to shoot an
animal without having the proper permit.
The George W. Bush administration has meanwhile moved to
relax the restrictions on the import of argali sheep trophies.
“The Fund for Animals, along with other wildlife protection
organizations and two Mongolian scientists, filed suit against the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April 200l to prevent the import of
sport-hunted argali trophies, and to list the argali population as
endangered throughout its entire range in Asia. That suit is
pending,” Phelps said.
The Dalai Lama himself has struggled to maintain an
apolitical public personna, but his role as head of a
theocracy-in-exile is part of the political and philosophical
construct used by some evangelical fundamentalist Christians to
rationalize support for Israel as a Jewish theocracy, Saudi Arabia
as a quasi-Islamic theocracy, and legislation which would accord
Christianity constitutional recognition as the national religion of
Their argument, essentially, is that theocracy based on
regional cultural dominance is the form of government favored by God,
and that “secular humanism” which separates church from state is
contrary to Biblical commandment.
It is among evangelical fundamentalist Christian
conservatives that support for sport hunting is strongest in the
U.S., and it is from them, a sector which has long supported the
cause of Tibetan independence, that the Dalai Lama is most likely to
feel a backlash.
Among the organizations whose members the Dalai Lama might
hear from are the Christian Sportsmen’s Fellowship, of Atlanta,
with 300 local affiliates across the U.S., known for selling
camouflaged pocket-sized abridged editions of the Bible, and the
Special Youth Challenge Ministries, also based in Georgia, whose
major activity seems to be taking handicapped children to shoot
animals at canned hunts. Unification Church founder Sun Mying Moon,
82, fined for exceeding the salmon fishing limit in Alaska in August
2000, might also put in a few words, as one of the staunchest
anti-Communists on the religious right.
Seventh Day Adventists, on the other hand, are advised to
practice vegetarianism, conveying an implicit injuction against
hunting, and Mormons could be reminded that both Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith and later president
Joseph F. Smith spoke against sport hunting.
Joseph Smith wrote in his History of the Church that he
“exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of
any kind unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves
Joseph F. Smith wrote in Gospel Doctrine that, “I do not
believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for
food. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill
almost everything which possesses animal life.”
Fund for Animals spiritual outreach director Norm Phelps
reminded current Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
president Gordon Hinckley of those statements in an October 2001
letter asking Hinckley to end the Mormon operation of hunting ranches
in Florida and Utah.
Sport hunting–and catching fish with hooks–are also
prohibited within Judaism, to which the Mormons claim to have more
direct roots than other Christian denominations. Be that as it may,
Jewish opposition to sport hunting and fishing have rarely been
voiced in the form of a rebuke to non-Jewish hunters and fishers,
and has therefore not troubled evangelical Christian support for
The political and cultural ramifications of the Dalai Lama’s
condemnation of hunting speak to similar divides in Hindu culture,
from Nepal at the northern end of the one-time Hindu subcontinent to
Karnataka in the south of India.
As among Americans of all faiths, just a small percentage of
Hindus hunt, but hunting among those who do is closely intertwined
with quasi-religious ritual–which is not, however, part of the
main body of Hindu religious teaching. The trophy hunting practices
of the Nepalese royal family appear to have been copied from Mogul
and British rulers of India, centuries ago, while the “sacrificial”
hunts of birds, jackals, snakes, foxes, and other species
conducted by mostly illiterate and only nominally Hindu “tribals” may
be a vestigal remnant of a Dravidian hunter/gatherer culture most
closely related to that of the Australian aborigines.
Historically, the Indian caste system probably developed
through a long series of invasions, through which conquered peoples
were relegated to the most menial occupations and waves of better
educated and more technologically advanced conquerers became the
middle and ruling classes. Hunting was never a common pursuit of the
middle and upper Hindu castes, especially the Brahmins, whose most
distant ancestors may have come from a split in one of the ancient
Egyptian dynasties. Although the caste system was officially
abolished in 1936, the cultural and political divides that created
it remain strong, and continue to influence hunting-related politics
in India, which typically pit Hindus against Christians and Muslims,
overlapping the perennial public conflicts over cow slaughter, and
also pit Hindus of the educated classes against the “scheduled
castes,” the poorest classes, who are the beneficiaries of
affirmative action in academic admissions and government hiring, and
are the Hindus most likely to convert to Christianity, in part
because it condones hunting.
The Dalai Lama is influential in India, even though barely
1% of the Indian population practices Buddhism, because much of the
Hindu majority (83%) regards Buddhism as a major branch of Hinduism,
no farther removed from the Hindu mainstream than the tribal
sacrificial hunts and the animal sacrifices of Kali-worshippers.
Siddharta, who became the Buddha, was a Hindu prince, and Buddhism
evolved out of the same vegetarian nexus as both modern Hinduism and
Jainism, and the beliefs of the staunchly vegetarian and militantly
anti-hunting Bishnoi tribal people, who still occupy parts of the
Rajasthan desert and within the past two centuries have spread into
the southern Punjab.
