The Chalcedon article "A Reconstructed View of Wild Animals" by my good friend Brian Abshire was most entertaining and very well written. I appreciated the humor as well as the serious points made and warnings given.
There is no doubt that wild animals will continue to be wild—and dangerous—until the Lord God makes the lion to lie down with the lamb (Is. 11:6-9). However, I am obligated to offer some African perspectives on this subject which will hopefully contribute to the ongoing debate of what is our Christian responsibility towards God’s creation. Certainly I believe it would be beneficial to balance out an American hunter’s perspective with my African animal lover’s view.
Having been born and brought up in Africa, the fact is that some of my friends have been animals. My best friends when I was small were Vivian, a lioness, and Malcolm, a leopard. I spent many hours wrestling and cuddling with these magnificent animals. I used to go out with my brother to break hunter’s traps and free, or care for, injured animals. I’ve been involved in rescuing penguins from oil slicks and saving cats, dogs and baboons from painful experiments in laboratories. I’ve also adopted abandoned or stray cats from slums and squatter camps and campaigned against fur fashion shops and ivory poaching.
Yes, I’ve been bitten by dogs (and beaten unconscious by people). And my daughter Andrea was knocked off her feet by an irate cow when she slipped through a fence at Kwa Sizabantu mission to pet a young calf! Two of my motorbike crashes were caused by strange dogs running out and biting my leg as I rode past.
While camping out in the bush I’ve awakened to the foul stench of a hyena attempting to do CPR on my face. It is most certainly wise to brush one’s teeth before retiring for the night as these scavengers are attracted to rotting meat (however, in my experience these scavengers are far more pleasant visitors than Revenue Service officials). It also helps to lay one’s sleeping bag under a thorn bush (unless you’re prone to sleep walking, of course). Our teams have also encountered numerous problems from flat dogs—(crocodiles, also known as mobile handbags)—and hippos while crossing rivers.
It’s true that there are "educated idiots" who offer themselves as "take out"food for lions and hyenas. In the wild, one needs to take reasonable precautions. Naturally self-defense—whether in the face of human or animal threats—is a Biblical necessity. (Though the human threat is obviously far greater.) Worshipping nature is pagan idolatry. However, Christian compassion and concern is not. Several of our missionaries have been game rangers, some have had lions, wildcats and leopards as pets. All of us are deeply concerned about the destruction of nature in Africa.
I have no ethical problem with a person (or any predator) hunting for food. I do most certainly oppose trophy hunting. There is a world of difference between being forced to hunt buck for survival and choosing to hunt lions for sport. Hundreds of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered by greedy men—merely for their ivory tusks. Thousands of Rhino have been killed because some pagans in Asia think that Rhino horn is an aphrodisiac! Africa’s rich heritage of wildlife is being destroyed by corrupt government officials, such as Zimbabwean cabinet ministers, who are masterminding this wholesale destruction. And of course as the wildlife dwindles so too the tourists stop coming and the result is even greater unemployment and impoverishment.
God, our Creator, never gave us a blank check for anything—let alone for his creation. Ivory poachers, trophy hunters, careless slash-and-burn "farmers," overgrazing farmers, litterbugs and corrupt governments are destroying our continent. I have been nauseated at the sight of huge animal graveyards—vast herds of elephants slaughtered for their tusks, zebra killed merely for their skins and for their tails to be made into fly swatters! Leg-hold traps not only cause long and excruciatingly painful deaths but three out of every four animals killed by these traps are what furriers term "trash"—unusable animals not targeted by the trappers.
Alongside the main road across Botswana are the two longest rubbish dumps in the world: hundreds of kilometers of tin cans, broken bottles, plastic packets and other refuse of a careless and destructive people. Even at some of the greatest natural wonders such as Victoria Falls (the largest waterfall in the world) we have to negotiate through the broken bottles, beer cans and cigarette stubs of the wicked. I firmly believe that this grieves the heart of God. Painful experiments on animals, leg-hold traps and the fur-for-fashion industry are reprehensible and have no place in a Christian culture.
