A hippo’s head, two leopard skulls and a pair of elephant ears were among more than a dozen hunting trophies imported to the UK within the past 12 months, The Telegraph can disclose.
With the issue of trophy hunting under unprecedented scrutiny following the killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, official records reveal the bizarre array of animal items that have been brought into the country.
In the year to this July, 16 licences were used to import items classed as hunting trophies – such as tusks, heads, skulls and skins – to the UK, according to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
Four of the licences were for leopard trophies, with two skulls and two skins of the big cats imported over the period. One licence was used to import a hippo ‘shoulder mount’ – a stuffed head and shoulders – while another was used to import the skull and hide of a grizzly bear.
Ten licences were used for items from African elephants – a species that is regarded as ‘vulnerable’, meaning it faces a high risk of extinction in the wild, according to WWF. The charity estimates that 500,000 remain in the wild, down from as many as 5 million a century ago, primarily due to hunting and now illegal poaching for ivory.
APHA said the elephant imports included one tail, one pair of ears, skin panels and four tusks. There were also a bag and a rifle carrier made from elephant skin, and bracelets made from elephant’s hair.
Trophy hunting is under unprecedented scrutiny following the killing of Cecil the Lion
Data for the previous twelve months, to July 2014, show 13 trophy import licences were used. As well as a further four leopard skins, four leopard skulls and a grizzly bear rug, importers brought in the skin and skull of a wild cat, the stuffed head and shoulders of an oryx – a kind of antelope – and another oryx described as a ‘full taxidermy mount’.
Trophy hunting has been widely criticised in the wake of the killing of Cecil, a famed lion in Zimbabwe, by Walter Palmer, an American dentist and big game hunter who reportedly paid $55,000 for the kill.
The UK Government has condemned the illegal killing of Cecil but defended the practice of trophy hunting more widely. It has resisted calls for a ban on trophy imports to the UK, despite public petitions, and argued that the “significant” income some countries receive from hunters’ fees is reinvested in conservation.
A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Properly managed, legal and sustainable trophy hunting plays a part in species conservation efforts, including providing an important source of funding for some countries.”
Among the numerous leopard-hunting packages advertised online, one US firm, Africa Hunt Lodge, charges a ‘Guaranteed Leopard Trophy Fee’ of $35,000 which is “refundable if you are not successful in harvesting your Leopard”.
The firm describes how it hunts the big cats in the mountain areas of Limpopo, South Africa “typically over bait, and sometimes with spotlight searching for Leopard coming down from the mountains searching for prey”.
It offer hunters the choice of “rifle, bow, black powder, crossbow or handgun” to kill the leopards but advises they will be “more successful with a rifle at ranges of 50 yards”.
Another firm, Ozondjahe Hunting Safaris, which charges $16,000 to hunt a leopard in Namibia, boasts dozens of pictures of men posing with the dead big cats, describing how it begins putting out bait months before the hunt to “stimulate the leopard activity” and “maximize success and trophy quality”.
Defra’s spokesman said that strict rules were in place through EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, which implemented the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) “to ensure that any trade in endangered species is sustainable”.
“Hunting trophies for the most endangered species require the exporting country to issue an export permit only once they have determined the sustainability and legality of the hunt,” she said. “EU rules also require an import permit which means that a second check on sustainability is undertaken by the importing country.”
Although CITES databases suggest African nations issued licences for lion trophies to be exported to the UK as recently as 2012 and 2013, the APHA said its records showed the last time a lion trophy was actually imported was in 2005.
In the wake of the outcry over Cecil a number of US airlines bowed to public pressure and agreed to stop carrying buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino trophies.
In a recent blog, Sir Richard Branson – who said his Virgin Atlantic airline had had a policy of not carrying hunting trophies “for many years” – argued that “trophy hunting feels like a relic of a bygone era when people were conquerors, rather than stewards, of their environment”.
Sir Richard said that while defenders of the practice pointed to the large fees hunters paid, very little cash actually ended up helping communities or wildlife. He argued that big game was worth more alive than dead, with safari tourism providing “consistent income and opportunity to local communities”.
Mimi Bekhechi, UK director of PETA, the animal rights organisation, said: “You have to wonder about the mental state of anyone who wants to keep and display a slaughtered elephant’s ears or a hippo’s shoulder.
“People who feel the need to show that they can kill are often battling feelings of inadequacy, and nowadays, it’s well known that the ‘dangerous beast’ was probably minding his or her own business and that the ‘big bwana hunter’ was likely driven to within feet of the animal before blinding him or her with a spotlight and shooting at close range.”
This article was first published by The Telegraph on 15 Aug 2015.