Their southeastern neighbors, the Sindhi of Pakistan,
maintain pro-vegetarian and anti-hunting teachings within Islam.
(Sindhi people living within India, however, are mostly Hindu.)
Valmik Thapar, executive director of the Ranthambore
Foundation, described the Bishnoi in his 1997 book Land of the Tiger
as “the primary reason that desert wildlife still exists on the
subcontinent. The women of the community have been known to
breastfeed black buck fawns and save insect life, while many of the
men have died in their efforts to counter armed poaching gangs.”
Of special note currently is that the long delayed poaching
trial of Muslim film star Salman Khan and seven prominent
confederates including fellow film stars Saif Ali Khna, Sonali
Bindre, Tabu, and Neelam (who use only first names) has finally
reached the pre-trial deposition stage. The eight were apprehended
in October 1998 after a swift but broad-reaching Bishnoi
investigation, followed by 10 days of protest. A month later,
5,000 Bishnoi marched in Mumbai, the center of the Indian film
industry, to reinforce their demand that justice be done.
Tariq Hasan of the The Times of India on March 24 described a
case exemplifying what might have happened in the Khan case without
the Bishnoi involvement:
“In the first week of February,” Hasan wrote, “Rajesh
Nigam, a ranger of the forest department posted in the Pilibhit
Reserve Forest, was arrested and charged with ‘abducting with the
intention of murder of two persons.’ Inquiries by this
correspondent, however, reveal that Nigam’s only crime was that a
day earlier he had detained two poachers who had killed several birds
inside the forest. These two persons somehow managed to escape from
Forest Department custody, and then using their ‘influence,'” an
apparent allusion to bribery, “turned the tables on the Forest
Department staff. Rajesh was kept in jail for more than 15 days.”
Words against hunting from the Dalai Lama may not help
against corruption, but by way of example might reinforce the
efforts of federal minister for animal welfare Maneka Gandhi to
persuade the Hindu Religious Endowment Board and other religious
authorities to issue firm directives against animal sacrifice, which
typically peaks each spring when “tribals” conduct “sacrificial
hunts” of foxes and jackals just before lambs and goat kids are born,
and fertility festivals are held in honor of local deities,
coincidental with planting.
Her efforts were supported this year by home minister
“Send to jail those who sacrifice animals, however
influential they might be,” Kharge told news media after opening a
March festival at Davangere in honor of the goddess Durgambika.
Animal sacrifice has been sporadically practiced at the annual
festival for at least 200 years.
This year, of 1,000 animals originally slated for sacrifice,
only one ox was killed, agreed The Deccan Herald and Sify News,
and one sheep was sacrificed later in a village ritual 10 days after
the main festival ended.
“The other 998 animals are likely to meet a less public death
at the hands of the local butchers,” Sify News remarked.
Whatever gains were made in Davangere were offset when Mrs.
Gandhi was unable to persuade chief minister of Orissa state Naveen
Patnaik to halt a March 29 horse sacrifice in Juna Padia, Orissa
Reported Azizur Rahman, Calcutta correspondent for the South
China Morning Post, “The fundamentalist Hindu group Vishwa Hindu
Parishad, or World Hindu Council, organized the ceremony. About
150 priests performed the ritual, as 10,000 of their supporters
chanted in praise of the god Rama. Many Hindus believe the mythical
god Rama sacrificed 10 horses to please the creator of the universe,
and happiness returned to his kingdom. As required by the ritual,
10 white stallions in peak condition were taken on a tour of Orissa
before being slaughtered on an altar on the 10th day. The animals’
blood was collected in hundreds of earthen pots to be sprinkled on a
fire and distributed among supporters to preserve in their homes.
Before the sacrifice a purification ritual was performed in which the
horses were forced to stand in the middle of circles of fire. The
horses suffered extensive burns,” according to witnesses.
Countered one of the priests, Bishwanath Acharya, “The
horses were only burned a bit. Considering the immense luck the
sacrifice will bring to all of us, we should not be complaining over
Similar horse sacrifices were apparently conducted in the
region by royalty from circa 236 BC until about 566 A.D., and were
reportedly last performed about 500 years ago. In original form,
the rituals included kings and queens symbolically mating with the
dead horses, equine expert Sharon Cregier, Ph.D., told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, and were sometimes accompanied by human sacrifice.
World Hindu Council leaders have allegedly instigated much of
the deadliest religious strife in recent Indian history, but skipped
human sacrifice–this time.
The event reportedly cost $123,000 U.S. to stage.
Patnaik stood aside, Rahman suggested, because his
political party, Biju Janata Dal, “is a member of the ruling
coalition in New Delhi, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
But so is Mrs. Gandhi.
