Opinion

“Why it’s time to ban trophy hunting”

Eduardo Gonçalves, Founder – Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting

Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE; Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

In the 19th century, the British Empire brought trophy hunting to Africa. Colonial rulers encouraged this new ‘sport’ as adventure but also to open up new areas for agriculture. Two hundred years later and the British are once again back in Africa – but this time they’re shooting growing numbers of endangered wildlife.

The renowned 19th century military engineer Sir William Cornwallis Harris called his hunting expeditions a “noble diversion” and “part of civilisation”. Almost by way of example, he once fired into a herd of 400 elephants just to see how many he could hit. On another occasion he described mowing down herds of wildebeest, zebra, tsessebe and hartebeest thus:

“(They were) pouring down from every quarter … until the landscape absolutely presented a moving mass of game,” he wrote. “I dismounted – firing both barrels of my rifle into the retreating phalanx and leaving the ground behind me strewn with the slain.”

Major Gordon H ‘Andy’ Anderson shot between 350 and 400 elephants during his lifetime. Frederick Grant ‘Deaf’ Banks is said to have killed over 1,000 elephants, as did Walter Dalrymple Maitland ‘Karamojo’ Bell.

Elephants are still the runaway favourite animal killed by British ‘big game’ hunters venturing to Africa. Over 1000 elephant trophies have been brought into Britain in recent years – almost twice as many as their second favourite animal, the humble hippopotamus.

Despite plummeting populations, Britons are still killing the world’s wildlife in huge numbers. Malcolm King, from Gloucestershire, has been bestowed with some 40 different awards from Safari Club International (SCI) –  the world’s leading industry association – for his exploits around the globe.

One of them, the coveted Inner Circle Hunting Achievement Award (Diamond class), is presented to hunters who have killed at least 125 animals so big and impressive that they all made it into the record books.

It serves as proof that modern trophy hunting is not merely the preserve of Americans, as is often thought. Indeed, Spain’s Antonio Sanchez-Arino is possibly the world’s number one trophy hunter of all time. By his own admission, ‘Tony’ – now in his 80s – has killed 1,317 elephants, 340 lions, 127 rhinoceroses, 167 leopards, and 2,039 African buffaloes.

In recent years, Safari Club International has handed out awards to no fewer than 500 hunters who have killed all of these great animals, collectively referred to as the ‘African Big Five’. All are now classified as either vulnerable or threatened on IUCN’s Red List of threatened species. Yet the killing sprees are allowed to continue.

What should perhaps alarm us most here in Britain is the extraordinary growth in the number of big game trophies coming back into our country. In the 1980s, the figure was an average of 17 a year. Since 2010, the number has grown to some 300 animals annually.

Worse still, hunters from the UK are shooting some of the most endangered animals on the planet.

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, aims to prevent or restrict exploitation of wildlife. Species listed in Appendix I of the treaty are “threatened with extinction which are or may be affected by trade.  Trade in specimens of these species must be subject to particularly strict regulation in order not to endanger further their survival,” according to the treaty which adds they “must only be authorized in exceptional circumstances.”

Yet since the beginning of the decade, British trophy hunters have killed – for so-called ‘sport’ – many of the animals listed in CITES’ Appendix I. They include cheetahs, leopards, and elephants shot for tusks in the animals’ highly endangered populations of Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia.

These animals are listed in Appendix I for a reason. Their situation is perilous.

There are estimated to be fewer than 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild. The species occupies just 2% of its historic range.

Scientists believe there were around 700,000 leopards 50 years ago, but that today the number is just 50,000. Around 5,000 leopards are killed annually.

British hunters are still killing lions in significant numbers – both in the wild, and in South Africa’s appalling big cat ‘factory farms’, where thousands of lions are kept in captivity in order to be shot for fun in fenced-in enclosures.

There were up to half a million wild lions in the 1950s. Today some fear there are less than 20,000.

Elephant numbers have also fallen, from approximately 1 million in the 1980s to less than half that number today. One third of all remaining African elephants live in Botswana, a country the size of France which – to the delight of trophy hunting enthusiasts – has just reopened its borders to them after a 5-year hiatus.

However it is not just the sheer numbers we should be worrying about. It is the fact that trophy hunters deliberately seek out the strongest and fittest animals in order to enter the record books and receive prizes from groups like Safari Club International.

