VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Aug. 02, 2015 7:40PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Aug. 02, 2015 11:20PM EDT
Drawn by the scent of death, the apex predators came to the hunters. That’s what made the killing of Cecil the lion in Africa, and the shooting of an unnamed grizzly bear in British Columbia, both illegal activities.
Lions and bears are fierce predators, but they are not above scavenging carcasses. Because big predators can’t resist being drawn by scent to dead animals, it is illegal in Africa to hunt lions that way, and equally illegal in B.C. to use bait to draw in bears.
While the shooting of the beloved lion triggered global outrage, the killing of the B.C. grizzly by a different hunter and guide has been widely ignored.
The killing of Cecil triggered a storm of protest on social media and an investigation that led to a call by Zimbabwe for the extradition of Walter Palmer, the U.S. dentist who shot the lion with a crossbow after his guide lured it out of Hwange National Park with a dead animal on top of a vehicle.
Martin Thomas, a veteran assistant guide with Prophet Muskwa Outfitters in B.C., got off lightly by comparison. He was charged for “hunting with bait” in 2012 after his client shot a grizzly, and was fined $3,500 when convicted in June.
Unlike the furor that erupted around the Cecil slaughter, however, the illegal killing of the grizzly hardly ruffled a feather. Even the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. hadn’t heard about it until it was drawn to their attention by media last week – just a few months after they honoured Mr. Thomas by giving him the prestigious Leland Award for professionalism and a $1,000 prize.
“The GOABC was not aware of the charges and will review this matter at a later date,” Scott Ellis, executive director of the association said in a brief e-mail when asked about the matter.
Mr. Thomas couldn’t be reached for comment.
“Marty is out of touch until late October,” Kevin Olmstead of Prophet Muskwa said in an e-mail. Most guides are off the grid at this time of year, because it’s the heart of hunting season in northern B.C.
Mr. Thomas did not lose his guiding privileges after being convicted, so he could be leading another hunter this week to another grizzly. Prophet Muskwa charges $21,500 for such a hunt.
Micah Kneller, B.C. conservation officer in Fort St. John, said Mr. Thomas’s hunter wasn’t charged “because in part the expectation is that when someone hires a professional guide outfitter and they are not familiar with the province or they are a non-resident, the outfitter basically ensures that the hunt is lawful.”
He said Mr. Thomas was caught after the hunter wrote an article describing the hunt in the U.S.-based magazine, Super Slam of North American Big Game.
The magazine is dedicated to hunters who want to kill the top 29 trophy animals in North America. On that list are four bear species, a cougar, five types of deer, three of elk, five of caribou, three of moose, a bison, a muskox, an American mountain goat, a pronghorn antelope and five kinds of sheep. If you are not satisfied with all that killing, you can also bag some of the “auxiliary” trophies that aren’t mandatory, and seem to just be thrown in for fun: Atlantic walrus, jaguar and Pacific walrus.
Mr. Palmer achieved the Super Slam of North American Big Game, and was apparently slamming for bigger recognition when he paid $55,000 to hunt a lion. Since the story broke that he’d killed Cecil, he’s been forced to close his dental practice and pretty much go into hiding. He may yet be extradited to Zimbabwe, where he’s accused of sponsoring an illegal hunt.
Mr. Thomas’s client got no penalty and other than the small fine, the only thing Mr. Thomas has to worry about is whether the Leland Award will be taken away from him.
B.C. puts the onus on guides to follow the law. But when they break it, the fine is often minor. It should at least reflect the price of the hunt, and any guide who hunts over bait should be banned from bear hunting.
As for the Super Slam, any hunter who wants to be on that list has lost his way. Hunting is an ancient skill. It is meant to be pursued with humility and respect for animals.