It has long been the preserve of the rich and famous to go and bag an elephant or two. Never mind the suffering. Balls to those who oppose the ‘hunt.’ Let’s just get on with the killing. And of course, Royalty is usually at the head of the queue when it comes to displaying their ostentatious wealth through the barrel of a gun. If you read Margo Mackay’s The Knysna Elephants and their Forest Home, you will find she refers to the Duke of Edinburgh (in 1867) contributing somewhat to the decline of the elephant population in this part of our country.
Yesterday, we learned that King Juan Carlos of Spain had offended environmental organisations after visiting Botswana to hunt elephants – a species whose conservation status is deemed “vulnerable.” Fortunately, before the old idiot could pull a trigger this time, he fell and broke his hip, forcing his return to Madrid for surgery.
The irony here is that the appalling dud is Honorary President of the Spanish branch of WWF (World Wildlife Fund), which advocates the protection of the African bush elephant. King Juan Carlos is now facing calls to resign his WWF position. The online environmental forum Actuable has reportedly collected nearly 70,000 signatures in 24 hours, calling for the King to renounce his honorary presidency in the light of this recent private hunting trip to Africa, and others with the express aim of shooting elephants and buffalos.
For those who are familiar with DH Lawrence’s 1936 account of ‘Shooting an Elephant,’ I reproduce an extract below. It serves very well to illustrate the torture that the elephant is subjected to by fools who can have no objective other than to pose for the photographer, as does the Spanish King, above:
“When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick–one never does when a shot goes home. In that instant …. a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact had paralysed him. At last, he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.
It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open–I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.”
And yet, Kings and Dukes and nouveau riche of our world, continue to kill with impunity, because that’s what they do. There are at least some among us, even if not the most articulate, who feel enough is enough. I have in my possession, an interesting exchange of letters between Knysna’s Beauty Malibongwe, and Buckingham Palace, about the slaughter of our elephants way back when. When a Previous Duke of Edinburgh roamed our forests with his retinue of servants and shot anything that moved. The correspondence is now a few years old, but hoorah for Beauty. She had called for the town of Knysna to be recompensed for the theft of our natural heritage. Alas, the British Government and Royal Family have still to act upon the request.