A big-game hunting show is facing extinction following a controversial episode that featured its host shooting an elephant in the face.
“Under Wild Skies,” an NRA-sponsored sports program, came under fierce criticism last week when it aired the episode, which was filmed in Botswana’s Okavango Delta in September 2012. NRA lobbyist Tony Makris, who hosts the show, shot an African elephant and then celebrated the kill with a champagne toast. News of the episode spread quickly around the Internet, and multiple petitions sprouted up calling for the show’s cancellation. The largest of those petitions, on Causes.com, was signed by almost 100,000 people.
Makris was unmoved by the blowback. Defending his actions on an NRA News radio show, the host proceeded to dig a deeper PR hole for himself by going where many extremists have gone before: comparing those who don’t agree with him to Hitler. As Makris tells it, the argument that it’s okay to hunt some animals -- deer and rabbits, for instance -- but not others is nothing more than a “very unique form of animal racism.”
"[T]hey said but [elephants are] so big and special and they're smarter," he said. "And I went, you know, Hitler would have said the same thing."
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In a statement to Deadspin the next day, a spokesperson for NBC Sports, one of the networks that aired “Under Wild Skies,” called Makris’ comments “outrageous and unacceptable,” and said the network would no longer air the series. By Monday, that decision had apparently spread to the Outdoor Channel, which also aired the series. The network has since deleted clips of the show from its online archives, and a prompt on its website says, “Under Wild Skies is currently airing on another network.” A spokesperson for Outdoor Channel did not respond to a request for more information. (The Facebook page for the series also appears to have been deleted.)
In the meantime, it’s unclear if the show will continue. The NRA, which sponsors the program, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Winnercomm Inc., which produces it.
Though highly controversial, big-game hunting is still legal in certain parts of central Africa. Supporters say the hunting industry brings revenue that goes toward conversation and helps protect natural habitats, but animal-rights advocates aren’t convinced.
“I’d like to see the evidence of that,” said Nicole Meyer, an elephant specialist who works with the group In Defense of Animals (IDA). “African elephants are being poached at record levels these years for ivory. The bottom line is there are alternatives for conserving species and protecting natural habitats, rather than killing individual animals for the sheer thrill of the ‘hunt.’”
Meyer added that hunting has contributed to a decline in wildlife populations, forcing African lawmakers to take action. For instance, the government of Botswana, where the “Under Wild Skies” segment was shot, recently passed a law that will ban all wildlife hunting in the country beginning in 2014, as the American Conservation Foundation reported.
At least one environmental group, CNemoGlobal, has filed a complaint with the FCC urging it to investigate NBC Sports’ connection to the NRA, citing a “disturbing and depraved indifference to animal suffering and American humane values.”
NBC Sports is owned by NBCUniversal, a unit of Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA). Outdoor Channel was recently purchased by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, LLC.