By Don Loprieno

Most of us like some kind of sports by either following them, participating in them or both. Whatever ones we prefer, we expect that players or teams be more or less evenly matched in terms of skill and equipment.

We’d protest, for instance, if the tennis players we were rooting for were not allowed to use rackets, and we’d be in an uproar if the quarterbacks and linemen on our favorite team were denied helmets, protective padding and shoes.

Why? Because we require a level playing field and we believe in fairness, as well as giving those we contend against a sporting chance. We believe that when one side prevails over the other, it’s largely because of ability and skill, and we believe that the consequence of defeat should not be the forfeiture of life itself.

There are many activities these days that call themselves sports that are not sports at all. A case in point is the trapping season for bobcats that began Oct. 29 and is still in effect until Dec. 31.

It involves catching the animal in a steel trap and holding it fast, often in pain and struggling for hours if not days, until the “sportsman,” sometimes described as a “recreational sportsman,” kills it for its pelt.

Hunting for bobcats (more accurately described as hounding) began on Dec. 1 and will end on Feb. 21, a season that was recently extended by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife – an odd decision since they freely admitted in their 2015 Research and Management Report that the number of bobcats trapped and hunted “declined from a high of 410 during the 07-08 season, to a new low of 111 bobcats this past season. How much of this decline in the annual harvest (i.e. killing) rate can be attributed to an actual decline in the bobcat population or changes in trapping/hunting effort is still an unanswered question (emphasis added).”

In other words, the department doesn’t know how many bobcats are in the state, but the season was nonetheless extended to give hunters an extra week of “opportunity” to kill them. This hardly sounds like the “scientific” approach that our biologists are supposed to have and often tout.

Hunting bobcats is cruel and abusive. They are relentlessly tracked by packs of GPS-collared hounds accompanied by humans in snowmobiles. The bobcats are chased until they are exhausted and cornered by the dogs. The bobcats are then executed at close range or bludgeoned to death unless they are torn apart first by the pursuing hounds.

A season extension for bobcat hounding will also increase the risk that the bobcat’s cousin, the Canada lynx — a federally-listed threatened species — will be misidentified and killed by bobcat hunters.

Instead of protecting bobcats, however, our Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife allows them to be trapped and hounded with no bag limit.

It’s a remarkable and troubling reversal of priorities that puts the financial gain of trappers and hounders ahead of the well-being and protection of our animals. If we reduce it to a logical premise, it would be “less successful trapping or hounding by humans requires more killing of animals.”

The result is a kind of welfare program for trappers and bobcat hounders, subsidized by the death of our wildlife.

But that’s not all. There’s lots of money to be made by professional guides who offer their services to affluent out-of-staters. One outfit among several makes the following claim:

“Maine bobcat hunting is our specialty. My father started chasing bobcats with hounds in Maine back in the sixties, and is still doing it today . . . There is nothing more beautiful than the sight of a bobcat pacing across a fresh covering of snow in the wintertime in Maine … We utilize snowmobiles, vast woods road networks and GPS collars to make the hunt as easy as possible for you, the client. Rates: $2,500 per hunter for a five-day hunt.”

The clients then get to pose for the camera, pleased by what they’ve accomplished (or what’s been accomplished for them), grinning by the corpse of this “beautiful” animal, now destined to be a trophy, and the subject, no doubt, of an exciting Maine adventure to be told and re-told to family and friends.

The outfit’s website is full of these photos, not only grisly but also insensitive and oblivious to the life that’s been so brutally taken.

There’s also an obvious double standard at work, set in place by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It’s legal to kill bobcats by trapping or hounding, but DIFW draws the line at domestic animals, advising the public that “It is unlawful for any person, while on a hunting trip, to negligently, carelessly, or willfully shoot and wound or kill any domestic animal or bird”

Why the difference?

Do wild animals suffer less than domestic ones? Why do domestic animals merit the protection denied to bobcats, bears, and other species? Could it be that the revenue generated by the sale of pelts, the purchase of licenses, and the large fees expended by trophy hunters reduce the concept of game management to a lower priority? Isn’t animal abuse the same, regardless of whether the animal is wild or domestic?

If so, why are we condoning one, and prohibiting the other?

The target of these barbaric practices is the bobcat, named for its bobbed tail and noted by many as elegant, graceful, solitary creatures, veritable works of nature’s art in design and pattern, and a vital part of the wilderness as described by John Davis, a conservationist writing in March of last year:

“Bobcats play important ecological roles in forest ecosystems. They are effective predators of rodents and rabbits, helping hold in check numbers of these and other herbivores. We should be protecting, not persecuting, our remaining predators, and studying how to restore those we’ve eradicated. The once-eradicated predators of the Northeast include the Bobcat’s more boreal cousin, the Canada lynx and its imperiled status is another reason why allowing the killing of bobcats, by guns or traps, is wrong. Bobcats and lynx look much alike; and sport hunters or trappers can easily kill lynx thinking they are killing bobcat. Bobcats are worth more for wildlife watching and tracking opportunities than they are as pelts.”

How to explain, then, why people want to destroy these remarkable and reclusive creatures who pose no threat to them?

Consider the kind of person who would be proud to kill such an animal, not for food, but for what they regard as a badge of accomplishment. Then consider all the other actions that one could be proud of in life that don’t involve cruelty or needless death.

The word humane is derived from the world humanity, but until that connection is understood and practiced, what we have is really nothing less than state-sanctioned cruelty consisting of an organized attack pitting animals against each other and involving multiple well-armed humans complete with modern technology whose sole purpose is to corner and kill a magnificent creature who’s done them no harm and who has only its instincts to escape and survive.

Don Loprieno lives in Bristol.