Mark Sullivan can smell blood. His body tenses, focusing all energy on the prey. Only 40 yards away, a huge lion sits under a bush, with languid eyes fixed on the human hunters moving slowly toward him.
Crouching, Sullivan scoops up a bit of dust and watches as it trickles through his fingers, gauging the speed and direction of the wind by the way it drifts. He squints into the hot African sun and whispers to the nervous-looking man at his side.
"This is a beautiful lion," Sullivan says, clenching his teeth. "But we have to cut the distance down." He gestures and the man, clutching a rifle, follows. They move forward, measuring each step with caution as their boots crack and rustle on the deep, brown grass that carpets the dry earth.
At 30 yards, they take aim. The great beast has a quizzical expression on his face, blinking lazily at the actions of these strange, mostly hairless bipeds. He turns slightly and ruffles his long, blond mane, which encircles his head like an oversize crown. There is no sign he recognizes the danger. In fact, he is clearly losing interest, and has a regal, aloof manner of expressing it, not unlike his distant kin, the house cat.
The only difference is that this kitty has claws like meat hooks and teeth the size of summer squash. For these gifts of genetics and natural selection, he is about to pay with his life.
The first shot hits the lion in the neck, the impact of the blow forcing all 450 pounds of muscle, fur and teeth to cartwheel head over hindquarters. He roars.
Then comes the second shot. And the third. The creature rolls onto its side, and with a last shudder, dies. It is all over--except for the congratulations.
"You've just shot a great lion," Sullivan exclaims, grasping the man's hand. "Look at this beautiful, beautiful mane. This will look excellent in your trophy room!" The man grins in triumph at the video camera that is recording the event, and earnestly thanks Sullivan for leading him to the kill.
Chalk up another satisfied customer for Mark Sullivan's Phoenix-based Nitro Express Safaris, one of only a handful of American companies that offers personalized treks deep into the big-game hunter's Garden of Eden, the Moyowosi game reserve in remote Tanzania.
Depending on whom you talk to, such trips are either the last great adventure on Earth or a brutal, atavistic bloodfest. While animal-rights activists and politically correct purists may cringe, Sullivan, a professional hunter and articulate proponent of the physical and spiritual benefits of African hunting, ardently argues for the former.
"What I do is not wrong, what I do is right," he says. "I'm not a bloodthirsty maniac who slays beasts one after another. I don't take pride in seeing blood on the ground.
"I take people to Africa so they can hunt fairly and honestly, and everyone benefits."
Because of the diligent public relations efforts of animal-rights groups--who long ago declared open season on big-game hunters--this assertion is most likely to be met with doubt, if not outright public scorn. While big-game hunting was once thought of as the sport of kings (and ex-presidents; Teddy Roosevelt triumphantly brought back hundreds of big-game trophies from his yearlong 1909 safari), its status has now been reduced to that of a debased self-indulgence, a mortal eco-sin even more reprehensible than wearing fur.
Reinforced by reports of mass elephant and rhino massacres all over Africa, where greedy ivory poachers have killed countless herds just to pluck out the tusks, animal protectionists have almost succeeded over the past decade in shaming legal, American big-game hunters into extinction.
But now the few that remain are fighting back. Seemingly unmoved by the opprobrium heaped upon them by conventional wisdom, professionals like Sullivan are tenaciously clinging to survival and insisting that limited safari hunting, when conducted under strict rules and restrictions, is at worst harmless and at best a boon to the people and wildlife of Africa. Surprisingly, some mainstream wildlife protection groups and scientists grudgingly agree.
At stake is a business that provides Sullivan with a tidy income. Hunters--some quite accomplished, others who have hardly fired a gun--flock to Sullivan's Phoenix basecamp-office from all around the country, often lured by three best-selling video travelogues of his hunting exploits, to be taught at the feet of the master. As one of the premier professional hunting escorts based in North America, Sullivan obviously stands to lose from a social climate that condemns his profession outright and is thus continually eroding his potential market.
But there is something other than the bottom line that motivates Sullivan to passionately defend the safari tradition. In addition to putting food on Sullivan's table, hunting, he says, feeds his soul.
