In the picture, he hovered over the lifeless bodies, blood stains surrounding them, and grinned eerily as he gripped the fur on the dead baby baboon and gruffly pulled the primate into its dead father and mother. Between October 13th 2018 and October 18th 2018, major North American media outlets (including the Vancouver Sun, the Washington Post, and the New York Times) reported the story of a US wildlife manager, Blake Fischer, who recently travelled to Namibia, Africa and embarked on a “vacation” that killed countless species including a giraffe, waterbuck, impala, and others. He sent an e-mail with multiple photos to over 100 of his friends. Within the text he remarked, “… anyways my wife and I went to Namibia for a week … first she wanted to watch me and ‘get a feel’ of Africa … so I shot a whole family of baboons. I think she got the idea quick.”
As BC moves to review its wildlife management programs, it is important to remember that we have a golden opportunity to set an example for the rest of the world; an example that removes conflicts of interest from within our government wildlife management programs by providing impartial and transparent independent oversight of BC wildlife management agencies. I have long been concerned with licenced hunters holding positions of power and influence within Canadian wildlife management programs and enforcement agencies. It is my position that when there is a lack of independent oversight of those that hunt for hobby and also for government work, there is a reduction in the ability to maintain the perception of impartiality within wildlife programs. As a result of this loss of impartiality, a very real conflict of interest arises between the public official’s hobby and their job. Questions regarding how kill decisions are made (both broadly when speaking about wildlife culls and also narrowly in the decisions to kill individual animals), are often left unanswered as members of the public struggle to find information. This lack of transparency in wildlife management programs only feeds public frustration with government officials and ultimately leads to a reduction in overall public trust. It is perceived that those who get to hunt for work all year around are being individually rewarded both financially and psychologically, often engaged in hunting activities that would be illegal for the general public and even legitimate sustenance hunters.
Mr. Fischer is a stark reminder of those concerns. An individual, who holds a high ranking wildlife management position within his home state, travelled overseas and ruthlessly executed a family of primates on a slaughter vacation that also killed countless other species. He then sent trophy photos to over 100 people. How can this person ever be trusted to make informed, independent, un-biased, and transparent wildlife decisions back home? I argue he cannot as his actions demonstrate a bias towards killing. The same concept holds true here in BC. In BC, government kills bear families and cubs of year (as well as other wildlife like wolves) every year despite other options being available. Our own backyard is bathed in blood spilt from decades of internal conflicts of interest within management programs. These wildlife management issues are not restricted to far off other places like Africa. They are also here. Conflicts of interest can have far reaching and devastating impacts to not only wildlife, but also to government reputation, and the reputations of those who hunt legitimately for sustenance.
As we point the finger at the appalling African pictures before us, we must remember that our own hands are not clean. But there is hope. We do have an opportunity – an opportunity for change. If we want to maintain public trust in our wildlife management programs we need to ensure that our public officials are overseen by an independent body that holds them accountable for their decision making processes. Although I fully support legal sustenance hunting in BC and Canada, I also recognize that there is a line where legality ends and morals and ethics begin. Just because killing certain wildlife may not be illegal, this does not mean that unethical practices will be unequivocally sanctioned by the public. The average person knows when something is just flat out wrong and un-ethical. This goes for both public officials and others engaged in licenced hunting activities. Whether you are an official killing a family unit of black bears with small cubs, or a crazed US wildlife manager eerily grinning over your massacre of primates, these hunting actions are beyond ethical, they are beyond acceptable, they are beyond what a normal licenced hunter, public official, or citizen would allow. It is this style of killing action that requires oversight.
BC is currently embarking on a management review program to update current wildlife legislation and policy. One of the greatest gifts we could ever give to the future of wildlife management would be legislated, independent oversight of wildlife management and enforcement agencies in the Province of BC. Only through independent oversight can inappropriate killing actions be curbed and brought to heel by the implementation of ethical wildlife management practices.
Bryce Casavant is a former BC Conservation Officer. He is currently a Doctoral Candidate with Royal Roads University where he studies public trust in BC wildlife management and enforcement agencies.
UPDATE: Mr. Fisher has since resigned. (“The Latest: Idaho governor fears impact of dead baboon photo”, Vancouver Sun, October 16, 2018)