The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which has received its second reading unopposed, is a landmark piece of legislation – nationally and internationally. It proposes to ban British trophy hunters from bringing home the bodies of endangered animals they shoot abroad. If enacted, it will be the strongest such law in the world.
The bill reflects the government’s commitment to support conservation here and around the world. Britain has long been recognised as a key player in the fight against wildlife trafficking. The UK’s Ivory Act is world-beating legislation. It reflects our ambition to improve animal welfare too. The Animal Sentience Act was lauded by charities. The Kept Animals Bill is another initiative of which this government can be proud.
An extensive public consultation involved over 40,000 individuals and entities, including scientists, conservation groups, and African governments. Trophy hunting is abhorred by most people in Africa. A study of local attitudes towards trophy hunting concluded: “The dominant pattern was resentment towards what was viewed as the neo-colonial character of trophy hunting, in the way it privileges Western elites in accessing Africa’s wildlife resources.”
Leading African conservationist Dr Paula Kahumbu, who sits on WWF’s international board, adds: “Trophy hunting is, and always has been, a rich white man’s sport. For Africans, it is a symbol of colonial oppression.” A few weeks ago, an opinion poll in South Africa found over two-thirds of people were opposed to trophy hunting.
Trophy hunting is an issue about which the British public feel strongly too. Opinion polls here show 86% of the public support a ban, with just 2% opposing it. Among supporters of the Conservative government, the figure rises to 92% in favour and only 1% against.
Many people remember the killing of Cecil the lion by an American dentist. However, few know that British trophy hunters kill lions too. Or that many were ‘factory farmed’ in captivity before being shot in enclosures.
Even more popular with British trophy hunters, though, are elephants. Around 1,000 elephant trophies have made their way into the UK in recent years. Like lions, elephants now face an uncertain future. Africa’s two elephant species have recently been declared Endangered and Critically Endangered on IUCN’s Red List.
Their survival prospects are becoming increasingly precarious thanks to trophy hunting. More elephants are now shot by poachers and trophy hunters each year than are born. As a result, numbers have more than halved since the 1980s.
Moreover, killing the strongest elephants – those with the biggest tusks – means the species is losing its best genes forever. Many of today’s adult elephants now have smaller tusks or no tusks at all. This means they are more likely to die during the increasingly frequent and severe droughts affecting Africa thanks to climate change.
Lions face the same problem. Numbers have collapsed by 90% since the 1970s alone. Their gene pool has shrunk by 15% over the past 100 years. Lions today are smaller and more prone to diseases than previous generations. Scientists say shooting just 5% of the remaining ‘trophy’ males could doom the species irretrievably to extinction.
The list of threatened species shot by British trophy hunters is quite extraordinary. It includes polar bears, a species already at risk thanks to climate change. It includes cheetahs, who have vanished from 98% of their range.
It even includes critically endangered black rhinos: there are just 3,142 of these majestic creatures left on earth. Yet a British man who shot one says trophy hunting is “like mainlining on heroin”.
I recently met Botswana’s former President Ian Khama. He banned trophy hunting in his country. As a result, it became a haven for African wildlife. The nation now has one-third of all the continent’s elephants. He told me how people had benefited. Nature tourism is now the country’s second largest revenue earner after diamonds, bringing jobs and prosperity to poorer rural communities.
“Global Britain means leading the world by example,” he told me. “The UK should do all it can to help protect our shared natural heritage and halt this reckless destruction.”
I know this is a sentiment that will be shared by many parliamentarians across both Houses. I urge them to support this bill – and help make history.
Henry Smith MP