Academic journal article Environmental Values

Contesting Death: Conservation, Heritage and Pig Killing in Far North Queensland, Australia

Academic journal article Environmental Values

Contesting Death: Conservation, Heritage and Pig Killing in Far North Queensland, Australia

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

What constitutes legitimate killing? How do our concerns over animal death fit with respect to our broader beliefs about the conservation or destruction of the 'natural' world? What does this mean for how we think about our own existence? This ethnography concerns itself with such questions as they have played out in a series of entangled conflicts with, and over, the non-human world; specifically, historically rooted tensions over the inception of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in Queensland Australia and contemporary arguments over the 'hunting' and 'management' of feral pigs (Sus scrofa), an 'exotic' pest species. Similarities evident in the politics of natural heritage and animal death illuminate two distinct contemporary strategies for confronting existential struggles over life, death and destruction.

KEYWORDS

human-animal relationships, life and death, heritage, technologies, hunting, environmental conflict, endogenous and exogenous identities, vital politics

INTRODUCTION

What constitutes legitimate killing? How do our concerns over animal death fit with respect to our broader beliefs about the conservation or destruction of the 'natural' world? What does this mean for how we think about our own existence?

Nikolas Rose (2007) characterises the contemporary era in terms of a 'politics of life itself'--a time typified by an orientation towards 'optimization' and where the presupposed inevitability of human mortality is increasingly brought under the control of human ingenuity (see also Jalland 2006). While Rose himself writes about biomedicine, his insight may be helpful in understanding contemporary human-environment relationships broadly and human-animal relationships, and hunting, in particular. Take, for instance, the conservationist slogan, 'extinction is forever'. It gains much of its moral traction from eliciting a negative emotional response to the idea of permanent loss of species from the global ecology. At an individual, rather than species, level the killing of animals is increasingly contested, requiring ever more stringent moral justifications for such acts to take place (McLeod 2007). This is particularly evident in the contemporary politics of hunting, where hunters who kill animals find themselves subject to moral suspicion, especially if they expressly hunt for 'pleasure' or trophies rather than for subsistence purposes (Boglioli 2009, Dizard 1994, Marvin 2000, McLeod, 2007).

In response to this moral opprobrium, a number of explanations have been given as to what underpins different ethical beliefs regarding hunting as a means of killing. Some scholars have noted that the distinction between those who support hunting as a means of killing animals versus those who are opposed aligns with beliefs that humans are interconnected with nature versus those which consider them separate (Boglioli 2009, Dizard 1994, Robbins 2006). Others consider that views both for and against hunting draw on notions of human-animal similarity. Carmen McLeod (2007: 165), for instance, suggests that '[a]nimal rights advocates construct the view that animals are like humans (with "cultural" human rights), whereas hunters construct that humans are like animals (embedded in natural life-cycles and food chains)'.

These dialogues over the meanings associated with killing animals index the issue of legitimate killing to questions about intimacy with and detachment from the natural world. The value of peacefulness and stigma of violence have been important undercurrents of such debates. Tim Ingold (1994: 15) has depicted persons within hunter-gatherer societies as having a 'basically nonviolent' relationship with their quarry, with the relationships between humans and animals existing within an intimate broader relationship between these humans and their environment. John Knight (2012) has recently argued against this thesis, proposing instead that the relationship between hunter and animal is necessarily an anonymous rather than intimate one. …

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