In a few days a documentary film that includes a particularly savage scene of an Alaskan polar bear hunt may be awarded an Oscar. The episode is a hoax. Yet with every showing, this supposedly factual film infuriates audiences and vilifies hunters.
A few months ago another editorially slanted documentary, one intimating that the hunting of exotic game on an island northwest of Seattle was a brutal slaughter, was shown on Walter Cronkite's CBS evening news program. The swell of public indignation that film generated is only now subsiding.
The trend—if it is one—toward picturing hunters and their sport as bloodthirsty and unprincipled is disquieting and unfair. Consider, specifically, the case of Safari Island, the focus of Cronkite's attention.
Safari Island lies in the San Juan archipelago, 31 miles off the northwest coast of Washington. It rises steeply from the tideline, with grassy open meadows on the south side and a forest of cedar and scrub fir to the north. Two years ago it was purchased by the Spieden Development Corporation for $675,000. The men behind the Safari Island project are Bert, Chris and Gene Klineburger, proprietors of Jonas Brothers of Seattle, the world's largest taxidermist, international safari travel agents, outfitters and top trophy hunters.
The idea was to turn the place into a combined game farm, resort and shooting preserve. The Klineburger brothers began stocking their new property with 2,100 game birds (quail, ringneck pheasants, guinea fowl, chukar partridge, jungle fowl and wild turkeys). Hundreds of rare animals—African Barbary sheep, Indian black buck, Corsican mouflons, Spanish goats, Indian spotted deer, Japanese sika deer, hybrid four-horned sheep and European fallow deer—were brought to the island. Some came from Chris Klineburger's ranch in Redmond, Wash. Others were purchased in Texas, where game raising is a sizable business.
The Klineburgers believed that animal conservation could be practiced on the island. The plan was to allow trophy hunters, for a price, to shoot the surplus game each year, and thus pay for the shareholders' investment, which now totals around $800,000. In April 1970 commercial hunters began arriving.
The first reaction, locally, to the venture was wry amusement. Then some distress. Native San Juan Islanders are well known for being opposed to change, any change, especially one that might bring accelerated tourism to the islands. They try to suppress the fact that there are state and county parks and even national historical monuments among their farms and fishing villages. It was not long before they were spreading stories of exotics that swam to neighboring islands to escape the fusillade and arrived with price tags hanging around their necks, only to be shot by the natives for free.
Newcomers who have eased onto the islands with vacation homes are no less opposed to fee hunting, considering it morally reprehensible and a stigma upon the fair name of the state. Mount Everest climber Jim Whittaker, whose summer home is on Johns Island directly across Spieden Channel from Safari, deplores the sound of rifle shots. "Suddenly the quiet is shattered," he says. "You know something is dying and the whole aura of heavenly peace out there is destroyed." One day when Whittaker and his sons were out fishing for ling cod, they watched a panicky deer swim toward their boat. They hauled it aboard, took the animal to Johns Island, where no hunting is allowed, and released him.
Though the Safari Island enterprise is private, and brochures advertising the preserve are sent out discreetly, only to friends and clients, angry letters began appearing in Puget Sound newspapers. Safari soon was being referred to as Slaughter Island—and various members of the anti-gun faction plumped for an open season on the Klineburgers.
The outrage was localized, however, until last November when CBS included a five-minute documentary on Safari Island on the Cronkite show. The program apparently gave to many of the 12 million viewers the nightmare impression of animals released from cages while hunters waited; rich and aging shooters ministered to by guides while they crippled animals in the hindquarters; hundreds of terrified animals trapped on a tiny island; a bloody, money-making business decimating animals. The film caused such anger that more than 2,500 people across the country wrote blistering letters to the Klineburgers.