On 17 March 2023 a Private Member’s Bill to ban the import of hunting trophies into the UK passed its third reading in Parliament. It was approved by MPs after this reading, but required further scrutiny in the House of Lords before being passed into law. A strong African response has now been submitted for the Lords to consider.
I wrote about this iniquitous piece of proposed legislation in African Hunting Gazette January-June 2023, with the following pertinent extract: ‘It is bitterly disappointing MPs have succumbed to an emotive but misinformed animal rights campaign’, said Amy Dickman, an Oxford University professor who is an expert on lion conservation. ‘This bill will kill more animals than it will save. Hopes for a rational, evidence-based debate now rest in the House of Lords.’
A comprehensive and constructive briefing paper has now been prepared by a group of well-informed and experienced Africa contributors. You can find the full document here: https://www.resourceafrica.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/The-Hunting-Trophies-Bill-risks.pdf. We can but hope that sanity will prevail and that the Bill will be revised along the lines suggested by concerned Africans, who will be severely impacted if it is not. The full title of the document is The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill – The risks to conservation, rights and livelihoods. The authors make the following plea:
“The ban as currently proposed carries substantial risks for conservation and livelihoods, as outlined in this briefing paper. These risks have been corroborated by hundreds of experts, including many leading conservation scientists and community conservationists.
It is important their Lordships understand the problems associated with this Bill, in the hope they can improve it and make it fit for purpose. They key problematic areas are:
- The content, framing and development of the Bill;
- The conservation implications of the Bill;
- The economic and livelihoods implications of the Bill;
- The human rights implications of the Bill;
- The political and diplomatic implications of the Bill.”
The points made in the Executive Summary are pertinent:
- The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, currently before the Lords, is intended to ban the import of hunting trophies from a list of around 6,000 species (as listed in a European Council Regulation now referred to in the Bill as the Principal Wildlife Trade Regulation), although the vast majority of species on this list are not subject to trophy hunting (many are corals and jellyfish).
- Over the last 22 years, the UK has imported hunting trophies from only 73 animal species covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – and thus covered by the Principal Regulation. Trophy hunting does not pose a major threat to any of these species.
- The Bill is problematic for a number of reasons. Key amongst these problems – given that the Bill is intended to support conservation – is that it is likely to undermine conservation success in many countries across Africa and elsewhere.
- Trophy hunting is not a key threat to ANY species, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List of Threatened Species” (the globally recognised authority on the conservation status of the world’s wild species).
- For multiple hunted species, even threatened ones, trophy hunting has proven conservation benefits (by reducing far greater threats such as habitat loss and poaching).
- Land on which hunting takes place not only provides habitat for the hunted species, but also for countless animals and plants not subject to hunting. In fact, in Africa there is more land on which trophy hunting is used as a conservation tool than there is for National Parks.
- Undermining the viability of the hunting industry through an import ban, reduces the incentives for Governments, landowners and local communities to:
- keep land as wildlife habitat rather than converting it to uses such as agriculture;
- invest in anti-poaching activities; and
- tolerate dangerous wildlife.
- There are currently no feasible alternative wildlife-based land uses for most trophy hunting areas. Photo-tourism is only viable in select ‘scenic’ areas, where good transport and infrastructure links support a high volume of visitors. The majority of hunting areas will never be viable for photo-tourism. However, hunting can and does in many places coexist with photo-tourism by providing an additional revenue stream.
- The Parliamentary debate surrounding the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill has been driven by extensive misinformation from animal rights activists, backed up by celebrities and social media. In the second reading, for example, over 70% of MPs’ statements were found to be false or misleading. The debate has ignored conservation expertise – even that provided by the UK Government’s own scientific advisory body.
- The UK aiming to ban hunting imports is hypocritical, given that:
- the UK exports many thousands of hunting trophies every year (particularly from red deer in Scotland); and
- the UK languishes far, far behind those Southern African countries who will be most affected by this Bill, on conservation performance. The UK is in fact one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
- The UK Government has suggested that local communities substitute the income lost as a result of a ban on trophy hunting imports by applying for UK aid grants. But encouraging greater aid-dependency demeans the recipients and contradicts the Government’s own Minister for Development and Africa, who said: “international development is not about charity, handouts and dependency.”
- Rather than apply a blanket ban on the imports of all hunting trophies, a better way forward would be to allow the imports of trophies where it can be demonstrated that hunting makes a positive contribution to conservation and local livelihoods. Imports that do not meet these criteria would be banned, thus rightly disenfranchising poorly managed trophy hunting operations without undermining those which have demonstrable benefits.
- Such an approach is already used by other importing countries, such as the USA, and is in line with the approach that the UK is already able to take under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
- Many Britons dislike trophy hunting, but fewer than half want a ban if that would harm people or conservation. Allowing an amendment would fulfil the Government’s pledge, restrict harmful hunting, but limit the potential risks to livelihoods and
The suggestions made by the African group of conservationists make abundant sense, and surely members of the House of Lords will give these proposals the thoughtful consideration they deserve. We must remember that much of the impetus that drove this proposed Bill through the readings in Parliament was driven by animal rights and anti-hunting activists motivated by emotion and not facts. The media, predictably, added fuel to the fire by largely reporting only one side of the issue.
“The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill has been driven by extensive misinformation from animal rights groups, backed up by celebrities and the media. This misinformation has been highlighted in the UK media, in international media, and in the scientific literature. An analysis led by Oxford University of over 150 statements made in the second reading of the Bill found that around 70% of statements made by MPs supporting the ban were factually incorrect.”
Dr John Ledger is a past Director of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, now a consultant, writer and teacher on the environment, energy and wildlife; he is a columnist for the African Hunting Gazette. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. John.Ledger@wol.co.za