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UK trophy hunting import ban – some animals are more equal than others


Ed Stoddard is a Johannesburg-based journalist with a focus on resource industries, economics, wildlife and the environment. A Reuters correspondent for 24 years who hails from the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, he has been a fixture of the Business Maverick team since April of 2019. His work has has also appeared in Undark, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Slate, Salon, and MiningMX, among others. A lot of the time, Ed would rather be fly fishing.

After a campaign built mostly on exaggeration and outright lies that appealed to raw emotion, British MPs voted last week in favour of a ban on the import of hunting trophies into the UK. This is a legacy of the 2015 uproar over the killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe. Animals hunted in the UK, by contrast, don’t have human names, and their heads can still be mounted on walls in that country. Some animals are indeed more equal than others.

The controversial bill, years in the making, has broad support among the British public and the UK government maintains the measure will enhance protection for endangered species, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. 

While UK MPs across party lines spoke in favour of the legislation, it is worth noting that it was driven by the British Conservative Party, which is known for dubious claims and rank populism. 

Indeed, like Brexit, this was an outcome built on exaggerations and outright lies that ignored the advice of leading conservation scientists and African governments and communities. These critics pointed out that the income derived from foreign trophy hunters in many regions provides poor rural communities with an incentive to live in close proximity to dangerous wildlife, preserving critical habitat from the plough. 

“While I’m sure that those MPs who supported the bill meant well and felt they were responding to the views of many people in Britain, the bill is a dangerous one that could have serious consequences for countries in Africa which preserve wildlife habitat and the vast majority of the wildlife there through a mix of tourism and hunting. Neither of those alone can fund the conservation needs of countries like Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania,” Keith Somerville, a professor at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, told Business Maverick

“But it must be remembered that in Africa there is more wildlife habitat designated for hunting, and therefore protected from poaching, than there are national parks or reserves. If you cause the hunting industry to collapse or be banned without a sustainable and locally supported alternative in place, the habitat for all wildlife there will be lost.”

His views are echoed by many others, such as Amy Dickman, a conservation biologist and senior research fellow in Wild Cat Conservation at the University of Oxford. 

“Counterintuitive as it might seem, blanket trophy hunting bans (including import bans) are likely to undermine vital conservation work, including the protection of iconic species,” she wrote last week in the Daily Mail.

For much of the animal rights and welfare brigade, African voices don’t count when it comes to African wildlife

“In most areas, there is no other viable wildlife-based revenue available, so banning hunting will hinder effective management. Worse, it will increase the likelihood of land being converted into uses such as agriculture and livestock-keeping, because the maintenance of natural habitats for wildlife imposes major costs on local people and provides no meaningful economic benefit.” 

So, one of the consequences of the ban may well be less habitat and fewer iconic species such as lions and elephants. And while trophy hunting, if poorly managed, can affect local populations negatively, it is hardly pushing any species of wild animal to extinction since the targets are generally older, non-breeding males. Indeed, in the case of rhinos, trophy hunting is widely seen as an activity that incentivised private owners, who are now the custodians of most of South Africa’s rhino population. 

“Campaigns to ban trophy hunting present the activity as a major threat to the survival of some of the most cherished animals on Earth, especially lions. But the narrative of extinction being driven by trophy hunters today is false. Red List data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows that trophy hunting is not driving a single species to extinction,” Dickman noted. 

Some social media posts have even suggested that trophy hunting is destroying the planet! 

But this was not really about conservation, or facts for that matter. It was about raw emotions. While the ban applies to thousands of species and is not just restricted to African trophy hunting imports, it spoke to a growing middle-class disdain outside of Africa for hunting in Africa. 

The world’s poorest continent is the last great refuge of megafauna on the planet and the likes of Disney have stirred idealised images of Africa’s wildlife – a romanticism that would surely be shattered if any British suburbanite’s child was threatened while playing outside their house with attack by a large, menacing animal. 

But somehow, for many Westerners, Africans living alongside dangerous wildlife is simply the natural order of things, like the set from an old Tarzan movie. Or they view African wildlife as living in habitats devoid of people, which is the case more or less in many protected areas thanks to forced removals during the colonial past.    

The legacy of Cecil

Ultimately, the legislation – which must still be passed in the House of Lords – was the legacy of a movement that has been ginned up since the 2015 killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe by an American dentist named Walter Palmer. This triggered widespread outrage, and the US TV host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel actually shed tears on air for Cecil. As I’ve noted before, the response in Africa – where people don’t cry for big cats that eat people – to Cecil’s demise stood in stark contrast to the frenzied Western reaction.

