|Dalai Lama hits sport hunting 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 Buddhist religion.
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 Parliament.
|"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 International.
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. Evangelical hunters 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 the U.S.
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 from hunger."
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 Israel. Hindu divide 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.
|Related faithsThe 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." Horse sacrifice 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 Mallikarjuna Kharge.
"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 wassacrificed 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 state.
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 such trifles."
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 Janata Party."
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.
Cow slaughterHad 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 years old.
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. Nepal 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 Nepal.
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." --M.C. -- Merritt Clifton Editor, ANIMAL PEOPLE P.O. Box 960 Clinton, WA 98236 Telephone: 360-579-2505 Fax: 360-579-2575 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.animalpeoplenews.org [ANIMAL PEOPLE is the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, founded in 1992. Our readership of 30,000-plus includes the decision-makers at more than 9,000 animal protection organizations. We have no alignment or affiliation with any other entity.]