/ 17 March 2023

British MPs approve ban on trophy hunting imports

Trophy Hunting3
MPs in the UK on Friday passed a highly-contested government-backed bill designed to prevent the country’s trophy hunters who kill threatened species overseas from bringing their body parts back into Britain.

MPs in the UK on Friday passed a highly-contested government-backed bill designed to prevent the country’s trophy hunters who kill threatened species overseas from bringing their body parts back into Britain.

But grassroots conservation groups in several Southern African countries have taken aim at the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, denouncing it as “another way of re-colonising Africa” that will undermine rural livelihoods and threaten wildlife. 

On Friday, the bill received its third reading in the House of Commons. It will now move to the House of Lords. 

The bill, a private member’s bill introduced by MP Henry Smith, seeks to ban the import of hunting trophies from about 6 000 species of conservation concern, including elephants, lions and giraffes. Supporters say it will be the “toughest legislation” implemented by any government in the world and will “send shockwaves through the trophy hunting industry”.

Sustainable hunting

On Wednesday, the high commissions of Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Botswana issued a joint statement supporting sustainable hunting in Africa. 

“What advocates for a UK ban on the importation of hunting trophies should appreciate is that hunting in Africa, when practised sustainably, feeds families, puts children through school, funds anti-poaching units and, ultimately, secures the long-term viability of the habitats and species we all care about so much,” read the joint statement.

Amy Dickman, an Oxford University professor, told The Guardian: “It is bitterly disappointing that MPs have succumbed to an emotive but misinformed animal rights campaign. This bill will kill more animals than it will save. Hopes for a rational, evidence-based debate now rest in the House of Lords.”

Gakemotho Satau, a university graduate and resident of Ngamiland hunting community and the coordinator of the Trust for Okavango and Cultural Development Initiatives, said he had observed that international hunting is the biggest economic activity in Botswana’s hunting communities, reports Emmanuel Koro.

“International hunting supports hunting communities’ diverse socio-economic needs. Therefore, if international hunting is banned, communities will lose revenue streams, jobs, and wildlife poaching and revenge killings on wildlife will increase, while poverty gaps will also increase.”

Rebecca Banika, the chieftainess of the Pandamatenga hunting community, said international hunting bolsters socio-economic development and conservation in her community. 

“We are also given game meat of the hunted wildlife,” she said. “We use some of the funds to sponsor school children who fail their high school exams so that they can pass and become employed and then look after themselves and their families.

“We also use the hunting revenue to support local farmers by purchasing farming equipment such as the community tractor we recently bought. For the 2023 hunting season that starts next month, we have been paid 6.5 million pula [more than $430 000] in advance. The British parliamentarians should not ban trophy hunting imports to the United Kingdom, but rather be our advocates.”

Banika, who has vowed to continue speaking for the interests of the wildlife-rich Pandamatenga hunting community, said “international hunting is not a hobby but a very important economic activity to our communities”, which is used as a wildlife management tool” to control populations within the carrying capacities of their different ecosystems.

Cruel relic

In a statement, the head of policy at the Born Free Foundation, an animal advocacy nonprofit, Mark Jones said: “Trophy hunting is a cruel relic of a colonial past that results in massive animal suffering and damages already threatened populations of wild animals, while providing few benefits for the local communities that live alongside wildlife, so we very much welcome the progress made in the House of Commons today.

“While this bill won’t ban trophy hunting — the UK government is in no position to ban hunting in other countries — it will prevent British citizens who pay to kill animals in other countries for fun from bringing their trophies back home, and hopefully make them think again. It also sends a clear signal that, with wildlife in crisis, allowing rich people to kill wild animals for kicks has no place in the modern world.” 

‘Making wildlife meaningless’

Dries van Coller, of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa, said that while the UK is traditionally not one of South Africa’s biggest hunting markets, “in principle — and this is where the concern comes in — should the ban go through, it is basically depriving the people of Africa the right to their livelihoods, the right to earn a living and the right to manage their wildlife as they see fit.”

