Patrick Hall: MPs are right to bring forward a ban on trophy hunting imports, but could go further in thwarting the illegal wildlife trade

15 Dec

Patrick Hall is a Senior Research Fellow at the think tank Bright Blue.

It’s just over two years to the day since the Conservatives won their stonking majority, yet one of their manifesto commitments remains undelivered: banning imports from trophy hunting.

Currently, trophy hunters can travel to countries that are home to charismatic species such as lions, elephants, giraffes, hippopotamuses and baboons, shoot as many as they please, and return to the UK bringing their sickening souvenirs with them. The effect on wildlife is, unsurprisingly, damaging. Only approximately 20,000 lions are left in the wild today. And that is just one harrowing statistic of many when it comes to species decline.

Having previously cited a lack of time as the reason for delay, the Government has finally announced it will be proposing a law to ban trophy hunters from bringing back the bodies and body parts of charismatic species they’ve killed. George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, expects it to be one of the toughest bans in the world, estimated to prevent the body parts of over 7,000 species from being brought into the UK.

Pressure has been placed on the Government to move more quickly to introduce a ban after John Spellar, the Labour MP, unveiled his own legislation on the issue – the Hunting Trophy Import (Prohibition) Bill.

The introduction of such a ban needn’t wait any longer. From a political perspective, it’s a vote winner; 89 per cent of Conservative voters support a ban on imports from trophy hunting. From a fiscal perspective, it bears no cost to the Treasury.

In fact, this country could go further. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than £15 billion a year, is the world’s fourth most profitable criminal enterprise and is often undertaken or supported by corrupt officials, criminal gangs and even terrorist networks. As some regions of the world become wealthier, this risks increasing the demand for, and therefore the illegal trade in, products from endangered species.

In Bright Blue’s report, Global green giant?, we put forward ambitious new recommendations for government to combat the international illegal wildlife trade.

The US Magnitsky Act 2012 allows the US Government to sanction individuals implicated in gross human rights abuses by freezing their assets and barring them from entry into the country. The UK passed its own version of this through an amendment to existing legislation, named the ‘Magnitsky Clause’. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 includes “gross human rights violation” as a reason for imposing sanctions on someone or an entity. The type of sanction and authority to enact them is at the discretion of an appropriate Minister.

Amendments to existing legislation should be made to enable the UK Government to freeze UK-based assets of foreign citizens implicated in supporting the illegal wildlife trade, wildlife crime, and other forms of gross species and habitat destruction.

Intelligence sharing is another tool for thwarting the illegal wildlife trade. The EU-TWIX scheme is a database among EU member states containing centralised data on seizures and reported offences. Despite Brexit, the UK remains a part of EU-TWIX. The UK should advocate for and help to build a Commonwealth version of the EU-TWIX scheme.

Admittedly, the UK Government has already made several commitments to increasing evidence sharing amongst Commonwealth nations in relation to the illegal wildlife trade, including working directly with local law enforcement agencies in countries where the wildlife crime is prevalent and providing operational support to Intepol’s ‘Project Predator’ – an international enforcement and intelligence sharing initiative to protect tigers in the wild.

However, there is no official framework for sharing intelligence amongst Commonwealth nations. It makes sense for there to be, given how prolific the illegal wildlife trade is in many of those countries, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Currently, the incumbent Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth of Nations is Boris Johnson, our Prime Minister, presenting an opportunity for the UK to take the lead in establishing a Commonwealth illegal wildlife trade intelligence sharing scheme. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, also known as CHOGM, is where collective Commonwealth declarations are made. The 26th CHOGM is yet to take place; it would be reassuring to see the Prime Minister use his final moments as Chair-in-Office to lay the foundation for such a scheme.

There’s a role for the private sector to play in combating the illegal wildlife trade as well. Already, the Wildlife Financial Taskforce exists, which comprises 30 international banks and financial organisations committed to not facilitating or tolerating any financial flows from the illegal wildlife trade.

However, this initiative exists on a voluntary basis. Currently, commercial organisations with an annual turnover greater than £36 million are obliged to prevent slavery in their supply chains through the Modern Slavery Act. A similar statutory duty should be placed on organisations to monitor and prevent financial flows which could reasonably be linked to the illegal wildlife trade.

The Government has spent ample time talking tough on trophy hunting and the illegal wildlife trade. It’s now time to see delivery.

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.