Restaurant critic Gill delights in killing a baboon

Kunal Dutta
Monday 26 October 2009 01:00

His hunting credentials include pheasant-seeking missions to Wiltshire with Jeremy Clarkson, and trigger-happy deliberations with the chef Marco Pierre White moments before they despatched a deer.

But now AA Gill, the outspoken restaurant critic and self-appointed arbiter of British culinary standards, might have just taken a pop too far with a column revelling in the demise of his latest gunshot victim – an entirely inedible African baboon.

Writing in yesterday's Sunday Times Style Magazine, Gill described a trip to Tanzania where, driven by the urge to embody a "recreational primate killer", he shot the ape during a safari.

"I know perfectly well there is absolutely no excuse for this," he said. "Baboon isn't good to eat, unless you're a leopard. The feeble argument for cull and control is much the same as for foxes: a veil of naughty fun."

The comments, which to his critics will smack of Oscar Wilde's famous quotation about fox-hunters ("the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable"), have angered animal welfare charities, which yesterday branded the act "utterly morally reprehensible".

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "There is no excuse for taking potshots at such endangered species. The vast majority of people in this country find trophy-shootings of this sort absolutely despicable."

In Gill's column, written as a set-up to preview The Luxe restaurant in London, he described baboons as "no stupider than Piers Morgan".

"They see you, they sod off, in great gambolling gangs, babies riding mums like little jockeys," he wrote. "And they stand around on rocks and bark like Alsatians."

But a spokesman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare said the incident highlighted the growing perception of Africa's baboons as vermin or problem animals. "We are working to shift this perception and are completely opposed to the act of cold killing, which is especially rife among farmers in Africa," he added.

Mr Batchelor went even further, saying: "Baboons might not be in the same league as endangered elephants but that's not the point. Even if the world was overrun with such animals, it is not for a journalist to make the call of culling them.

"Management of animal populations should be left to people with specialist skill and knowledge, and not to restaurants critics with nothing better to do with their time."

Gill has often used hunting as the theme for his columns. In an article last year, he described an incident with Marco Pierre White in which both he and the English chef deliberated about shooting a deer, an act he described as "Ray Mears directed by Quentin Tarantino". "So I kill him and gut him, and sling the cadaver into the back of the Land Rover," Gill wrote.

"But because Marco's going on a bit, I forget to puncture the diaphragm and six pints of gelatinous gore empty into the back. Mr Ishi has to hose it out. He drives me back to London in silence, occasionally muttering: The blood. The blood."

In a column in 2003, Gill wrote: "Somebody asked me what I was going to do in Scotland. Stalking, I said. 'Oh, how exciting. Who?' 'Who? No, I'm shooting.' 'Ooh, with a long lens? I suppose it's Balmoral. You journalists are real scum.' 'No, no, I'm stalking deer and shooting them with bullets. 'Oh God, not Bambi's mother? 'No, no, of course not – Bambi's absentee father.'"

Since the Government criminalised fox-hunting in 2004, hunt groups have reported higher attendances than ever. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have taken part since the ban was implemented.

A spokesman for the RSPCA also condemned Gill's actions but said it could not act against him because the shooting took place beyond its UK jurisdiction .

Gill could not be reached for comment yesterday. But the last word could be left to Clarkson, who once wrote: "Morally reprehensible? Oh yes – but when you're out there on a chilly day with a bellyful of sloe gin and you blow a high bird clean out of the sky with a single shot, it awakens the hunter-gatherer that lurks in all men."

AA Gill: Collected wisdom

"In the range of things you can be good at, being a food or TV critic is not way up there. But it's a talent and I'm quite good at it. Can anyone do it? Is everyone's opinion worth the same? No. My opinion is worth more than other people's."

"[Gordon] Ramsay is a wonderful chef, just a really second-rate human being."

On an overly-attentive waiter in a French restaurant: "I wouldn't have been at all surprised if he'd added that the salt had been shaved from the pudendum of Lot's wife."

"We all know the Welsh are loquacious dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls."

On the Isle of Man: "The weather's foul, the food's medieval, it's covered in suicidal motorists and folk who believe in fairies."

"I don't like the English. One at a time, I don't mind them. I've loved some of them. It's their collective persona I can't warm to: the lumpen and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady-eyed, beefy-bummed herd of England."

On TV show Countdown: "A displacement activity for lives circling the plughole."

"The Albanians are short and ferret-faced, with the unisex stumpy, slightly bowed legs of Shetland ponies."

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