by Karen Mehall Phillips - Thursday, January 19, 2017
The USA Today article, “Animal Rights Activists Claim Major Victory as Circus Closes” smacked me right in the face Monday morning as I sat in the airport in Houston waiting to board a plane for the Las Vegas and the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show. The article said Ringling Brothers (RB) is “folding its tent after 146 years” in May 2017—marking an end to something that has existed for nearly a century and a half and has been a part of millions of Americans’ childhoods. After attending a Houston Safari Club (HSC) gala the night before, I was riding high on enthusiasm after celebrating the American hunting tradition—and the fact the HSC had just raised $120,000 for Texas sheep conservation.
But perhaps RB’s decision is no big surprise. Last May, RB announced it was discontinuing the use of elephants in its circuses, caving to pressure from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and HSUS (Humane Society of the United States). The decision is on the heels of HSUS’ successful campaign to end the use of orcas at Sea World, saying such entertainment represents “suffering and animal cruelty.” The USA Today article notes how RB battled its way through court cases brought by these groups in recent years but “apparently lost the larger fight over public opinion” when it comes to concern over the health and welfare of wild animals. But when it comes to public education, isn’t that where we hunters come in—to tell the truth and stem the tide?
Over breakfast with Dallas Safari Club Executive Director Ben Carter the next morning, the topic arose amid discussion of the great things we hunters do to protect wildlife considering no one spends more money for wildlife conservation than hunters. Regarding RB’s decision, Carter said, “Again the animal welfare activists have caused more damage to wildlife than anything outdoorsmen have ever done because they are uninformed.” Of course, the misinformation the antis spout is put out there on purpose. Then members of the general public, who have no dog in the fight, believe it.
But the reality, added Carter, is that the animals in the circus had a purpose so what happens to them now? Everything in life costs money. Without funding, who will manage the wildlife in general? For anyone who is unaware, the bulk of funding that state wildlife agencies receive comes directly from hunters.
As an aside, years ago I almost went to work for the PR department of RB—the world-renown “Greatest Show on Earth”—but accepted a position with another great company, Ackerman McQueen, where I got to be front-and-center in supporting its best-known client—the NRA. Today I work directly for the NRA and could not be more proud of my decision—and not just because if I’d accepted the Ringling Brothers position I’d soon be out of a job. The NRA is actively working to save the future of hunting and wildlife conservation across America. This is where I belong.
On a final note, the truth is that Ringling Brothers and the NRA, DSC, HSC, SCI, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Boone-and-Crockett Club—and every other hunter-based conservation group worldwide—are all fighting the same people. As we band together in the name of public outreach, we can—and will—turn the tide.
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