Could photography and the "sharing economy" mindset disrupt trophy hunting?

For Nova Scotia's indigenous Mi’kmaq people, the albino moose that roamed area forests was considered sacred and it was understood it was not to be killed. For them, the experience of witnessing the moose in the wild was a spiritual one and the world was a richer place for everyone simply knowing the "spirit animal" was out there.

Unfortunately, not all people share this view. As I wrote on Monday, last week visiting hunters killed the white moose and sparked outrage online when they posted pictures on Facebook of themselves proudly posing with the dead animal.

Hnatiuks Hunting Fishing Ltd./via

For a few years, TreeHugger and others in the sustainability movement have been writing about the idea of access versus ownership and how experiences are better than possessions. This has, to date, mostly been used in the realm of consumerism and business.

After seeing the response to this albino moose killing, I want to expand this idea to show that this new way of thinking is not limited to consumerism.

Trophy hunting is epitome of "mine versus ours"
I am not opposed to all hunting. In fact, having grown up in Arkansas, I'm aware of the value hunters provide in maintaining deer populations. So this will not be a critique of all hunting, but of some aspects of trophy hunting that are worth highlighting.

Trophy hunting is a perfect example of the mindset that values ownership more than access, that seeks possessions more than experiences.

The trophy hunter that poses pridefully with a dead animal or mounts a kill for display in their home is saying to the world, "look at what I have done. I have the skill and power and knowledge to have killed this being." The trophy hunter desires to own, rather than to simply access.

Wikipedia/Public Domain - A pile of bison skulls waiting to be ground into fertilizer.

Subsistence hunting is about balance and access to game
We've all heard the classic example of how native Americans hunted bison or buffalo. They were not opposed to killing animals, but they used as much of it as they could and killed only when they needed to. When settlers arrived, they slaughtered many more than they needed, because they valued the short-term benefit more than maintaining a balance that would ensure long-term access.

The Sharing Economy as societal evolution
As previously mentioned, this idea of valuing access over ownership is the foundation of what has today become known as The Sharing Economy, which is estimated to surpass $3.5 billion this year.

As we like to say at TreeHugger, "you don't need a drill. You need a hole in your wall."

For example, car sharing systems give members access to a range of styles and sizes of cars, without the burden of owning and maintaining their own vehicle. Bike sharing systems allow residents and visitors alike to have convenient access to bicycles. Tool libraries allow members to check out tools they need for a single project, but have no real need for long-term.

If what you need is mobility, you don't necessarily need a car or bike. You need convenient access to a car or bike or public transit. In example after example, you don't need to own the thing, you need access to what the things provides.

One of my favorite examples, and one of the most-interesting as a form of longterm change, are toy sharing services. Parents rent age-specific toys for their kids, then after the child ages or becomes bored with a particular toy, they are returned to the service where they are sanitized and rented out to another family. Parents can even use it as a teaching opportunity by explaining to the kid that they are helping share their toys with other kids, so they grow up with a different concept of possession.

All of these examples save money, conserve natural resources, and help reinforce the mindset that we are not defined by the things we own. Our ownership is not threatened by allowing someone else access to an item. And in many cases, people are finding that access is sufficient or even better than ownership. Many feel, myself included, that this is not just a short-term trend, but is the start of a new way of thinking that will continue to expand and grow into other areas of business.

The sharing economy should include sharing wildlife and nature
Last week, at the Omega Institute, Bill Clinton spoke about interconnectedness and how we need people to evolve their consciousness to see more value in cooperation than in competition.

Jeremy Rifkin also spoke about the historical arc of evolution in consciousness (ie: primitive to mythological to theological to ideological to geopolitical to psychological to global, etc.) and how younger generations were growing up with a "biosphere consciousness", which is a closer sense of the interconnectedness of nature and the modern world. I think the changing mindset regarding ownership has allowed the sharing economy to sprout is also part of the progressive evolution of thinking.

A couple years ago, I wrote about how digital bookmarking reduced real world consumerism by giving us enough of an endorphin hit to satiate our urge and help temporarily delay an impulse buy. And by revisiting the digital images over time, we may find that we didn't really want or need the item to begin with.

I've found this to be effective in my own life and have talked with others that do the same. If people are able to reframe how they think about consumerism and possessions, perhaps trophy hunters can reframe their understanding of what it is they get out of hunting and find solutions that favor access over ownership.

© Jaymi Heimbuch

Shoot photos, not bullets. Hang prints, not skulls.
There are a number of reasons people hunt. So one should ask themselves a few questions. Are trophy hunters enjoying the outdoors and the thrill of using strategy to plan the hunt? Or is it more the actual act of killing? What kind of mental experience gives them the most pleasure and could non-lethal activities give them the same chemical experience? Say, for example, would they be able to enjoy hunting as much, if instead of shooting a rifle, they were shooting with a high-end camera? Does their trophy need to be the head of a once living animal? Or would a nicely framed portrait of the living animal be sufficient or even better?

Wildlife photography or bird watching are examples of favoring access and experience over ownership. For the wildlife photographer, safari member, bird watcher or catch-and-release angler, the experience of spending time in nature, being in the presence of these majestic animals and then allowing them to continue living their lives so others have the ability to share a similar experience is reward enough. Photos, video, audio recordings, notes or sketches can serve as reminders and "trophies" to show off the experience.

I'm sure many experienced trophy hunters would find this a laughable alternative, but to a younger generation, I suspect there is more openness to reconsidering this past time. If congratulations and complements on an impressive trophy is what drives a trophy hunter -- and it is safe to assume that's a major component, since the hunters that killed the albino moose wanted to share their photos with many people via Facebook -- photographs or videos of the living animal shared over social media could reasonably replicate the mental rewards a hunter feels after a hunt.

Perhaps if the hunters that killed the white moose had spent some time thinking about these issues and examining what it was exactly that they valued most in this outdoor activity, they could have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing an albino moose, with some nice photos or videos to show friends and family AND the Mi’kmaq people would be content knowing their sacred spirit animal was out there still roaming the woods.

What do you think? Let us know what you get out of being in the outdoors and if you have pictures to share, please add them to our TreeHugger Flickr pool.

IMAGE: Dan McCarthy's "shakes make the sound" screen print. And yes, I know that isn't a moose. But it's still cool!

Tags: Animal Rights | Animals | Animal Welfare | Photography | Pictures