Sitting in his tiny, east Phoenix headquarters, surrounded by the stuffed remains of a virtual herd of animals, big and small, that have found their way into his sights, Sullivan talks like a one-man PR campaign for the spiritual aspects of African hunting. That is, indeed, what he has become, often hitting the road to lecture about his avocation. He tells all who will listen that it is the metaphysics of the act of stalking--the ethic and way of life behind the act of the hunt, not the kill itself--that is important.
"We don't hunt in order to kill," he says. "We kill to say that we have hunted. It's a philosophy, a belief. My philosophy, and that of other professionals, is that of high moral value in what we do."
Safari hunting, he insists, is more than meets the eye. It's a journey of self-discovery and, above all, a test to determine who has the right stuff. If you've got the scratch--$1,350-per-day worth--and can meet Sullivan's exacting standards, it is possible to find out if that stuff is within you.
Whether Sullivan's proselytizing amounts to a cogent personal and ecological philosophy or is simply high-toned rhetoric designed to justify a profitable and exotic lifestyle, it is undeniable that his message strikes a chord in men who might long for a return to a simpler, bygone time--a time before the male psyche became hopelessly confused by societal demands that he learn to nurture, weep and actually like quiche.
Looking and speaking like a cross between Tom Selleck and "Crocodile" Dundee, Sullivan is an immensely likable prototype of the post-Alan Alda Age man. Possessing a self-assurance found only in those who have never suffered a tremor of doubt about their chosen path, he paints a compelling portrait of a world that is based not on meaningless slaughter, but on honor. A world where a man stands toe to claw with some of the most dangerous creatures ever to walk the Earth and, if he has enough skill and luck, lives to tell about it.
A world that sets the testosterone to frothing in all the Y-chromosome-endowed creatures who, in this gender-sensitive modern age, are sick of being told that "manly" is a dirty word.
@body:Sullivan's three videos, Simba, Mobogo (which are Swahili for lion and buffalo, respectively) and the melodramatically named Africa's Black Death are lush, color expositions of the hunter's art. No matter which direction your moral compass points, watching Sullivan and his clients as they run through the bush and plot the best strategy for tracking and claiming their prey is fascinating. There is beauty in this dance, as both man and beast maneuver in a game of life and death.
The film footage isn't for the squeamish, but it isn't sadistic, either. Typically, an animal is dead in less than a minute after the first shot is fired. During the videos, Sullivan can be repeatedly heard urging his client to "hit him again, hit him again," in an effort to quickly render the animal harmless and also put him out of his misery. The overall effect of the shooting scenes is like that of a Wild Kingdom rerun, except that instead of tagging and releasing the animal, Marlon and Jim shoot it, pat each other on the back and then replay the kill in slow motion.
The fact that both the lion and Cape buffalo (the two creatures Sullivan specializes in hunting) are lightning quick, massively muscled and notoriously unpredictable when wounded inserts an element of true danger. This is clearly not equivalent, as the saying goes, to shooting fish in a barrel.
Both adversaries are equipped with dangerous weapons, teeth or horns versus gun. Although even Sullivan acknowledges that it would be disingenuous to claim that this puts the rifle-toting hunter and the animal on a level playing field, it is true that when the hunters are alone in the head-high grass, hours by airplane from the nearest rudimentary hospital, it can sometimes seem like the lion is the one who really holds the advantage.
"We hunt lesser, smaller game," Sullivan says, "but the truth is I really don't like to see them shot. There is nothing manly in hunting a zebra, for instance, no risk of life.
"But when you hunt lion or Cape buffalo, if you hunt them fairly and honestly, you are risking something."
To emphasize the point, Sullivan notes that well-documented reports in national newspapers show several hunters are mauled or gored by African big game every year. While Sullivan says that most of his professional hunter friends have been flipped, tossed, laid upon, bitten or lacerated at least once by a wild beast, he is mum about his own close calls.
Perhaps that is because others, prompted by the video record of Sullivan's hunting exploits, are usually willing to do the talking for him. One story in particular has become part of hunting lore, told and retold, according to Sullivan's friends, by members of the hunting fraternity.
