By Sian Sullivan – The Canary
Ahead of the House of Lords’ 16 June debate on the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, pro-trophy hunting group Resource Africa sent peers a campaign document. It was titled The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill: The risks to conservation, rights and livelihoods. Presented as a scientifically-evidenced report, the document claimed to be about the risks of the UK prohibiting the import of hunting trophies.
In the campaign document, the authors lambast the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Banning Trophy Hunting for allowing the influence of “a commercial lobby group” to drive policy. But one needs look no further than the email address given in the Resource Africa document to see it was written with the assistance of a commercial lobbying company.
This is an industry lobbying document, not impartial evidence-based science.
Resource Africa is clear on its website that it campaigns “against anti-hunting legislation”, including the UK’s trophy hunting importation bill. Last year the group received funding of nearly $1m from a UK impact investing charity called Jamma International. This is a family foundation that has sought to invest in trophy hunting, such as in Mozambique, with expectations of returns on its investment. The three UK-based contributors to the House of Lords’ document are all linked with this organisation.
Dr Dilys Roe is a Resource Africa board member. She’s also chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Group (IUCN SULi), sitting alongside vice-chair Shane Mahoney, director of US-based sports hunting organisation Conservation Force. In 2021, IUCN SULi received a large donation (just over $84,360) from Jamma International to fund – among other things – “political engagement”.
Another contributor to the Resource Africa document is professor Amy Dickman. She leads Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. It has projects part-funded by Jamma International on hunting and what it calls “morally contested conservation”.
The Resource Africa/Jamma International document lobbying peers claims that according to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species trophy hunting is not a threat to any species. Yet the document presents no evidence to support this claim. However, in a dramatically changing world, it seems impossible to know this with any certainty.
Indeed, a number of trophy-hunted species listed by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as threatened with extinction, or requiring strict regulation to prevent this threat, have not been formally assessed for IUCN’s Red List for almost ten years. These species include leopard, lion, southern lechwe, giraffe, hog deer and striped hyaena, all of which were decreasing at the time of their last IUCN Red List assessment. With this assessment gap, combined with climate change and other uncertainties, how do we really know what impact trophy hunting may be having on vulnerable species? This is especially true when combined with all the other pressures species face.
The Resource Africa document also claims to know what would happen if a hunting trophy import ban was passed. Using Namibia as an example, it states that the proportion of economically viable conservancies on communal land here would fall from 74% to 16% without trophy hunting. This dramatic assertion is taken from a 2016 paper using data from 2013. In other words, it is out of date.
Current circumstances prove this projection to be inaccurate. Most conservancies in Namibia today do not rely on trophy hunting for their viability. This is illustrated on this map showing primary sources of income for 2021 – the latest available figures from public data:
Some of the absence of hunting and other forms of consumptive use here can be attributed to the impacts of coronavirus (Covid-19). However, other worrying factors are also at play.
Unnecessary population declines
For example, large conservancy areas in northwest Namibia have experienced serious declines in wildlife. This is the same area where the Jamma International film claims trophy hunting is essential for people’s well-being. Declines are shown below for gemsbok, springbok, and Hartmann’s zebra. Many attribute these serious population drops to high offtake levels via sanctioned ‘sustainable use’ quotas into a multi-year dry period:
Detractors frequently dismiss this as an outlier situation. The fact is, however, that this is one of the most celebrated contexts pro-hunting groups use to demonstrate the success of a consumptive model of wildlife use for both conservation and livelihoods.
A dryland ecologist or pastoralist would probably advocate retaining herd sizes so as to survive the dry period that began in 2011. Instead, offtake levels were kept high into the dry period, as shown in the table below – calling into question ‘sustainable use’ in this context:
One of the most cynical claims made in the Resource Africa document is that support for a hunting trophy import ban is neocolonial. The truth is, there is plenty about the trophy hunting industry that is neocolonial, extractive, racist, and sexist.
Indeed, it was during the colonial period, when Indigenous Peoples were displaced from their ancestral lands, that many species of indigenous fauna came under threat from colonial hunters with firearms. Often, the colonists were hunting for sport as well as for commercial gain. Laws protecting so-called ‘game’ were implemented largely as a response to wildlife declines caused by colonial actors. They were based on imported legal ideas, including from the UK, that had previously penalised ‘poachers’ seeking food from enclosed lands.
Today, we are told that commercialised hunting access by a global elite to lands in Africa and elsewhere is ‘essential’ for wildlife and habitat conservation, as well as for local livelihoods. What in effect is being argued is that the only valid users of appropriated land are paying hunters and commercial hunting companies.
Meagre benefits for Indigenous Peoples
But why should this be the case? Hunting organisations such as Safari Club International support this kind of justification – directly or indirectly. Personally, I hope it will be viewed with caution by peers deliberating at the committee stage of this bill.
Perhaps more significantly, the Resource Africa document fails to mention that the bulk of the trophy hunting industry in countries such as Namibia and South Africa in fact takes place on land appropriated through settler colonialism, and through businesses operating from these areas.
Conservationists use the meagre benefits received by local people from trophy hunting to claim the industry is necessary for local livelihoods. They avoid mentioning that in these contexts the vast bulk of the industry is on white-owned hunting farms. Most income from this industry accrues to descendants of colonists or foreign investors on stolen land. It sustains the lingering power and structural inequality of settler colonialism.
Some claims made in the Resource Africa document are frankly bizarre.
will only encourage our countries to look eastwards to grow alliances and markets for our natural resources.
But Namibia already looks east for investment and tourists. Its government recently proposed a visa exemption for Chinese nationals. These moves have nothing to do with the UK’s bill.
Even more strange is the document’s assertion that promised aid funding linked with the bill would be demeaning to recipients. The ‘sustainable use’ model of wildlife conservation promoted through Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) programmes has been dependent on aid funding for decades.
A swathe of aid agencies have financed associated NGOs and CBNRM consultants to the tune of millions of dollars. Examples include USAID and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GiZ). Namibia’s most prominent CBNRM NGOs are currently in line for a new injection of $30m from the Legacy Landscapes Fund, supported by various aid donors and charitable organisations. I doubt recipients will consider the receipt of this funding demeaning.
Beware Trojan horses
I have been agnostic to date about the proposed UK bill, but it’s hard to stay silent given the spin on information in a corporate document written to lobby peers and intervene in the political process.
It’s not only “animal rights activists, backed up by celebrities and social media” who are concerned about trophy hunting industry structures, as claimed in the Resource Africa campaign document. Let’s also be clear that this bill does not in fact prevent countries from hosting hunters. It prevents UK citizens from bringing back animal body parts taken through these hunts.
As peers proceed through the committee stage of this bill, I hope they will weigh carefully the information laid before them. The trophy hunting industry comes in many guises and with many faces. The lords should look out for Trojan horses.