Those who can so carelessly and destructively treat God’s magnificent creation with such contempt deserve to incur the wrath of God. Unfortunately, too many conservatives (Christians included) in their knee-jerk reaction to the hug-a-hippo, kiss-a-crocodile, lick-a-lizard, tree-hugging, eco-freaks have, I fear, over-reacted to an unbiblical extreme where animals don’t matter. God made the animals and they do matter (Gen. 1:24-25). Not as much as people made in the image of God—but they most certainly deserve our compassionate concern and careful stewardship. If our Lord Jesus cares about the sparrows then so too should we (Mt. 6:26). Obviously animals matter to God because the presence of animals in Ninevah is recorded as a reason for God’s mercy in not destroying that sinful city (Jon. 4).
In fact, I truly praise God for the recent heightened concern for animals and the environment—however excessive and unbalanced at times. Even though pagans are often in the forefront abusing it for radical agendas, it is still a positive development to inject some serious concern for creation. We Reformed Christians should retake this concern for the environment and reconstruct it with Biblical balance. We need to take seriously the doctrine of creation and man’s stewardship of God’s creation. We are answerable to God for how we treat animals.
My conversion to Christ twenty years ago and commitment to the Reformation ten years ago has actually intensified my love for God’s creation. It is exhilarating to witness an African sunrise in an unspoiled corner of our continent. I have woken up to a hippo grazing near my sleeping bag as a fish eagle swooped out of the sky and plucked a fish out of the mighty Zambezi river right in front of me. I have walked past a pride of lions feeding on a zebra. I’ve stroked and fed orphaned elephants and giraffe—and accidentally stepped on sleeping crocodiles and snakes!
I believe that it is pleasing in God’s sight when we do what we can to secure the well being of his animals. All animals belong to God (Ps. 50:10-11) and they fulfill his creative joy and purpose.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all the depths, Mountains, and all hills, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowl.
Ps. 148:9, 10
In 1994 (after the new Mandela government had abolished prayer in our Parliament) Cape Town was hit by the worst storm in living memory and by our worst ecological disaster of this century. A Red Chinese oil tanker, the Apolo Sea, sank in the storm and soaked our beautiful beaches in a vast deadly oil spill of over 2,000 tons of bunker fuel. The Cape Peninsula is home to a unique species of African penguins who were now doomed to extinction. Seabirds have a natural waterproofing against sea water in the form of feathers coated by body oil generated in their systems. The feather structure also aids the waterproofing. The oil affects this structure causing the bird to become waterlogged and hypothermic. Birds that are oiled cannot feed, develop lung, liver and other diseases, and eventually die if not treated swiftly and effectively.
Capetonians responded magnificently in a herculean effort to rescue the 10,000 doomed penguins. Our Air Force pilots flew in shocking storm conditions to land on Dassen Island where most of the oil soaked birds were. Volunteers slipped and fell amongst the mud and rocks to capture the terrified creatures. Our mission staff joined hundreds of others cleaning up, feeding and treating the dehydrated and starved penguins. We all had lots of cut fingers to show for it after this worthy project. Ultimately, we succeeded in saving the lives of over 4,600 penguins who survived and were re-introduced into the wild. There was a general consensus that it was pleasing to the Lord that we did what we could to help reverse some of the suffering caused by man’s sinfulness and carelessness.
All of creation has suffered as a result of man’s rebellion against God and fall into sin. All creation must inevitably benefit from man’s repentance and redemption. Biblical Reformation must result in more compassionate treatment of animals—including wildlife.
Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. (Ps. 96:11-12)
Rev. Peter Hammond
P. O. Box 74
Newlands, 7725 Cape South Africa
Tel: (011-27-21) 689-4480 Fax: (011-27-21) 685-5884
E-mail: [email protected]