Hunting has been in the crosshairs of mainstream news lately as a result of hunter Kendall Jones posting images on Facebook of her big game hunts; the photos were later banned from the social media site. The images caused a heated debate about hunting, conservation and eating meat. I believe ranchers can learn a few lessons from this debate to better represent meat production online.
When Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech cheerleader, posted photos on Facebook of herself and the animals she bagged on a big-game hunting trip, she likely didn’t foresee the death threats, a ban on her photos from Facebook, and the heated online debate that would ensue. But that’s exactly what happened last week after Jones, a lifelong hunter, posted photos on Facebook of the lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and elephant she shot while on safari.
The ensuing debate was a heated one, and basically pitted anti-hunters and vegetarians against hunting enthusiasts. I think there are similarities between this controversy over hunting and livestock production. In both cases, folks on one side oppose meat consumption and the harvesting of animals for personal use, while the other side contends that respectful harvesting of animals provides meat and byproducts for people and are valuable and necessary for conservation purposes.
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Of course, food animals and big game are inherently different in most people’s minds. Most consumers see domesticated cattle, pigs and poultry as food sources, much different than the exotic animals that roam the wild plains of Africa. However, to African tribes, big game is a source of meat, one that is hunted much like deer or antelope is in the U.S.
Nonetheless, I’ve always stressed that a picture is worth a thousand words, and, as ranchers, I think we must be careful about what we post on social media.
It’s not that we have anything to hide, but a photo of cattle grazing in a pasture or feedlot calves chowing down at the bunk probably are better suited for public viewing than photos of such procedures as castration or dehorning. Photos of the latter are more open to misinterpretation by folks not familiar with livestock production, and context is needed to explain such practices. And, at the end of the day, we want to help educate consumers about where their beef comes from, and how it’s produced.
While many folks who viewed Jones’ big-game photos were upset by the beautiful creatures lying dead next to the petite cheerleader, the resulting debate explained the conservation aspect of such hunts. Of course, many folks don't buy it. Facebook said it removed the photos of animals bagged in a legal hunt because they could promote poaching of endangered species.
Still, Jones’ photos beg such questions as: “Should she have posted these images in the first place?” “Were her photos respectful and appropriate representations of what hunting actually is?” I certainly believe so. Jones paid a huge fee to legally hunt these animals, and her photographs opened up a great conversation about conserving wildlife and feeding African communities, as well as how hunters help fund both efforts. So even if a fraction of viewers is totally against such a hunting expedition, I think the vast majority of folks who viewed the photos and read through the comments section were able to learn more about the benefits of hunting for both the animals and for the community.
As ranchers, we can use Jones as a lesson for our conversations with folks online. We can either get caught up in the negativity, or we can use it as an opportunity to educate the majority, who genuinely just want to know more about what we do. We can either hide what we do and avoid confrontation, or we can proudly display images of ranch life and take the high road when push comes to shove. I know the path I’m going to choose. How about you?
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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