Gunshots — louder than they should be – reverberate across the mountainside. I run from the house and follow their direction east along the mountain path, screaming into the valley below where the hounds are swarming the rock face. ‘Oye! No podéis cazar aquí!’
I arrive breathless and find Antonio already there. ‘What the hell are you doing!’ he growls at the strangers. ‘There are people living right there – children playing in the garden.
The hunters stand indignant, the dogs drawing in – ‘Esto es coto legal!’ – this is a hunting zone, they insist, casting furtive looks to one another.
Antonio shakes his head and stands firm. ‘This is private land.’
One of the men seems to submit, sets his gun on his shoulder and heads back up through the olive groves over the ridge, the dogs disappearing with him. The other man lingers, lifts his palms – ‘I’m not even from here’, he says. ‘I’ve paid to come.’ He glances down through the broom and the gorse – ‘at least let me take the marrano I’ve killed.’
Antonio looks across at me, concern etched in his brow.
‘Where is it?’ I demand of the hunter.
He gestures towards a pine tree that stands tall beside the thicket of the riverbed. The tree marks a crossing point for the boar, between the diurnal undergrowth, and the olive groves where they roam by night. I know its bark to be rubbed smooth at the base by the scratch of their bodies. I push past him, and head towards the tree.
The boar lies exposed on the path – chased from safety by the hounds, right into the line of fire. It has a bullet through the head and blood seeps from its eye-sockets. I crouch down and stroke its belly, feel its hair – wiry, coarse, how I’d always imagined it. The smell is familiar – the same musty scent that emanates from the tangle of willow and bramble at the edge of the paths, that reveals their presence, even as they hide. Now though, it’s tinged with the stench of urine. I run my hands along the lines of muscle and recall crawling through the clay in the undergrowth, scooping up a hoof print and carrying it home.
‘We’re doing you a favour anyway’, the hunter says over my shoulder.
With their natural predators long hunted to extinction in southern Spain, it is true the boar can quickly proliferate. State-mandated culls are now common across the country, intent on eradicating the animals from the cities and golf courses where they venture with increasing regularity, and in attempt to protect pig-farms from the transmission of swine-flu.
Yet I know many local farmers who don’t conceive of the boar as a threat, who see no sense in addressing the challenge of the burgeoning population with the same mindset that created it. Instead they find ways to co-exist with the creatures, eschewing intensive methods and protecting their cultivated land by laying human hair and a sprinkle of cologne around their crops. We use an electric fence, and plant barriers of agave cactus.
I turn to face the hunter. ‘You’re not taking her’ I say, readying myself for his resistance.
A smirk curls at the corners of his mouth – ‘At least let me take the head then’, he tries.
This is trophy hunting – no remnant of the hunt as biological necessity, as the inevitable cycle of life through death. This is dominion, a defiance of man’s own fear of mortality to be captured in taxidermy. A slaughtered head preserved in time, as if to carry that fleeting moment of conquest into permanence.
I stand, square up to him, and speak into his smug expression – ‘Aquí, la vida de un animal no se compra’. An animal’s life can’t be bought, not here.
Antonio steps in, ‘Ya está’, that’s enough now, he says to the hunter. ‘Get out of here.’
The hunter shrugs his shoulders and takes out his ‘phone. He crouches down by the dead animal and takes grinning photos of himself with the bloodied head. We look on, motionless, until finally he turns to leave.
We stay in the shadow of the pine tree, breathe in the scent from its needles, breathe out the tension and the ache for this creature. ‘I’ll head up to the ridge’, Antonio says after a while ‘check that they’re gone.’ I nod and kneel down by the boar.
A short while later, Antonio’s voice carries down the mountain. ‘They’re coming back’, he shouts, ‘down the track from the village!’
I pounce from my position and run up the pathway to meet them. There are three of them now, marching down with furious intent – they’ve come with their first in command, an older man, bullets hung over his broad shoulders, a blade in his belt. I stop short of them – ‘You’re not taking that animal’, I insist again. ‘You’ve got no right to hunt here — we’ll call the police.’
The older man keeps on towards me, comes close enough that I stare into the burst blood vessels on his bloated cheeks, feel his breath on me as he snarls. ‘I am the police, stupid girl’ he says, lifting a pointed finger as if to leave me, like the boar, with sockets seeping red. I push his finger from my face, back down to his side, and immediately his other hand rises – a fist clenched tight above his head.
Later, I would sit in a police station, staring at a poster with the outline of a man and the caption’0.0% machista’ – as much a testament to the extent of gender violence in Spain, as to the campaigns to prevent it. I remember the infamous case during the Pamplona bull run, in which five men – one of them a police officer, and another from the military – abandoned their chase of the bull to pursue a young woman instead. The men raped her and filmed the attack, sharing it on a WhatsApp group in which they called themselves ‘La Manada’– Wolf Pack.
No boar, nor bull, nor woman be safe.
The hunter drops his fist — another neighbour has arrived and has begun filming on his phone. Antonio too has returned and is suddenly by my side, and the police — those on duty — have now been called. We insist on waiting for them to arrive and in the meantime, a bitter discussion ensues between the men. The hunters infer Antonio does not own the land, and mock him scornfully. For them, being a visitor to a place is no reason to care for it, nor for its creatures.
At last the older man resolves to call the police station himself. He greets them with familiarity, and begins explaining – ‘Estamos aquí con los ingleses…’ he starts – ‘We’re here with these English people…’
We are both English and Spanish, but the land is forever at the behest of nationalist machinations, and the hunter is staking his claim – decrying its incursion by foreigners who have no respect for local tradition. In the following days we would hear whisperings in the village – ‘Estas ecologistas, preocupándose por un jabalí’ they said — ‘these eco-types, making such a fuss for a boar.’
But trophy-hunting is just one tradition amongst many in these mountains, where the proliferation of peoples living by the aegis of the land also harbours a culture of ecological humility – amongst foreigners and Spanish alike.
The hunter offers a vague description of our location to his colleague — names the valley and the nearby village, and quickly receives affirmation. Yes, they can hunt there, says the officer on the ‘phone.
All rage drains from me and I stand hollow now, struck by our irreconcilable worlds, by the thousand iterations of this conflict, in the jungles and the high seas, the state sanction of pillage alienating people from their lands. The hunter ends the call and brushes us aside with a sense of finality.
They head down towards the boar and without hesitation the man who has paid for his kill pulls out a blade and thrusts it into the animal’s neck. He carves through the flesh until the head comes loose and then lauds it triumphantly in the air. Blood drips down his chest and leaves smears on his face.
In the days that follow it feels as if a dark presence has crawled inside me and will not leave. The carnal details of what happened – menacing bodies, and bodies dismembered – leave a physical imprint. I avoid returning to the place where the boar was killed, a place where I would otherwise go most evenings to watch the sky darken. It’s only when at last I force myself to go back, that the shock rises up and out through my skin. The hunters had returned for the body, cut out the heavy entrails, and left them there on the ground. It is a strange sight – these vital organs, disembodied — yet perfectly intact. Even the foxes and the raptors had stayed away.
Since then it’s been an act of will to return to those groves, to the pine tree in the valley. It’s a place forever changed, though it bears no physical scar. The land holds on to its stories like that — quietly, intimately.
Yet these are not the times for turning away. This is living on a damaged planet- where the awe and reverence we feel through the places we love will periodically be swept away by horror and by loss. If I cannot cultivate a devotion to the desecrated and the damaged, then before too long I’ll find myself un-tethered, with no place left to turn. So I go back and sit with the scars, and try to find the sacred in that.
Some months later we receive the rulings of the court case. We’d obtained confirmation from the land registry that the hunt was illegal, and filed a police statement for poaching and threat of physical harm – which had been captured on camera. Nonetheless, the hunters were acquitted. The judge reasoned that because we showed no sign of fear, she would not find them guilty.
If this is the measure of culpability in our justice systems then it’s no wonder we live in a culture so devoid of accountability. Sometimes we’ll be brave, and at times we just won’t understand the danger that we’re in. The cries of those who protest the pillaging and profiteering will not be heard, and the perpetrators will carry on unabated, as others look on in a haze, no trace of fear on their faces. Not yet, at least.
Yet, however strange the reasoning, a part of me accepts that the judge saw the confrontation for what it was — two parties, one equally as enraged as the other. Yes, there was a substantial imbalance in the potential to inflict harm – the hunters bore shotguns and blades — but I cannot say we met their indignation and fury with anything less.
My identity, as much as theirs, is entangled with the mountain rock and the wild thyme, the ibex and the boar. This was a struggle that went beyond the body that lay between us — it was a contest of identity and culture, of ways of relating to the world. For the hunters, more than meat or even trophy, at stake in the struggle for the creature’s body was the vindication of tradition and the all-pervasive narrative of the modern age — that man is superior, and may do with other species as it pleases in its pursuit of profit and personal gain.
And me — what was the point in defending an animal that had already been killed? What was left to be achieved? These were questions the hunters themselves had goaded me with.
And of course it’s because there is so much left to be achieved, still so much at stake. By insisting that the body of the boar be left where it rested, to return to the earth that had nourished it through life, I was seeking vindication for my own values, my hopes for a new narrative that curtails extraction and profiteering, that sees other species honoured and seeks reparation and justice for the harm we’ve inflicted as humans.
I don’t know what might have led to a better outcome — a greater attempt to listen to one another, perhaps; police who are more informed, less biased, maybe. I only know what it feels like, when it’s the hunters who carry the body away.
Chloe has spent the last years living off-grid on an olive farm in Andalucía, and now spends her time between there and West Dorset, where she works on a market garden. Both places inspire her writing.
Photograph by the author.