The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History
Teddy Roosevelt was both a conservationist and a hunter. This always seemed like a paradox to me, and although the author attempts to explain why it is not, or at least why it wasn’t in TR’s mind, I’m still left perplexed. The author shows us why collecting physical specimens of animals is important for scientific classification and study. I get that. I also understand why these were needed for museum exhibits, especially in TR’s time. There was no other adequate means to present these animals to the public, and TR felt it was important for people to see and appreciate them as he did. He had a lifelong fascination with the natural world, untamed wilderness, and wildlife. He wanted to see it and understand it, and he wanted others to as well. When he hunted, it wasn’t just to collect corpses, he was also observing and recording behavior. He wanted to understand as much as he could about these animals. He knew that some, (such as American bison, African elephants, and white rhinoceroses) were in decline and could become extinct, and this thought disturbed him. He couldn’t stop it from happening, so he did what he could. He killed them so their skins could be stuffed and exhibited. At least this way people in the future could know what had been lost. I can even understand that, in a way.
What I still have difficulty with is his attitude toward hunting. I can easily understand why he enjoyed stalking animals in their natural habitats, observing their behavior, and sharing what he learned with others. That all makes sense to me. I can even understand how he could derive satisfaction from obtaining good specimens for display. But given his clear interest in, and even love of, wildlife, I would think he would regard the deaths of these animals as unfortunate but necessary. Apparently this was not the case. To him, hunting wasn’t an unpleasant duty. He derived pleasure from it. He enjoyed killing them. In my mind, this is beyond strange, so the paradox of TR remains.