It was a series of bad decisions.
First, someone at NBC Sports thought it was a good idea to partner with the National Rifle Association on a sponsorship for a big game trophy hunting show called Under Wild Skies. Then they decided it'd be good to show Tony Makris, an NRA lobbyist, shoot an elephant in the face three times. And to make it worse, they showed the hunter and guide drink celebratory champagne while talking about the "specialness" of bringing the ivory back to camp.
And after blogs like Deadspin reposted the hunting clip, outrage naturally spread online, including a petition for NBC to cancel the program. Despite the pressure, NBC Sports initially announced they were not going to cancel the show, but would instead no longer air this particular episode.Only after Makris defended his elephant hunting by bizarrely comparing his critics to Hitler, someone at NBC with some sense decided to pull the plug and canceled the show.
But let's back up for a minute. There's so much crazy here, we need to take it piece by piece.
It is 2013 and NBC thought killing elephants was good TV
If you want to see what NBC Sports thought was still an okay form of entertainment in 2013, here's the clip of the elephant hunt: (Note: NBC is trying to get these clips taken offline, so thanks to Crooks and Liars for this copy.)
There are a few things to unpack here. First, notice the clunky title of the program as read by the narrator: "Right now on The National Rifle Association's Under Wild Skies..."
This is an ad. The NRA paid NBC a lot of money for Under Wild Skies to be presented as "The National Rifle Association's Under Wild Skies." That phrasing is likely included in the partnership contract. Any why would they care? Because the NRA is using this show as a vehicle to market and sell more guns and ammunition.
Next, watch how Makris talks about the .577 ammunition and how it is "made to kill ivory".
Really, NBC? You're going to allow someone to tout the effectiveness of guns and ammo that can "kill ivory"?
Is it "animal racism" to oppose killing some animals and not others?
In fairness to Makris, it is worth clarifying that he does not see big game hunting as a problem, because he says it isn't like he's only taking the ivory. Hungry Africans are supposedly going to eat this elephant. Don't you see? This wasn't the horrific killing of one of the world's most intelligent animals, it was the NRA generously feeding poor people!
In this clip from an NRA talk show, Makris explains his point-of-view on hunting elephants and why being opposed to the killing of any animal is "animal racism".
Again, in fairness to Makris, he seems to be genuine in his defense of his point-of-view and I could even see similar points being made by a specific type of animal rights activist that opposes all killing. Why is it okay to kill a duck but not a deer? Or a cow but not a horse? These debates are provocative and even here at TreeHugger, we've explored how hunting can, in certain situations, be arguably considered a sustainable method of conservation. I can respect the argument that eating an animal that lived a natural life in a natural ecosystem is better than eating unnatural processed foods. But Makris oversimplifies this debate.
Makris also touches on the idea of there being too many elephants.
This is the same defense that Bob Parsons, the CEO of GoDaddy, used in 2011 when video of his killing of an elephant went viral. Ironically, NBC News reported on the controversy and Parsons' claim that these were "problem elephants". In response, TreeHugger's Jaymi Heimbuch listed some non-lethal alternatives African farmers use to keep elephants away from crops.
Lastly, Makris attempts to turn the tables on his critics, who he hilariously envisions are all Mac computer-using pot smokers in Boulder, Colorado, by saying that "if you smoke a joint every once in a while there's human blood on that." Here's where Makris really paints himself into a corner in terms of making arguments about ethics. He's implying that consuming marijuana fuels the illegal drug war or crime or something and that this is unethical and people that criticize his hunting of elephants are hypocrites.
I don't want to get off-track by going into the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, but this is not a strong argument, especially considering that there's more going on here when it comes to elephants and this particular segment of his show.
The ivory trade leads to human bloodshed
Makris wants us to see his shooting an elephant in the face as his way of feeding hungry Africans and attempts to paint his critics as only being concerned about hunting. What I found most egregious was how his program was glamorizing ivory and making elephant killing seem respectable.