While on safari in Tanzania in 1990, a Sullivan client shot and wounded a massive Cape buffalo (known to natives as the "black death" of Africa, it is a an animal that can weigh 1,000 pounds and is notoriously cranky). The animal promptly fell to the ground. But as the hunters approached, the bloodied bull struggled to its feet. Spying Sullivan, the huge beast mustered the strength for an attack. Snorting, issuing a deep, guttural growl and leveling its sharp horns, it charged.
Sullivan fired once with his double-barreled rifle, striking the buffalo squarely in the forehead at a range of 12 feet. But still the animal, legs pumping and nostrils flaring, plunged forward. Sullivan quickly backpedaled two or three steps and fired again. This time, the bullet went through the buffalo's brain, sending the huge creature crashing to the ground--right at Sullivan's feet. Hollywood couldn't have done it better. Thanks to a video camera that was on hand to immortalize the scene, it doesn't have to.
When released as the climactic scene in Africa's Black Death, Sullivan's performance caused a sensation among big-game aficionados, and made the video the best-selling hunting film of all time (more than 10,000 sold, nationwide).
To his clients, the scene proves Sullivan is nothing short of a hero. Craig Huber, who spent ten days hunting buffalo with Sullivan last year, says he is "cool as they come."
"He is smart enough not to get into too many overly dangerous situations," says Huber, who provides security to executives in Virginia when he isn't hunting. "When he does, he is more than able to deal with whatever comes his way.
"All the proof you need is in that video. Anyone else who got charged like that would have to send his pants to the cleaners."
One of his peers--a professional hunter who asked not to be identified so that "clients don't think about leaving me for Mark"--says Sullivan is "one of the best."
"There are few hunters who have a reputation like that guy. He sounds too good to be true, in terms of the kind of experience a client has on safari with him, but he is for real. The video proves it."
Such myth-making moments are what Sullivan says he has dreamed of since childhood; they are at the core of the attraction he feels for the hunt. "To face a huge animal like that buffalo," he reminisces, "and to stand your ground in the face of the danger; nothing sets the adrenaline pumping like that."
But in addition to typifying the kind of macho allure that has given African safaris their status among hunters, such scenes also seem to encompass the central dichotomy of big-game hunting--the compulsion and revulsion that often simultaneously seize the uninitiated.
While there is much in Sullivan's videos that repels--blood, fur and bone being blown explosively into the air; flies swarming gore-encrusted game; the sight of death itself--there is also something undeniably gripping. It isn't difficult to imagine that most American viewers of a Sullivan video would confess, if only with a blush, that the idea of going mano a mano with a creature that has the power to inflict mortal harm--while in an exotic setting like Africa, so very different from the environs of our daily lives--is, well . . . cool.
Not everyone, however, will admit to harboring this dark fascination. To many members of the animal-rights community, Sullivan isn't brave; he is a coward who shoots defenseless creatures, preserving the moment of death on slickly produced videos that amount to little more than venal "snuff" films. To them, this white hunter has a black heart.
@body:"My parents didn't own guns, and they didn't really like the outdoors," Sullivan says. "But my grandfather, he showed me a whole new world of nature."
Urged on by the older man and a subscription to Outdoor Life, the teenage Sullivan fell in love with hunting. The images in the magazine, he says, of a young American boy who had killed an elephant while on safari in Kenya, ignited within him a burning desire to hunt in Africa. So after more than a decade of working to become a proficient domestic small-game hunter--and while working in an advertising agency to make a living--Sullivan and his wife embarked on a 50-day African safari in 1977.
They spent $35,000 on the trip, but Sullivan remained unsatiated. "I kept thinking, I love safari so much, and I can't spend that much money to keep going back. I had to figure out a way to do it full-time."
The way appeared in 1981. He met a professional hunter who was visiting from Tanzania and begged the pro to take him on as an apprentice. For two years, Sullivan labored in the African bush for no pay, learning the nuances of the safari trade. The experience paid off. A decade later, Sullivan, now 43, is one of a very select group--numbering from two to perhaps five--of American professional hunters who shepherd paying clients through the heart of East Africa. He is certainly the most visible and vocal.
"Nothing else can bring out the senses in you and make the blood run through your veins," he rhapsodizes. "Safari hunting means pitting yourself against an adversary that is more than capable of killing you, sharing the same piece of ground with it, walking near it, smelling it, appreciating that the creature exists.
"I, and those who go with me, go hunting for right reasons. I love to listen to the lion's roar at night, the hippos gurgling in water next to camp, the sunrises and the sunsets, the smell of Africa, the light, the sweat, the good and bad times, the successes and failures. You make mistakes, and you live through them, work through them."
While he tends to lapse into such hyperbole, Sullivan seems to truly believe that hunting big game is a microcosm of life itself, a spiritual endeavor that renews and improves through the doing. Especially, he says, when experienced under the time-honored rules of the traditional safari.
Billing himself as a "historical hunter," Sullivan uses only antique double-barreled rifles made around the turn of the century to stalk African game. His favorite, a .577-caliber Nitro Express (a name he appropriated to dub his hunting company), is an elephant gun made in 1919 London, and uses a slug almost four inches in length. Despite its bulk, it is an elegant, graceful weapon, constructed of polished, restored wood and gleaming black steel. Although both he and his clients do allow themselves to enlist the aid of modern, high-powered scope sights--which are bolted to the old weapons--the gun highlights, Sullivan says, his overall approach to the retro-safari experience. "Going on safari with me is like jumping into a time capsule," he boasts.
The romantic black-and-white movie world of the Victorian-era safari, when sporting gentlemen clad in pressed trousers and starched shirts ventured out to bag the big one, is replicated down to the last detail. Native workers--Sullivan employs about 100--slather hunting guests in luxury, pressing their clothes daily, providing hot water for showers, and fixing morning and evening feasts, all painstakingly prepared in camps located deep in the bush, hundreds of miles from any town.
But before clients can revel in all this authenticity and pampering, they must first pass Sullivan's philosophical test. The high priest of hunting is very selective about whom he allows into his congregation.
He insists that each client (about four per year accompany him to Africa, each paying up to $50,000 to cover costs and Sullivan's $1,350 per day guide fee) spend a weekend or several evenings with him before embarking on safari.
"I try to put them in the proper frame of mind, so that they know what they are about ready to do is a privilege," he says. "I try to instill in them the same love and admiration for animals that I have. They have to have the same value system. I don't take anyone who just wants to go kill animals in mass numbers."
The elaborate preparations and careful planning--refining the atmosphere, the insistence on historical weapons, the careful screening process to ensure proper "attitude"--combine in the crucible of the Tanzanian bush to produce what Sullivan says is often a life-altering experience.
"Hunting is not a right, it's a privilege, and is something we hold dear. The actual taking of life, to those of us who cherish it, is an honor. That we have the ability to still do that in the year 1993 . . . ," his voice trails off momentarily, but he soon clears his throat and returns, deeply serious.
"Putting it simply, safari is like no other experience or adventure that is available to us on planet Earth. It is an emotional experience . . . and it makes you a better person."
To some, of course, such sermonizing is merely proof that Sullivan is a con artist, a scamster attempting to justify the profitable bloodletting that pays his rent. Diana McMeekon, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based African Wildlife Foundation, one of the largest mainstream animal-rights organizations, says she has heard quasi-religious, personal-development rationales for hunting "a billion times."
"In fact," she says, "if I hear one more hunter tell me that every time he shoots an elephant, he breaks down and cries, I'm going to hurl.
"You can have a very satisfactory and exciting encounter with wildlife, and broaden your experience quite well, without having to kill anything."
D.J. Schubert, director of investigations for the Fund for Animals, a somewhat more extremist group that opposes hunting except in cases where human survival depends on it, says that the fulfillment Sullivan's clients gain from hunting is nothing more than "blood lust."
"This isn't something that will make you a better person, unless you consider brutally butchering a beautiful animal and importing its head for your wall to be a growth experience," he says.
