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By Jason Michael
EARLIER TODAY SCOTTISH social media reacted to an image of a young blonde woman posing in tactical camouflage skip hat and jacket with the lifeless body of the long-horned feral goat she had just shot and killed on Islay. Larysa Switlyk, an American television presenter and “big game hunter,” has come to Scotland with “Jason” to unwind from her privileged Floridian lifestyle back in the States by killing defenceless animals, some of the most majestic wildlife our country has to offer. What sort of human being gets their jollies from causing animals pain and suffering? Looking down her Twitter timeline, we see that she has gotten everything she wanted; she has posted a number of pictures – posing with goats and a stag.
She and her companion haven’t come for the quick, humane kill. They aren’t in Scotland to help with population control or to deal with vermin. No, they are here for the thrill of sadistically inflicting the maximum amount pain they can. Hunting with a crossbow isn’t about the kill. It’s about the personal skill in its use – and to hell with its user’s victim. Sure, they have rifles and scopes with them, but – seriously – what is the purpose in hunting a goat? Hunting elephants and lions is disgusting, but at the very least we’re talking about animals that can, given the opportunity, end the life of the hunter. You’d be hard pressed to get a stag to charge. Hunting “big game” in Scotland is pathetic. It’s shooting fish in a barrel. Shooting a beautiful stag and harpooning a goat to let it bleed out on the hillside is killing for the sake of killing. This is the epitome of barbarism.
Ordinarily society does not tolerate wanton cruelty to animals. Normally those who kill animals, outside what is regulated for food, face criminal prosecution and risk a well-deserved stay in prison. In February this year Brian McEldowney, a Derry sheep farmer, narrowly escaped a custodial sentence for shooting his neighbour’s pet dog. We don’t put up with this – not even from sheep farmers. Animal torture is well understood as an early stage in the development of a psychopath; cruelty tells us something about the psychology and nature of the cruel – they are bad news. My own community in Kilmarnock was horrified when one little boy found a wounded bird, stuffed it in a shoe box with crumpled-up newspaper and set it alight. The police were never told, but that lad has spent most of his adult life behind bars.
There are perfectly good reasons we do not tolerate the killing of animals for fun. There are good reasons we do not put up with needless animal cruelty – ordinarily. But above a certain wealth threshold the rules change. Rich people can do things for “unique” pleasure that are forbidden to the rest of us, and the state – in the pocket of the rich and ruled by the rich – makes blood sports perfectly legal – for the rich. People like Larysa and Jason sicken me. They are disgusting. But they are only symptoms of the real problem; a country that allows them to do these horrible things.
We look down our noses at countries like Cambodia where poverty makes it possible for western tourists, for the right amount of money, to use rocket launchers and Kalashnikov assault rifles to kill cows and sheep. In fact, we see it as a sign of these countries’ underdevelopment that pretty much anything can be bought for westerners’ pleasure and amusement – be that sex tourism targeting both vulnerable adults and children or more sadistic leisure pursuits. The true horror of the film Hostel was that it was set in Europe. In the developing world the rules are different – because they are poor and we are rich. But what’s the difference, shooting a tethered cow with an AK-47 on Phú Quốc or downing a goat with a crossbow on Islay? Let me give you a clue: There is no difference!
Someone even told me that these goats are vermin, that they pose a significant threat to the native flora of the island. Well, you can imagine the shock when I discovered goats eat flowers. Goats eat flowers, deal with it. That’s what plants are for. Rare orchids?! Jeez-o. Deer and goats don’t exist to be shot for fun. Find another solution to your plant problem.
Then there’s the “rural and island economy” defence. Now there’s a bogus argument if ever there was one. What about breaking cats’ necks and poisoning hawks in housing estates for the local pigeon fanciers? That’s economic – but try it and you’ll see what the sky looks like from inside a prison. It seems to me that it is only “economic” when it is providing a service to people far wealthier than pigeon and greyhound racers. If your economy on an island or up a big hill relies on animal cruelty and blood sports, there is something wrong with your head – never mind your economy.
The real problem here is that this is legal in Scotland. It is perfectly legal and above board, with the right dollar amount, for people to come here and kill for fun. This is a problem for the Scottish government and it really does need sorting out. It was encouraging to see the quick response of Michael Russell, taking this issue up with the Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham. The ball is moving on this, and that’s a good thing, but the initial response from the Department for the Environment was a little concerning:
Responsible and appropriate culling of animals is a necessary part of sustainable land management… the Environment Secretary will review the situation and consider whether any clarification of or changes to the law might be required.
Does that really need to be considered? It is neither legal nor is it appropriate for thrill seekers to rock up to their local abattoir and pay to shoot a cow. Of course animal populations need to be managed. Cows need to be slaughtered. But there are ethical constraints. Things are done because they have to be done and they are done by qualified professionals, not by people who can afford to do it for the craic. Nothing needs to be considered – nothing at all. This is a thought-free process. While some argue that killing animals is always wrong, the vast majority agree that killing animals for sport or for amusement is most definitely wrong. Get this knocked on the head.
Shame on me for being so naïve. I had no idea stuff like this went on. From the reaction on social media and now in the press, it is obvious a few of us were ignorant of this aspect of country and island life. God knows why somehow a goat has me more animated than a grouse or a pheasant, but it has – and now that it has it should maybe bring our focus more squarely on all this vile business of toff blood sports in Scotland. We don’t tolerate fox hunting and so we should no more tolerate the slaughter of any of our wildlife for the enjoyment of privileged low-lives who imagine their money buys them more ethical and moral license than other people. All I can add to this is that I pray the wheel of Karma runs right over the top of them.
Red deer Stag herd in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland