How to protest against killing contests without promoting them vexes animal defenders
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2013:
MIAMI, Fla., HOLLEY, N.Y., ADIN, Calif., CHICAGO, Ill.––The Python Challenge was pushed by the Florida Wildlife Commission in the name of conservation, albeit without strong scientific support. The Hazzard County Squirrel Slam in Holley, New York, and the Pit River Rod and Gun Club’s Seventh Annual Coyote Drive in Adin, California, were promoted as opportunities to introduce young people to recreational killing, though older hunters were more in evidence. Pigeons netted off the streets of Chicago at instigation of Alderman James Cappleman were allegedly killed at pigeon shoots in Indiana.
Confronting killing contests remains as frustrating for animal defenders in 2013 as it was in 1960, when syndicated columnists Cleveland Amory and Ann Landers tried to stop the “Bunny Bop” rabbit-killing contest held annually in Harmony, North Carolina, since 1946. Responding that they would not be dissuaded by “do-gooders,” the organizers banned the use of firearms, restricting participants to using stones, clubs, and dogs. Enrollment soared––until stones were also banned. That apparently made the killing too difficult to attract most of the sadists, and all but eliminated participation by children.
Only 20 hunters participated in 1967, killing nine rabbits. Financial losses ended the “Bunny Bop.” Belatedly aware of the bad image that the “Bunny Bop” created, Harmony civic leaders in 1975 wrote to national media to emphasize that it was history.
Killing contests again became a national issue when Mobiization for Animals and Trans-Species Unlimited in 1988 initiated protest against the Labor Day pigeon shoots held in Hegins, Pennsylania since 1935. Amory joined the campaign in 1991. For several years as many as 1,000 protesters flocked annually to Hegins. Pigeon shoot participation rose in response. Along with the shooters came hundreds of shoot supporters, including robed Ku Klux Klansmen, spoiling for a fight with animal advocates. The protests ended several years before a court decision suggesting the possibility that the pigeon shoot organizers might be prosecuted for cruelty finally stopped the shoot in 1999.
Ignoring killing contests is not an option for animal defenders, yet the Python Challenge had only 400 registrants when PETA voiced opposition to it, days before it started, and concluded on February 17, 2013 with 1,600. A three-member team of hunters who had previously captured 60 pythons for researchers caught 18 more. All other participants combined killed 50 pythons, calling into question the Florida Wildlife Commission estimate that as many as 150,000 pythons live in the Everglades. The Florida Wildlife Commission blames the pythons, rather than about 1.3 million alligators, for alleged declines of mammals and birds in the Everglades. Alligators, however, eat all of the purportedly declining species, while pythons eat alligators.
Also abundant in the Everglades, feral pigs “devour pythons and threaten the snakes as much as the snakes threaten them,” observed Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald.
“No one outside this tiny, rural village of 1,800 people had ever paid much attention to the Holley Fire Department’s annual Hazzard County Squirrel Slam fundraiser before now,” wrote Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reporter David Andreatta, covering protests led by Animal Advocates of Western New York, Animal Allies of Western New York, and Friends of Animals. This year, however, the seventh year of the Squirrel Slam, Andreatta noted that “at least 40,000 people signed various online petitions” against it, and about 100 demonstrators picketed the firehouse.
Squirrel Slam participants bought tickets, shot up to five squirrels each, and brought them back to the firehouse to be skinned and served at a community dinner. “Normally 200 [Squirrel Slam] tickets are sold each year. This year, 1,000 were sold,” reported Christina Noce of YNN-Rochester.
“Hunters in the tiny town of Adin in Modoc County paid $50 for the pleasure of killing as many coyotes as they could,” reported Liza Gross of QUEST-Northern California. “A few years ago, the gun club and Adin Supply Outfitters urged hunters to hurry and get their applications in ‘if you want to win prizes and help rid Northern California of coyotes.’ This year, they encouraged junior hunters to participate because the ‘drive is a great time to teach quality ethics and outdoorsmanship to young hunters.’” Previous editions of the coyote drive attracted little attention, but this year a coalition of about 20 conservation organizations sought unsuccessfully to stop it, lest the hunters accidentally kill OR-7, the only wild wolf in California,” who wandered in from Oregon. “Given the anti-predator rhetoric behind a contest designed to exterminate coyotes, I worry that someone will shoot OR-7 knowing full well he’s a wolf,” said Gross.
The California Fish & Game Commission “took no action because the hunt was not on the agenda,” reported Associated Press. OR-7 survived anyhow.
Adin Supply Outfitters owner Steve Gagnon exulted to Laird Harrison of KQED that the controversy helped to bring about 240 coyote hunters to the town of 279.
Several hundred pigeons were meanwhile netted by two men in Chicago and transported to Indiana in a pickup truck belonging to Lake County farmer Herb Govert, reported Brad Edwards of CBS-2. Govert was apparently invited to capture the pigeons by Alderman James Cappelman, Edwards continued, who “has been waging a war on pigeons, proposing an ordinance to make [feeding them] a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.”
Taking the pigeons to Indiana was “in violation of state regulations,” Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lieutenant Jerry Shepherd told Edwards. But Shepherd said Govert would not be cited for an offense. “We’re going to give him a chance to come into compliance,” by purchasing a permit to import pigeons, “and let it go at that,” Shepherd said. “The individual doing what he was doing was not a big deal for Indiana, because people have pigeon shoots all the time.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE found no record at NewsLibrary.com and NewspaperArchive.com of pigeon shoots being held in Indiana since 1970, when the Indianapolis Jaycees ended the biweekly shoots they had held since 1948. Pigeon shoots had been editorially denounced by leading Indiana media at least since 1898, when the Fort Wayne Sentinel asked “How can anything so cruel and barbaric be allowed in a civilized country?”
Pigeon shoots, American SPCA founder Henry Bergh reasoned in 1869, were among the least defensible human abuses of animals, and therefore should have been easily abolished.
Bergh in 1872 broke up a pigeon shoot hosted in Yonkers by millionaire James Gordon Bennett, organized by blackface performer Ira Paine. Paine sued Bergh, claiming that his right to organize pigeon shoots was protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows citizens to bear and maintain arms.
Marine Court Judge David McAdam found nonetheless that “The assemblage…was clearly illegal, and the shooting of the birds was a needless mutilating and killing within the meaning” of the New York state anti-cruelty law.
The Inter-State Association of Manufacturers of Powder, Shot, & Guns in 1875 won an exemption from the anti-cruelty law for captive bird-shooting, which endured even though Theodore Roosevelt in 1883 backed Bergh in an effort to repeal it.