by Eva Gudbergsdottir

Hunter Sykes' grandfather with big game kill in 1937
Hunter Sykes’ grandfather as a teenager with Cape buffalo he killed in 1937.

International Environmental Policy alumnus Hunter Sykes MAIEP ‘05 got his first rifle when he was seven years old, and his first shotgun at 12. In contrast to his grandfather, who as a boy had gone trophy hunting with his parents in Africa, Sykes grew up in “hippie Colorado,” where he shot guns for practice rather than hunting.

In the new documentary film The Hunter Legacy, Sykes, as a way to explore issues related to human-wildlife conflict and come to terms with the family legacy, connects with Alex Hunter, the grandson of the famous big game hunter who guided the Sykes family on their hunting trip to Africa in 1937.

What set you off on this journey of discovery?

My family was selling the family farm in upstate New York, and we were going through old family heirlooms and history. On the property was a house - built while my grandfather, his brother, and their parents went on a 10-week safari to British East Africa in 1937 - that was used to celebrate and store the trophies from their many hunting trips. Of particular interest to me were old films of the trip to Africa and journals they kept during their trips. I decided to use these old family materials as the starting point for a documentary film exploring what has changed in the 80 year or so that have passed, with an emphasis on wildlife conservation. The documents and film provided a fascinating glimpse into a part of my family history that I knew little about and the worldviews that they had that differ from mine. Some of it was painful for me to watch and read.

Sykes family game house
A trophy wall in the Sykes family game house.
Filming in Ol Pejeta
Filming one of the two Northern White Rhinos in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Central Kenya.
 
Cheetahs in Ol Pejeta
Cheetahs in Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Giraffes in Ol Pejeta
Giraffes in Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Ranger patrol in Chyulu Hills
Alex Hunter with the ranger patrol in Chyulu Hills in Southeastern Kenya.
Elephants in Tsavo Plains
Elephants in Tsavo Plains
Hunter and Darren after a long day of filming
Hunter Sykes MAIEP ‘05 and and Darren Campbell MAIEP ‘04 after a long day of filming.

How did someone who grew up in such a big hunting family grow up to be an environmentalist?

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and I have always been an environmentalist. I was actually pretty radical as a young boy. When I was nine years old my friends and I chained ourselves to a tree to protest they construction of a gravel pit on our rural road. As I grew older, some of that radical activism was replaced by a desire to find practical solutions to environmental issues and conflicts. By the time I got to Monterey, I had mellowed in some ways, hardened in others. When I graduated, I started Coldstream Creative, a production company focused on creating documentaries for educational and community outreach, with my classmate Darren Campbell MAIEP ‘04. Darren later left to form his own company, but we still collaborate, including on this film.

For More Information

Eva Gudbergsdottir
evag@middlebury.edu
831-647-6606