This artificial selection is creating a reverse evolutionary effect. The gene pool of the African lion has shrunk by 15% in the last century. The average tusk size of the African elephant has declined markedly in the last generation.

We are not only faced with remnant species: we are left with their remnant DNA. They will be less able to adapt and survive in the face of growing challenges such as climate change.

Elephant tusks perform more than decorative duties: they are there to seek out water from dry riverbeds, for instance. With longer, fiercer and more frequent droughts predicted, what future do our great pachyderms face?

Similar effects are said to have been found among polar bears, another animal popular with British hunters. This is despite their almost iconic status as one of the animals most likely to be catastrophically impacted by a warming planet.

The list of animals and body parts legally entering the UK every year is extraordinary. British hunters have travelled the world in search of wolf trophies, from Russia and Kyrgyzstan to the east, and the US and Canada to the west.

They have taken the horns of rhinoceroses, the skins of zebras, trophies of giraffes, and the tails of hippopotamuses.

They have sought out primates who share over 90% of their DNA with us – including vervet monkeys, and various species of baboon.

As well as lions, cat hunters have criss-crossed the globe in search of cougars, caracals, Eurasian lynxes, North American bobcats, and even Namibian wild cats.
Incredibly, British hunters are also shooting ‘extinct’ animals.

One of the creatures whose skins and other body parts regularly make their way into Britain – with the blessing of Defra civil servants, it should be noted – is the Scimitar-horned oryx.

This is an animal listed as “Extinct in the Wild” by IUCN in its renowned Red List of threatened species.

Yet rich hunters still quietly go to private ranches in South Africa and the US where they can acquire the ultimate trophy – an animal so rare it officially no longer exists. What a prize indeed.

British safari companies are among those who sell hunting holidays to shoot these magnificent antelopes, thought to be the origin of ancient stories of unicorns.

Its myth rivals that which says that trophy hunting can save species by funding conservation, and that we should therefore be happy to sacrifice some for the good of the many.

If trophy hunting really is the best that conservation has to offer, then God help wildlife.

The truth is that it doesn’t work like this. Trophy hunting generates a pittance for conservation, let alone for the local communities we hope will protect their habitats. The revenues it generates are eclipsed by those of the nature tourism sector whose very business model relies on keeping animals alive and protected.

Nature tourism creates far better-paying and permanent jobs in contrast to the low-grade, seasonal labour occasionally hired by safari hunting firms. This provides a far greater incentive for people to protect species and spaces.

A trophy animal can only be shot once. The benefit – whether economic or otherwise – is then gone. Killing in the name of conservation is a cruel hoax.

There are new dangers ahead we must now mobilise against with all our might. The lobbyists for the trophy hunting industry are trying to expand the areas and animals that can be hunted. They have already persuaded President Trump to allow the import of lions and elephants from their most endangered populations.

The body of a ‘souvenir’ black rhino recently killed by an American trophy hunter will shortly reach US shores after being granted a government import permit.

The lobbyists are hard at work trying to persuade CITES to relax restrictions on hunting their favourite animals. They have already won a number of significant victories.

Britain has many reasons to stand up to them. We brought trophy hunting to Africa. We should now help bring it to an end.

Our official support for trophy hunting stands in stark contrast to the world-leading positions we have taken on issues such as ivory trading and illegal wildlife trafficking.

According to UN projections, as many as 1 million animals could go extinct in coming years. Our leadership on the international stage is needed now more than ever.

We not only need to heal our rift with nature; we have an opportunity to heal the divisions in our own community too. Brexit has left Britain bruised and divided. Yet there is no issue which brings us together more than our love of animals.

This is borne out by a recent poll commissioned by the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. No fewer than 86% of people across Great Britain and Northern Ireland believe that all trophy hunting should be banned. Only 8% of people disagree.

This on its own is extraordinary enough. There are few if any policies supported by such an overwhelming majority of people.

More extraordinary still, though, is the degree of consensus across region, class, and political affiliation. The figures for those who want to ban trophy hunting are virtually identical among ‘Remainers’ and ‘Leavers’, and among supporters of Conservative or Labour, Lib Dem or Brexit Party.

It is surely time to now abolish trophy hunting once and for all. It is a colonial hang-over that is cruel and serves no conservation purpose. We need to consign it to the dustbin of history.

So let’s get on with banning the import of these horrific ‘souvenirs’ into our own country right away.

For the sake of Britain, and – of course – for the sake of our increasingly imperilled natural world.