National Geographic : 2017 Oct
trophy hunting 99 Perhaps, then, it boils down to another set of questions: In light of who we’ve become as a spe- cies, what new form has nature taken, and what new rules might be practiced there? Might we owe it to the natural world, after bunging it up so badly, to act differently—less acquisitively, more generously—toward it? Might it now be time to stop killing the dwindling herds for sport and dis- play? Or, perhaps more difficult to ponder: Will these trophies be all we have left someday, tokens of a wild nature we once knew? on the 12th Day of the elephant hunt in Nyae Nyae, in the rising heat of the day, Dam, the track- er, picked up the marks of three bulls moving to- gether. Once Marnewecke and his client saw the elephants from a mile away, they knew they were big and approached them from downwind so as not to be detected. Two of the bulls were in front of them, but the largest and oldest stood apart and behind. So they maneuvered out around the oth- ers and came up on the third as he began to walk toward a clump of brush. The client crouched low on one side as the old bull—sagging and on his sixth molars, half ground down already, which means he was well on in the last season of his life—unwittingly ate on the other side. Would killing an old bull like this one help save all those other elephants in Nyae Nyae? Old bulls, says Caitlin O’Connell, a biologist and elephant researcher focused on how the an- imals communicate, are a font of wisdom, decid- ing when and where the herd will move in search of water, imposing an order on pachyderm soci- ety. “Contrary to myth, elephant bulls are very social creatures,” she says. “They move in groups of up to 15, and they maintain a strict hierarchy. The older bulls exert a very important regulatory impact on the herd and an emotional-social in- fluence on the younger bulls.” Younger bulls in musth, a heightened state of aggression during which testosterone levels can be 10 times as high as normal, will be more likely to fight each other when an older bull is absent. At 15 yards, the client could see every wrinkle draping the elephant. He aimed his 12-pound double rifle with its hand-engraved silver stock and fired directly at the heart. The bull turned and began to run, 30 yards before it fell. The cli- ent put one more shot in the brain, and it was done. The tusks weighed out at more than 70 pounds each. Within six hours the carcass had been stripped by the San, who took roughly three tons of meat for their families. Two days later the hunting party found an- other big bull. The client fired a shot, bringing it down—but then, as another bull gave chase, he and Marnewecke ran for at least half a mile before the elephant lost interest in them. Eventu- ally the process repeated: the flensing of the skin, the stripping of the bone, the feeding of families. With that elephant, Marnewecke’s quota for the year was filled. His client flew home; the tusks of the two elephants would follow, destined for his trophy room back in America. I thought about those tusks in the weeks that followed, possessions now, totems of a fraught accomplishment. They were all that was left of two 15,000-pound sentient beings. Which brought me to Bobo Tsamkxao, the San chief, and his wives and children, and how they and others in the community would eat from those animals. And how they would receive money, at least in- directly, from those animals as well. But some- thing still seemed askew: a paying client killing a vulnerable animal to feed the San or conserve Nyae Nyae’s land. Even if hunting is in our genes, as Denker said, the essential question remained: Was it moral to kill such an imperiled creature at this moment in our history? After the hunters had packed up, the herds— sometimes called a “parade” of elephants, or even a “memory” of elephants—searched for water in temporary peace, unaware that another season would bring another group of hunters. We must imagine: Memories of elephants wandering all that contested space, some already with price tags on their head, there for us as things of wonder. j Michael Paterniti, a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and a correspondent for GQ magazine, is at work on a book about the North Pole. David Chancellor has spent years documenting the complex relationship between hunters and their prey. This is his first story for National Geographic.