Poaching and Bambi: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

Poaching and Bambi: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

By now most of you have heard about the convicted Missouri poacher who was sentenced to watch the movie Bambi as part of his punishment. A lot of people, including mainstream media outlets, seem to be celebrating this creative sentencing. At MeatEater, we’ve got some serious questions about this approach to enforcing wildlife violations.

By all accounts, poaching is the most heinous and egregious of wildlife-related crimes. This is one thing that ethical hunters and extreme anti-hunting animal rights activists can probably agree on. What’s rarely agreed by upon is whether or not convicted poachers are punished appropriately for their crimes.

When it comes to the public perception of hunting in general, poachers paint even the most ethical hunters poorly. We believe all convicted poachers should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law but it doesn’t always work out that way. Criminals convicted on poaching charges receive a wide range of punishments, depending on the severity of their actions and the degree to which any given state’s criminal justice system tends to prosecute poachers.

Some states are known to have lenient punishments for poaching violations. In these places it’s not uncommon for poachers to receive a slap on the wrist with a misdemeanor charge and a small fine. In other states, serial poaching and criminal waste of a natural resources result in much more severe punishments. Alaska places a high value on wild game as an important natural resource for its residents; the state takes poaching very seriously. Recently, a man convicted of felony poaching and wasting three bull moose was fined over $100,000 and sentenced to nine months in jail. Additionally, he had to forfeit his hunting equipment and lost his hunting privileges for three years.

Not only did this individual lose his hunting privileges in Alaska, he lost them in the forty-seven other states that belong to the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact. The agreement includes a reciprocal recognition of license privilege suspension by member states, whereby wildlife law violations by a non-resident from a member state are handled as if the person were a resident. It’s a very effective enforcement tool for wildlife management agencies across the country. We’re all for handling poaching convictions in this manner, and even feel this person should have lost his hunting privileges everywhere, for life.

That’s why the recent poaching case in Missouri really has us scratching our heads. A man with a history of criminal weapons charges was convicted of poaching “hundreds of deer” in one of the most significant wildlife crimes in the state’s history. His sentence included a year in jail and fines. If he did indeed illegally kill hundreds of deer, that seems like a pretty lenient punishment. However, as an additional part of his sentence, he was also ordered by the judge overseeing the case to watch the movie Bambi once a month for the duration of his incarceration.

In forcing the convicted Missouri poacher to repeatedly watch Bambi, “The judge is hoping there will some kind of emotional reaction,” said one of the prosecuting attorneys. That’s all well and good; this individual should feel horrible about the crimes he committed.

However, both the 1942 animated Bambi Disney film and the book the film is based on have long been widely considered extreme examples of anti-hunting propaganda that anthropomorphize individual animals in an unrealistic manner. The Bambi Effect has influenced everything from wildlife management policies to Hollywood’s portrayal of animals for decades, and now it seems it’s reared its ugly head in our legal system as well.

We don’t have any problem with a little bit of added creative punishment, but there’s simply no escaping the blatant anti-hunting message that the judge communicated with this sentencing. He said, “I hope when you get to the part where Bambi’s mother dies, it makes you think.”

The poacher in this case should undoubtedly be punished appropriately for his crimes. He stole natural resources from the people of Missouri. He violated multiple hunting regulations. He wasted thousands of pounds of valuable game meat. Using an animated children’s movie with no basis in reality as therapeutic punishment and an educational tool is not only ridiculous, it’s an insult to ethical hunters and the wildlife law enforcement officials who captured the poacher.

There are healthy populations of all manner of game and non-game fish and wildlife species in this country today because of hunters. There are professional wildlife managers and wildlife law enforcement officers in this country because of hunters. There are millions upon millions of acres of healthy wildlife habitat in this country because of hunters. That’s all a result of conservation funding and management practices that have been driven by hunters in this country for over a century.  We view this as a crime against all of us, which why we’re very frustrated and insulted by the anti-hunting messaging behind this punishment.

A much better approach would be to send convicted poachers a message that teaches the benefits of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and the rules of fair chase hunting. The guy should be forced to understand hunting ethics and laws by reading  Beyond Fair Chase and Missouri’s hunting regulations every day, all day, until he can recite them in their entirety, verbatim. How’s that for creative punishment?

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