"[Sullivan] and his kind are deplorable."
This moral wrestling between hunters and gatherers is, in the end, essentially unresolvable--dealing as it does with philosophical esoterica (do animals have souls?) best left to the parlors of church and academe.
Is it murderous and barbaric to kill an animal? Is it just and ennobling? Is it ethically neutral? Is it really any different from picking up a package of hamburger at the Food Mart?
As far as the effect on the African ecosystem is concerned, it may not matter. There is substantial evidence, touted by Sullivan, that indicates big-game hunters who play by the rules laid down by the Tanzanian government aren't harming the wildlife population.
In fact, there is evidence that hunters are actually helping to keep the vast majority of Africa's big game alive and well.
@body:The Moyowosi game reserve is, by all accounts, just off the freeway to paradise. This is Hemingway territory, and although the reserve isn't quite in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro (the peak is about 500 miles to the northeast), it is of the same milieu.
While the fabled mount can sometimes become crowded with tourists, however, the Moyowosi consistently retains its splendid isolation. It is Africa as it has been for millennia.
Located in northwest Tanzania, the Moyowosi is endowed with a substantial water supply that makes it a lush breeding ground for the finest big-game animals in eastern Africa.
The genetic pool here, especially when it comes to lion and Cape buffalo, is especially rich. From the flood plains to the rolling, green veldt, the Moyowosi is crowded with huge, strutting beasts of both species. As many as 75,000 buffalo and unknown hundreds of lions inhabit the 5,000-square-mile reserve.
It is in such regions, Sullivan says, that the very survival of wildlife depends on hunters. "The best way to support African wildlife in Tanzania is to go hunting," he says. "That is the only way we can guarantee they will always be there."
To some, that might sound reminiscent of the logic that led an American commander in Vietnam to posit that a village had to be destroyed in order to save it. But there is a sound argument, one that takes into account the hard, fiscal realities of Third World regimes, to support Sullivan's position. In a nutshell, it goes like this:
The Tanzanian government makes millions every year from fees it charges foreigners to hunt in game reserves like the Moyowosi, which are set aside solely for that purpose. Every hunter must pay $100 per day for each gun he brings into the country, another $100 for an "area occupancy fee" and $600 for a hunting permit. Nearly everything associated with the hunt is subject to a tariff, right down to the bullets, which are taxed at 10 to 15 cents each. In addition, for every animal that is shot, the government exacts a kill fee, ranging from $2,000 for a lion down to $280 for a warthog.
If Tanzania were to close areas like Moyowosi to hunting, as many animal-rights groups desire, it would be deprived of this steady stream of hard, western currency. The government would then be forced to open the reserve to native settlers, in an effort to generate taxes and food from the land.
Opening the land to the plow, Sullivan insists, would be catastrophic. The encroachment of man in the land of the lion would inevitably lead to attacks on settlers. A herd of buffalo can decimate a large field of corn in one night. Faced with such conflicts, the settlers would cry out for help from the government, which might then be compelled to embark on a program of wildlife extermination.
"If that happens, tens of thousands of animals will die for no good reason. People who say if you stop hunting, you can save the animal population, simply aren't telling the truth," Sullivan says. "The only way to ensure the animals will always be there is to make sure they retain their economic value to the government of Tanzania and are kept away from civilization.
"People think hunters are from a different planetary system, that we have no love, no compassion for the beauty around us. But if the truth be known, we love animals more than so-called animal lovers themselves. When we hunters spend millions of our own money every year to shoot a few animals, we protect wildlife as a whole."
It is, in any event, truly only a few. Moyowosi safaris are hardly in the spirit of the buffalo slaughters on the Old West American plains, or in the style of poachers, who have been known to conduct African hunts from the tops of Land Rovers, using Uzis to mow down hundreds of animals in an hour.
In contrast, during last year's four-month hunting season--which runs from late June to October--the Tanzanian government allowed Sullivan and crew (who had exclusive hunting rights in 1992 to the Moyowosi) to shoot 6 lions and 16 buffalo. That, he says, is "like taking five deer out of the Kaibab Plateau all year."