And despite Makris' claims that there are too many elephants, in reality, at the current rate elephants are being killed -- one elephant is killed every fifteen minutes -- experts estimate elephants in the wild could be extinct in about a decade.
Bryan Walsh at TIME highlights the cause of the rapid loss of elephants:
In 2012 poachers killed 35,000 elephants—that’s nearly 96 per day, part of an illegal killing spree that has seen the number of African elephants plummet by 76% since 1980. The targets are the elephants’ tusks, made of ivory that can be shipped abroad and sold for more than $1,000 per pound in rapidly growing Asian markets. Wildlife trafficking is valued at $7-$10 billion a year, making it the fifth most lucrative illegal activity after the drug trade, human trafficking, oil theft and counterfeiting.
Additionally, at least 1,000 park rangers have been killed by ivory poachers in the past ten years.
Furthermore, the United States now sees the ivory trade as a national security issue. As I reported last week, there's evidence that terror groups, such as Al-Shabaab are using the illegal ivory trade to fund terror attacks like the attack at Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
So how can Makris and the NRA seriously try to claim that there isn't human blood being spilled because of the demand for the ivory that Under Wild Skies so thoroughly attempted to glamorize? Smoke a joint and you have human blood on your hands. But shooting an elephant dead with ammo "made to kill ivory" and talk about how "bringing the ivory back to camp is a very special occasion" doesn't get human blood on your hands? C'mon.
Sure, there are legal differences between the illegal poaching and the licensed trophy hunting that is shown in this show, but should there be? Ivory is ivory and anything that is encouraging the killing of elephants for ivory not only encourages the consumer demand that is driving elephants and rhinos to extinction, it is supporting terrorism, as well.
NBC glamorizes ivory hunting as world leaders attempt to stop it
All of the above should have been enough context for NBC to realize what a dumb idea this NRA partnership was, but making it an even bigger mess was that this episode aired the very week of the Clinton Global Initiative, at which Hilary and Chelsea Clinton announced an $80 million effort to stop the slaughter of African elephants.
The Guardian reports on how the funds will be used:
The funds now mobilised will be used to hire and train 3,100 park rangers at 50 sites in eastern and central Africa; to fund sniffer-dog teams along the top smuggling routes; and to train law-enforcement officials and judges responsible for prosecuting international trafficking gangs. The CGI is looking to raise an additional $70m for the anti-poaching plan over the next three years.
Botswana, where this particular elephant hunt took place is one of the countries currently working with the Clinton Foundation to protect elephants.
The Los Angeles Times reports on how hunts like this will soon be a thing of the past:
Though Makris' hunting trip was perfectly legal at the time it took place, it won't be for much longer. The government of Botswana announced late last year that it would ban commercial hunting by January 2014, citing fears over declining wildlife populations. The African elephant, a favorite target of poachers for its precious ivory, is currently listed as "vulnerable," according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Many African countries offer expensive hunting licenses to wealthy Westerners as a way of generating revenue, but the practice has proved controversial. Spain's King Juan Carlos was severely criticized for a hunting trip to Botswana last April, right around the same time that Donald Trump's sons Eric and Donald Jr. faced a similar outcry over a safari in Zimbabwe, where they bagged an elephant and numerous other wild beasts.
That none of this context of the ivory trade being connected to terrorism or the United States taking a stronger stance against wildlife trafficking or the declining numbers of elephant populations around the world or that African nations have already announced they are ending these sorts of trophy hunts was known by executives at NBC Sports is baffling.
But thankfully, following the initial outrage, Makris couldn't help but make a Hitler reference and the airwaves are now free of his terrible show.
Deadspin has the official statement from NBC about the show being canceled.
Under Wild Skies will no longer air on NBC Sports Sports Network due to the program's close association with its host, whose recent comments comparing his critics to Hitler are outrageous and unacceptable. NBCSN will continue to air all of our other quality outdoor programming.