African leaders and conservationists have accused the UK of endangering animals by trying to ban the import of big game trophies.
Nations that are home to most of the big game species on the continent say they need the profits from blood sports to pay for conservation projects.
They expressed exasperation at not being consulted and campaigners said the ‘arrogant’ ban smacked of colonialism and could push Africa into the arms of Russia and China.
MPs are set to debate and vote on the Government-backed Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill this Friday. It would stop British hunters bringing home souvenir pelts and heads.
Backed by celebrities including Joanna Lumley and Ed Sheeran, the ultimate aim of the legislation is to stop UK nationals from killing endangered animals in the first place. It brings Britain into line with countries including the United States, Australia and France.
But African leaders and grassroots groups are dismayed they have not been consulted by ministers on the bill put forward by Conservative MP Henry Smith.
Representatives from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, South Africa and Namibia, which have hunted species including lions and elephants, claimed it posed a huge risk to endangered animals.
The countries’ high commissioners in London wrote to Andrew Mitchell, the minister for development and Africa, expressing their concerns in a letter seen by The Times. They wrote: ‘This Bill has the likelihood of reversing and inhibiting long established and sustainable conservation efforts in many African nations.’
A total of 109 representatives of organisations in the Kavango-Zambezi conservation area also slammed MPs for not consulting them. In their letter to Mr Mitchell, they said the Bill felt like ‘another way of recolonising Africa’.
They urged ministers to visit Africa and consult with them ‘as opposed to listening to animal rights activists who have no knowledge and experience of living with wild animals’. Despite the outcry, Mr Mitchell maintained his support for the Bill last night and said the import ban was ‘strong’ and ‘well thought out’.
Signatories from the Kavango-Zambezi, which spans five international borders, said they had invested in conserving endangered wildlife on the land they inherited from their forefathers.
But pointing to the challenges on the ground, they highlighted how ‘conserving these natural resources is costly’. They wrote: ‘It involves heavy capital investments to cover the operational costs of our community-based organisations – such as training and employing conservancy personnel, educating our communities on the importance of conserving our wild animals, providing other benefits to communities living with wildlife, and monitoring and managing these CBOs.’
The conservationists argue that ethical trophy hunting is a key way to raise funds to protect wildlife. ‘To finance these operational costs, much of the income comes from trophy hunting, which is done ethically and is supported by scientific monitoring systems such as the Event Book system, fixed route patrols, and annual wetland and aerial game counts,’ they said. The signatories insisted they used ‘monitoring systems’ to allocate sustainable quotas of animals ‘to be culled’ by trophy hunters.
They added: ‘It should be emphasised that these activities take place on communal farmland, where we are farming with livestock, crops as well as wildlife, not national parks.
‘Because of the policy incentives in our countries, more wildlife is living outside national parks than in them.’
The conservationists listed a series of ‘ramifications’ from the proposed Bill. They said farmers encouraged to keep dangerous animals on their land, such as elephants and hippos, would have less incentive to do so with decreased profits from trophy hunting.
With less culling, there would be an ‘unsustainable local increase’ in these animals that would ‘have a destructive impact on vegetation and habitats’ and endanger other species. Signatories also argued it would increase poverty, drive an increase in illegal poaching because they wouldn’t be able to pay for patrols and encourage game lands to be sold for other activities that destroy habitats.
The Namibian Chamber of Environment, which represents 70 environmental groups, has also written to Mr Mitchell in favour of ethical trophy hunting.
It said that supporters of the Bill ‘do not live with difficult and dangerous megafauna’ and warned that such a ‘paternalistic, arrogant and misinformed’ approach risked driving African countries ‘to look eastwards’ for partnerships and markets with China and Russia. Some scientists have raised similar concerns, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Sustainable Use and the Livelihoods Specialist Group highlighting the benefits to conservation of well-managed hunting.
Amy Dickman, a conservation biologist at Oxford University’s department of zoology, has argued that habitat loss, poaching and conflict pose a far bigger danger to threatened species than hunting.
The row puts the conservation groups and national representatives on a collision course with Boris Johnson who pledged to end ‘this barbaric practice’ in 2019.
The ex-PM’s disdain for those who travel overseas to slaughter exotic animals is shared by huge swathes of animal-loving Britons.
American dentist Walter Palmer provoked fury after he uploaded a photo of himself having killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in 2015.
Anti-hunting campaigner Eduardo Goncalves has published a book naming and shaming 100 UK hunters to focus minds in the run-up to the vote.
It includes London lawyer Abigail Day who has been voted the world’s top female trophy hunter and Gloucestershire businessman Malcolm King who has killed more than 650 animals, winning an award for shooting specimens of 125 different species. Mr Goncalves argues that while the Bill won’t outlaw hunting, it will stop them boasting about their kills by taking their trophies home – the main motivation for most hunters.
Mr Mitchell said: ‘Since the 1980s, an estimated 25,000 animals which have been slaughtered have been brought into the UK.
‘The Government has committed to a ban that is among the strongest in the world.’
If the Bill passes its third reading on Friday, it will go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.
This article by Andy Jehring was first published by The Daily Mail on 13 March 2023. Lead Image: African leaders and conservationists have accused the UK of endangering animals by trying to ban the import of big game trophies. Pictured: File photo issued by Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting of hunters who have killed a lion.
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