Sullivan insists that in addition to helping his clients select this limited amount of game, he also serves as a humanitarian and good-will ambassador. As evidence, he says that all the meat from the kills is dried into a jerky called "biltong," which is then distributed to poor Tanzanians, whose diet is lower in protein than almost any other people in the world. Every year Sullivan also delivers clothes and medical supplies to remote villages.
"Over the course of the season, we feed probably 5,000 people," he says. "These are people who really have no way to make money. We are talking about a sport with far-reaching effects.
"Once you know the facts, what I do doesn't sound so evil."
McMeekon, of the African Wildlife Foundation, agrees that hunting of the Sullivan variety is "part of the wildlife regulation toolbox"--one of the ways in which African nations can raise money and be encouraged to preserve animal sanctuaries.
Admitting that neither the lion nor the buffalo is classified as an endangered species--in fact, both are more plentiful now than at any time in recent memory--McMeekon gives grudging approval to Sullivan's thesis.
"While I think that you can clearly overestimate the humanitarian nature of big-game hunters, it is true that they do good for the natives. Also, the money and resources they pour into local economies are an incentive for locals to report poachers, who don't pay them anything."
Other respected scientists confirm that agriculture, rather than the well-regulated safari, represents the real threat to African wildlife. Rodger Yeager and Norman Miller, in their book Wildlife, Wild Death, the seminal study of land-use problems in eastern Africa, note that the "ecological equilibria" in Tanzania are threatened primarily by "increased economic activity, worsened by enclosing game animals within geographically fixed spaces that cannot support the animals' growing numbers."
The authors, both longtime Africophiles and university professors specializing in environmental and public-policy studies, suggest that conflict with human farmers within these confined areas, like the Moyowosi, is what really leads to animal extermination.
@body:Activists like the Fund for Animals' Schubert are quick to identify Sullivan with the popular stereotype of the American hunter as a bloodthirsty buffoon; the overweight, beer-guzzling goofball who is as likely to shoot the NRA sticker off his pickup truck as he is to actually hit a live animal.
While even Sullivan regretfully acknowledges that such comparisons are easy--since that kind of hunter is an all-too-prevalent reality--he bitterly notes that generalizations about any group tend to produce a skewed picture. Especially when carried into the realm of the absurd, as some animal extremists are evidently prone to do.
For instance, according to one Washington, D.C.-based animal-rights activist who asked not to be identified, the highly secretive Animal Liberation Front--which has staged numerous covert raids on laboratories to free the animal victims of medical experiments--is readying a national ad campaign that will suggest that what really motivates hunters is a desperate desire to compensate for a too-small male member. Firing a long, shiny rifle, according to this school of thought, has nothing to do with sport. It is merely a classic phallic substitution, an act designed to make the underendowed feel like real men.
"[The ALF] is really being meanspirited by engaging in this kind of thing," the activist says. "As much as I'm opposed to hunting, things like that only serve to further polarize both sides . . . Hunters get very defensive, and understandably so, when they hear stuff like that."
While he refrains from using Freudian satire to belittle hunters, activists like Schubert do suggest that Sullivan's clients are at best khaki-clad dilettantes, rich doctors, lawyers and yuppie desk jockeys who by virtue of their well-paying professions are able to tramp off into the wilds to assert their long-frustrated manhood.
Some hunters who accompanied Sullivan on the hunting expeditions recorded in his videos may look rather foolish and out of place. Clothed in an abundance of camouflage and the obligatory Banana Republic headgear, these wide-eyed, weekend warriors move awkwardly through the bush, like children taking their first timid steps. They wear kid-in-the-candy-store expressions, playing the docile child to Sullivan's powerful father.
But Sullivan is quick to remind critics that for most of his clients, the African safari is a long-simmering dream, and he insists they are entitled to feel wonder at the experience. Kenny Trousdale, who owns a string of Whataburger outlets in Texas and spent 21 days with Sullivan in Tanzania, says he wouldn't be surprised if he appeared a little excited on film.
