Hunting for Identity and Inflicting Suffering: The Stress of Being Stalked

One justification for hunting animals as a way to supply meat is that it’s more humane because the animals are able to avoid confinement and, as a result, suffering. A recent piece by one of my favorite writers, Marc Bekoff, explains why this is a false assumption. He explains:

Stalking animals causes immense suffering for those who are stalked . . . .Even if people stalk animals but don’t try to kill them, the animals suffer greatly. Just seeing a potential predator, and hunters are viewed as predators, is stressful. Patrick Bateson, at the University of Cambridge in England, found red deer stalked by dogs showed stress responses similar to those experienced when animals were anxious and scared. Deer showed high levels of cortisol and the breakdown of red blood cells, indicating extreme physiological and psychological stress. Stalked deer also displayed excessive fatigue and damaged muscles. Non-stalked deer and those shot without prolonged stalking didn’t show similar stress responses. There’s no reason to thinik that birds would respond any differently. Clearly, animals don’t like the emotional distress, anxiety, and fear of being stalked and neither do humans. Stalked animals may also spend less time feeding, resting, and protecting young. The stalker’s intentions, malevolent or not, are unimportant to the animal and there often is much collateral damage to family and friends of the targeted individual.”

Hunting is becoming stylish among people who somehow think that it’s a virtuous way to reconnect with nature, our primitive forebears, and some inner sense of what it means to be part of the food chain. Kudos to Bekoff for drawing on science to provide a much needed, and hopefully heeded, reality check.

Here’s the whole piece:

(thank you to Mariann Sullivan)


About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

3 Responses to Hunting for Identity and Inflicting Suffering: The Stress of Being Stalked

  1. CQ says:

    The fear the animals feel, whether they are stalked or led against their will to the slaughter line, has always haunted me much more than the physical pain they endure when shot or stunned then sliced up.

    Sometimes stories showing how animals want to trust humans testify to their tender, sensitive hearts. One such anecdote (and as I just learned from Marc Bekoff via James, the plural of anecdote is data!) comes from Butterflies Katz, a volunteer for Gentle World in New Zealand:

    A friend who is a wildlife photographer says the birds in National Wildlife Refuges are nervous and skittish because of the terrors of hunting season. She noticed that Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in British Columbia, a true refuge for birds that even includes feeders, attracts birds who are habituated to humans. The migratory ducks there, she was heartened to see, “have no fear of humans whatsoever. A Northern Pintail will walk right up to you, as will an American Wigeon. I’ve never had that experience in my life. It made me wistful for a Snow White type of existence in the forest.”

    Or, I would add, a Bambi-without-the-bloodshed forest fable.

    Stalking of humans or of nonhumans never was stylish and it never will be.

  2. Britt says:

    I’m a woman living in NYC. When a man decides to target me either to say awful things or–so much worse–to follow me, my heart starts racing, my shoulders tense, and my scalp gets tight. I start to grow lightheaded. I know that I’m probably going to be fine and, based on knowledge alone, I should probably just be pissed off or annoyed. But there is an instinctual physical and emotional response when something feels threatening, and I’m sure that the feeling I know is only a fraction of what a being feels when it believes its life is truly in danger.

    Of course stalking alone is stressful and psychologically damaging. Any human with half an ounce of self-awareness would have to admit this. It’s just another testament to the overwhelming amount of denial that these people have to wrap themselves in so that they can continue on with their “traditions.”

  3. Provoked says:

    Excellent point! I imagine it would be terrorizing to be stalked by a predator – Whether by someone with a gun in the woods or someone with a cattle prod in the chute.

    Again and again we see that their lives matter to them! If only we respected that. :/

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