“Some anti-Hindu elements tried their best to stop this whole
ritual, but the god was on our side,” World Hindu Council leader
Maharshi Girisurya Swami said of her attempted intervention.
Had Mrs. Gandhi limited her efforts to preventing cow
slaughter, which has been among the most prominent activities of her
organization, People for Animals, since inception in 1984, Patnaik
and the World Hindu Council might have supported her.
Much of India rejoiced in mid-April when the Allahabad High
Court upheld a total ban on the slaughter of bovines imposed in
December 2001 by Uttar Pradesh state.
The new law closed loopholes in the 1975 Prevention of Cow
Slaughter Ordinance which allowed the slaughter of cattle for
research purposes, unproductive bullocks, and any cattle over 15
Justices M. Katju and Rakesh Tiwari and Cow Protection
Commission chair Parmanand Mittal each reportedly seized the
opportunity to lecture Muslims on the importance of respecting the
sanctity of cattle within the majority Hindu culture.
“If we permit such activities [as cow slaughter], a
situation like Gujarat may recur,” said The Times of India,
referring to riots which killed more than 800 Muslims in Ahmedabad,
after militant Muslims torched a train, killing 56 Hindus.
Mrs. Gandhi, however, has little patience with
activism that hits cruelties practiced by minorities while exempting
others. She welcomed the ban on cow slaughter–and argued that it
should extend to killing any animal.
“Preventing animal sacrifices must begin with the majority,”
she told K.S. Narayan of the Deccan Herald.
“In a country where there is widespread condemnation of
the sacrifices that take place on Bakrid,” as the Feast of Atonement
practiced by Muslims is called in India, “it is disheartening that
the number of animals sacrificed in Hindu temples per week is larger
than the number of goats killed on Bakrid,” Mrs. Gandhi elaborated
in the People for Animals handbook How To Stop Animal Sacrifices.
In her view, ethnic and cultural minorities will
feel more self-confident about abandoning their archaic rituals when
the majority no longer insists on doing similar things.
The revival of horse sacrifice in Orissa coincided
with a series of Biju Janata Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party defeats
in regional elections. If the death of the horses brings any kind of
good fortune, it may be the disgusted turn of Indian voters away
from fundamentalism and xenophobic forms of nationalism. However,
when barbarism and patriotism become intertwined with religious
faith, introducing change can be difficult and dangerous–even when
a society seems to be ready to accept the transition.
Nepal may be in that situation, following the June 2001
massacre of the King, Queen, and at least seven other members of
the royal family by Crown Prince Dipendra, 29, a trophy hunter and
gun collector who went berserk after an argument at a family dinner.
Dipendra then shot himself through the head–and, by law and custom,
succeeded to the throne while comatose and connected to life support.
Clearly the traditions of Nepal are going to have to change.
The constitutional monarchy can no longer rule the nation, which was
the only Hindu theocracy. Continuing to regard the reigning king as
an incarnation of God is no longer practical, if even possible.
Obviously the king will no longer be able to personally
preside over the sacrificial slaughtering of as many as 5,000 buffalo
every five years on a lake bed at Birgung village in Baryapur
District, just north of Katmandu– an event seen as blasphemy by
much of India.
“The entire lake gets so polluted by the blood of the cattle
that absolutely nothing can live in the water. It takes almost five
years for the lake to regenerate, by which time it is sacrifice time
again,” one witness told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Animal sacrifice dominates the Nepalese form of Hinduism.
“Except for the Pashupathi Nath temple,” the well-placed
witness told ANIMAL PEOPLE, speaking anonymously for diplomatic
reasons, “almost every temple– large or small–has places to
sacrifice animals. Sheep are imported by the government and sold at
a subsidized price before Dussera, the main sacrifice time in Nepal
and many parts of India, like Bengal, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh.
The sheep are weighed at the time of sale by hooking them through
their skin with a hand-held spring balance, when all that is
required is a sling to lift them up in.
“Cruelty to animals and to fellow men go on hand in hand in
Nepal,” the witness continued. “For the first time, I felt
ashamed to call myself a Hindu! In fact, I felt ashamed at calling
myself a human being.”
The source contacted ANIMAL PEOPLE not to condemn Nepal,
however, but to explain the many cultural obstacles that must be
worked around in order to introduce changes beneficial to animals in
We introduced the source to Lucia de Vries, a volunteer for
Friends of the Nepal SPCA in Dhobhighat, Katmandu.
“The Nepal SPCA recently opened a clinic and office in
Pashupatinath, Katmandu, close to the airport,” de Vries said.
“Our group, Friends of the Nepal SPCA, will focus on
awareness-raising and fundraising. Much work needs to be done. The
Nepal SPCA has not so far fulfilled its objectives, and has a long
way to go before it can help abolish animal cruelty thru legal
amendments at the national level. But after the palace incident on
June 1, 2001, the culture is in a shift,” de Vries agreed, “and I
feel that slowly the moment is coming to question age-old traditions
which harm animals.”