"You've got to understand that I went on a previous safari where I spent 44 days and never even saw a lion," he says. "I was with Mark for only 12 days before I shot my lion, and I had seen and rejected several before that.
"Like I told Mark around the campfire, sometimes when you realize a dream, it fails to quite live up to how you imagined it would be. But with him, the fulfillment of shooting my lion was even better than the dream." Trousdale has signed up for another three weeks in the bush with Sullivan this summer.
Sullivan says he prefers to ignore criticism from the animal-rights community, but it clearly strikes a nerve. "People who mock us for hunting just don't understand what they are talking about," he says. "They are showing their ignorance. They don't understand what hunting is, what it represents to those of us who do it." When pressed, he has even harsher words for hunting detractors.
"These people don't want to learn, to know the truth. They perceive what they are doing is right, even though facts say otherwise. They are so far deranged, they won't even listen to truth. And those who destroy property or do damage to hunters in the name of animal rights are simply sick."
Other African game hunters are also smarting over denigration heaped upon them. Their frustration is deepened by the fact that the mainstream hunting community has largely distanced itself from the image of the safari--for instance, Sullivan says Outdoor Life, his early influence, has yielded to advertising pressure and will no longer run stories or pictures dealing with big African game. As a result, this disgruntled group of big-game purists has banded together in organizations designed to counter what it views as animal-rights misinformation.
One such group, Safari Club International, headquartered in Tucson, has a membership of more than 20,000 worldwide, and sees its mission as being the rehabilitation of the safari in the American mind. Gray Thornton, the group's membership director, says SCI has given more than $20 million to conservation projects since its founding in 1971, and operates a "conservation school" in Jackson, Wyoming, to teach young international game hunters "environmental responsibility," all part of an effort to build a positive image for hunting.
"One of our functions is to try to show the world what is good about hunting, why it is good to hunt," Thornton says. "Just like antihunting groups try to sway opinion, so we try to convince people that our activities are useful and appropriate."
SCI's slick bimonthly magazine is at the core of this effort. While crammed with ads for taxidermists and how-to articles about bagging this creature and that, it also presents well-reasoned pieces designed to counter animal-rights arguments. The underlying message of the articles seems directed not at the antihunting faction, though, but at the public at large.
The articles suggest that hunting isn't an aberration engaged in by the maladjusted few, but an integral and irresistible part of human nature. Just because most of us don't strap on camouflage and wade through the bush doesn't mean we don't find other outlets for our predatory selves. What is a hotly contested golf game, the whipping of a business competitor or the urge to beat a fellow motorist through a stoplight if not an expression of our need to dominate and get an edge? Aren't we all hunters?
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
@body:Although an avid SCI supporter, Mark Sullivan despairs of ever truly convincing the masses that the hunting he loves is anything less than brutal exploitation. One detects a sense of fatalism about the long-term survival of African hunting. "Like most great things in life," he says, "you can't really understand safari unless you experience it. And for most people, it just costs too much to go themselves and see it from my perspective."
That aside, Sullivan is more than able to console himself with a lifestyle in which he revels and his self-appointed role as big-game-hunting advocate. At the moment, he is consumed with plans for a spinoff African enterprise that will provide guided fishing and photography trips on Tanzanian rivers. And he has plenty to ponder. In keeping with his fascination with keeping true to the historical traditions of hunting, he is busy wondering how history will view him.
"I will never be a rich man," he says. "But I will leave behind something that a lot more successful people than me can't. I will leave behind something that has to do with the true Africa."
That legacy, as he sees it, are his videos. Sullivan says he dreams that in 50 years, when both he and African big-game hunting may have passed from the scene, public broadcasting stations will air the films, "to show what real hunting was really like."
"Perhaps I was born too late," he sighs. "I should have been alive in the 1920s, in the golden age of African hunting. But I want those who come after me, my grandchildren who I don't even have yet, to look back and say, 'Yeah, this guy hunted the right way, for the right reasons.'"
Looking up at the walls, where the countless heads stare back with lifeless, black-marble eyes, Sullivan smiles. "Maybe by then people will have returned to the idea that hunting is good. Maybe by then everyone will understand.