This smacks of colonialism, he believed. “We are once again being prescribed to, with colonialists’ type of view, as what Africa should do and how Africa should manage itself by an outside party, who have no stake in the game … We do not tell them how to manage their wildlife and their pheasants and foxes, why should they be telling us how we manage our wildlife here?” 

The long-term effects, “and we’ve seen it throughout Africa”, is that if wildlife does not pay its way, it will be made meaningless. “We are the very lifeblood of the rural economy, and without hunting and without our wildlife there would be no reason for existence for the rural economies.”

The UK is not a huge market, but it’s a “symbolic market”, said Stephen Palos, the chief executive of the Confederation of Hunting Associations of South Africa. “Everything the UK does, the European Union will want to emulate, not to be seen to be left out. The knock on effects will be big … These people are right across in the rich West, they don’t know the harm they’ll do with this kind of nonsense, not just to the animals, but to the people who rely on them. It’s a socio-economic and conservation tragedy.” 

‘Driven by greed’

Michele Pickover, the executive director of the EMS Foundation, which aims to protect the rights and welfare of wild animals and vulnerable people, told the Mail & Guardian that the best and the strongest of Africa’s indigenous wild animal s are being killed by trophy hunters from the North, including lions, leopards, elephants and primates.

“Trophy hunting is a colonial practice, which reinforces a culture of guns, violence, dispossession and indignity. This not only threatens wild species but impacts on the well-being of the individuals and their family groups and the commodification of wildlife. We need to build a future based on harmonious co-existence and compassion. These are just a few reasons why the British parliamentarians must support this bill.”

Matthew Schurch, wildlife specialist for Humane Society International/Africa, said the effect that the bill will have “is very much validating our stance that trophy hunting is an industry that’s purely driven in South Africa, essentially by greed, for want of a better word. It doesn’t support conservation, it doesn’t bring anywhere near the revenue into this country that other tourism avenues, things like ecotourism bring in, and it’s actually a damaging industry for the country.” 

The bill, “very much aligns with our key messaging that trophy hunting is an activity that is on its way out, it’s not acceptable by the public … and it’s the end of the road, I think, for an archaic practice”, he said.

Looking at it as a “holistic whole”, the money from trophy hunting “just doesn’t flow to local communities”, he said. “They’re not as well supported and there’s better and more animal welfare and well-being friendly kind of options and avenues out there for them. Ecotourism really brings in so much more money, employs more people.”

‘Recolonising Africa’

In a letter to Andrew Mitchell, minister of state for development and Africa, earlier this month, dozens of community conservation leaders in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) from Namibia, Botswana, Angola and Zambia, wrote that the “British government should be aware that this bill will negatively impact both conservation of wildlife and the livelihoods of our communities”. 

“As communities living in the KAZA TFCA landscape, we recognise the importance of wildlife and other natural resources and the role they play in maintaining biodiversity in our shared environments,” the letter said.

If passed into the law, the legislation will “undermine the incentives for our rural farming communities to look after and sustainably manage wildlife; increase human wildlife conflict with those species, which are costly for farmers to live with (predators, elephant, hippo, etc) and reduce compensation, thereby making farmers unwilling to have the animals on their land.” 

There would be an “unsustainable local increase” in some species such as elephants that have a destructive impact on vegetation and habitats, thereby affecting broader biodiversity, including a number of endangered species. “With reduced revenue from trophy hunting poaching will increase because there will be less funding to pay salaries to the community game guards for their anti-poaching patrols to deter poachers. The nutritional status of people will be affected because there will be less meat from hunted animals to distribute to communities. 

“The loss of revenue from trophy hunting will drastically increase unemployment in our

communities resulting in poverty, with the potential of community members becoming

poachers. It is sad to mention that we feel as if this is another way of re-colonising Africa, with all the consequences that had befallen our forefathers.”