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.

Ian Michler: A crucial moment in the campaign against lions being bred for slaughter

19 May

Ian Michler is Director of the campaigning group Blood Lions.

Sunday May 2nd, 2021, will go down as a momentous day for lions and conservation in South Africa.

After decades of campaigning, and months of deliberations by a High-Level Panel (HLP), we heard the words so many of us feared we would never hear. Barbara Creecy, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment announced it was her decision to accept the majority recommendation of the HLP.

“The panel recommends that South Africa does not captive breed lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions for or their derivatives commercially. I have requested the department to action this accordingly and ensure that the necessary consultation for implementation is conducted,” she said.

After so many setbacks in the past, I felt a rush of mixed emotions, including disbelief. But moments later came the realisation that her announcement was in fact a significant shift in thinking – one that now has to be grasped in order to see these recommendations put into law.

Despite grey areas in the report and some reservations over the future process, the Minister and the HLP, as well as all those that made submissions to the panel, should be congratulated. Every sector and stakeholder in South Africa made representation – and there were also influential voices from the international community, Lord Ashcroft being one of them. For the first time, expert opinion and science has trumped the powerful lobby and commercial interests of the breeders, hunters and tourism operators.

Some of us have waited a long time for this decision. I started my research and investigations into the breeding and canned hunting industries during the late 1990’s, a short while before an episode of the Cook Report was released on British television in 1997. This exposé of a lioness being killed against a fence brought the horrors of canned hunting to the world’s attention.

Since then, opposition has grown steadily, and with the launch of Blood Lions in July 2015, a platform providing a co-ordinated effort was set in place. The film provided a powerful visual narrative showing the brutality and the extent of the industry, and it also exposed the misinformation and lies used as attempts to justify their activities.

While Blood Lions has continued to be an umbrella portal for the campaign providing updated information and exposés, it’s ultimately been the expert input and the science that has swayed the Minister and her panel. She has listened to the conservation community and the lion scientists that have countered the conservation lies. She now understands the brutality and cruelty exposed by welfare experts, sanctuary owners and vets. And she has listened to the responsible tourism sector who have made it clear that Brand South Africa was being significantly damaged.

We also must acknowledge the efforts and compelling voices of the international community. Born Free, IFAW, For the Love of Wildlife and WildAid amongst the conservation and welfare community, the governments of Australia, France and the Netherlands at the political level, the constant pressure that came from international media outlets, and then the work of Lord Ashcroft and his team that carried out the most recent exposé that became the basis of his book, Unfair Game. In some ways, the work of Lord Ashcroft served as a tipping point, since the book was released as the HLP was about to sit. It reached wide audiences both locally and abroad.

However, all involved understand much work still needs to be done. Before we see the end of this industry, those voices that have become the majority opinion will need to step up in support of the Minister and her departments work. Final closure may well still be a few years from now.

To purchase a copy of Unfair Game: An exposé of South Africa’s Captive-Bred Lion Industry by Michael Ashcroft, click here. To find out more about the work of Blood Lions, click here.