Stanley Johnson and Eduardo Goncalves: The ban on trophy hunting must happen – and the legislation be fit for purpose

1 Jul

Stanley Johnson is a writer, environmental campaigner and former MEP. He is International Ambassador for the Conservative Environment Network. Eduardo Goncalves is founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. His latest book Undercover Trophy Hunter is published today.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the shooting of Cecil the lion by Walter Palmer, an American trophy hunter and dentist.  It was an event that not only shocked many people around the world: it prompted the Government to briefly consider banning British hunters from bringing home trophies of their lion hunts.

The plan was quietly dropped, and British hunters are among those to have continued killing lions and other threatened species for trophies. Since 2015, the year Cecil was shot, hundreds of lions have been killed by trophy hunters from around the world, among them Britons who brought home no fewer than 89 trophies of lions. Many of the lions had been shot on ‘canned hunting’ estates, where animals are bred in captivity, and the hunter can then ‘hunt’ them within a fenced-in enclosure.

Indeed, since Cecil’s death British trophy hunters have brought home almost a thousand bodies and body parts of species classed by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) as being at risk of extinction.

More than 200 of them came from elephants. The items kept by UK hunters as souvenirs of their elephant hunts included tusks, ears, feet and tails. Other animals that are listed as protected by international conventions, but which have been shot by British trophy hunters in recent years, include polar bears, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hippos, and various species of monkey.

In the past few years, the issue has come to the fore once again, partly due to a series of investigations by the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting – a non-profit group supported by many Conservatives – which have revealed the shocking behaviour of some British hunters. The revelations have made the front pages and prompted a string of editorials in newspapers. A number of Conservative backbenchers have initiated Westminster Hall debates, and tabled Early Day Motions calling for a ban on trophy imports.

In its 2019 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to ban trophy imports of endangered species. The pledge was also included in the previous Queen’s Speech and was reaffirmed at Prime Minister’s Questions in February 2020 in response to a question from Pauline Latham. A public consultation has been held by Defra and the policy reaffirmed following this year’s Queen’s Speech.

However, recent media reports have raised questions as to whether the proposed legislation is fit for purpose. For example: the scope of the ban that is under consideration will, curiously, cover some zebra species, but not others. A number of other species classed as vulnerable to extinction currently find themselves excluded. These include the reindeer, an animal which trophy hunters can book a hunt for online for as little as £1,386.

The reindeer is one of several animals that IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) says are under threat at least in partly due to hunting, but which won’t be covered by the ban proposed by the government. Others include the striped hyena, the African civet cat and the honey badger. George Eustice told NGOs in January that the honey badger – as well as all zebras – should be included in the ban, but it currently sits outside the bill’s proposed scope.

The Government runs the very serious risk of under-estimating the strength of feeling among Conservative voters on this issue. An opinion poll by Survation conducted in March this year showed that 89 per cent of Conservative supporters want a total ban on all trophies being brought back into Britain. The figure is higher than that for supporters of the Labour Party. The same proportion of Conservatives polled by Survation said they believed such a ban should be implemented “as soon as possible”.

Moreover, there has been little talk so far of how such legislation will be enforced, or of the punitive measures under consideration. A new Early Day Motion tabled by Sir David Amess presses the government to clarify its position on this issue, and to ensure that law-breakers can expect to receive a custodial sentence.

Undercover Trophy Hunter reveals that British hunters are looking at ways to evade or even ignore the Government’s legislation. The trophies of most of the animals killed by the leading British hunters profiled in the book can still legally be imported after the proposed ban is implemented, if its scope remains unchanged.

Limiting the trophy ban only to endangered species, as the Government seems to be proposing, makes it seem that the primary purpose of the legislation is conservation. Conservation may indeed be an issue, and current listings under international conventions such as CITES are – as noted above – sometimes woefully inadequate in the protection they provide.

But the proposed legislation needs to reflect a far wider point: namely, that in in this day and age, there is no place for ‘pleasure-killing’ in any shape or form, and that must mean taking steps to prohibit trophy imports from non-listed species as well as from currently listed species.

In short, the legislation needs to reflect unambiguously the moral, as well as the conservation, case against trophy hunting. Or as the Prime Minister said in 2019 in a tweet alongside a picture of Cecil the lion: “We must end this barbaric practice”. Trophy hunting is cruel, barbaric and fundamentally un-Conservative. The government should follow the lead of both its leader and its followers and help bring an end to this terrible trade – starting with a comprehensive and rigorously-enforced ban on imports of all hunting trophies.