A few days after Kimmel’s emotional outburst, Goodwell Nzou, a Zimbabwean doctoral student studying molecular medicine in the US, penned a searing op-ed in The New York Times, titled “In Zimbabwe, We Don’t Cry for Lions”. He wrote that the American outrage over the incident had provoked “the starkest cultural contradiction I’d experienced during my five years studying in the United States”.

“Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being ‘beloved’ or a ‘local favorite’ was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from The Lion King,” Nzou asked. “We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.”

Nzou, as I have also reported before, actually received death threats over his letter, which dared to challenge the narrative around Cecil – a lion that had incidentally wandered out of his national park, posing a threat to humans and their kith, kin and cattle. (Reports that he was lured intentionally are questionable but have become the gospel of truth in animal rights narratives). Nzou was not alone. The late Edna Molewa, South Africa’s former environment minister, was a supporter of hunting, not least because she realised its economic and conservation benefits. As I also revealed in 2020, she was subjected as a result to a torrent of often racist abuse, leading her to sign off from Twitter in 2016. 

Striking a nerve

For much of the animal rights and welfare brigade, African voices don’t count when it comes to African wildlife, especially if it is at odds with the romanticised Disney image that pulls the heartstrings of suburbanites and keeps the donations rolling in. Animal rights and welfare NGOs have been making money off Cecil ever since. 

“Cecil the lion has not died in vain,” said UK international biodiversity minister Trudy Harrison as she lauded the legislation. 

Palmer’s arrow certainly had inadvertent consequences, striking a nerve in the British body politic.

And like the initial flap over Cecil, British legislation that is probably a direct result of the big cat’s demise has exposed the stark cultural differences that Nzou eloquently evoked. 

“Britain has ignored our numerous attempts to engage. What is the purpose of the diplomatic ties we supposedly share? This bill will make African communities poorer for many years to come,” Maxi Pia Louis, a community leader from Namibia, was quoted as saying in The Guardian

This contempt for African voices is rooted in the history of African wildlife conservation. Before Cecil, there was Joy Adamson’s famous account of the lioness Elsa and her (alleged) desire to be “free”. Adamson, as the environmental commentator and writer George Monbiot and others have noted, was an odious racist whose affection for big cats did not extend to Africans.

With this in mind, it is also unfair to paint animal welfare or rights organisations with the same brush, or ignore the colonial and racist roots of trophy hunting in Africa. There are lots of skeletons rattling around in both closets. 

Opposition to hunting is a perfectly legitimate point of view, and one that draws on more noble histories of concern for animal welfare than those represented by the likes of Adamson. The scientific revolution unleashed by Charles Darwin’s blinding 19th century insights that humans are also animals and products of natural selection are among the many historical forces that have laid the groundwork for growing human empathy for other animals.

But the problem with the campaigns triggered by Cecil that led to this British legislation is that it resorted to fabrications to advance its agenda – which will come at the expense of Africans and the continent’s wildlife, which is indeed marvellous. 

Minds were made up and so ears were closed to the plethora of evidence from experts in the field that trophy hunting – while hardly a panacea – has helped to conserve wildlife. The comparatively rich wildlife in Tanzania, where hunting is allowed, compared with Kenya where it has been banned, is one of many examples. The same holds true for southern Africa. 

The push for “non-consumptive” ecotourism alternatives has its own problems, as I have noted before. These include the fact that the photographic safari industry has a far bigger carbon and ecological footprint than hunting, and the point that much of the hunting in Africa is conducted in remote areas ill-suited to other forms of tourism. Also, when tourists are being guided on foot among dangerous African wildlife, rangers sometimes have to kill an animal to protect their charges regardless of its sex or age.  ( ). 

Read more in Daily Maverick:Trophy hunting, game viewing both have ecological and economic pros and cons

The legislation also applies a double standard that speaks to the mystic hold that African wildlife has on the 21st-century urban British imagination. The ban is on imports, but hunters are still free to stalk roe and red deer and other game in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, and mount the trophies on their walls, or export the heads. 

But there is no “Ced the Red” to represent red deer stags. There is comparatively little outrage over the killing of such animals by hunters on UK soil. The celebrities who joined this bandwagon seem astonishingly unaware of what the royal family gets up to at Balmoral. Have they never seen The Crown? And Disney has yet to make a film, to my knowledge, bestowing a name on a red deer stag.

“The hypocrisy beggars belief… you can continue trophy hunting in Scotland and Wales, import and export what you like and when you like, and then you stop Africa from doing the exact same thing. It reeks of a colonial mindset, telling Africa what to do at the expense of communities, at the expense of habitat,” Paul Stones, a professional hunter who is on the executive committee of the the Custodians for Professional Hunting and Conservation (CPHC), told Business Maverick.

Some animals are more equal than others and more worthy of empathy, it seems.  

It would also be inconceivable to envision African countries banning imports of UK hunting trophies on dubious conservation grounds. 

Ultimately, the ban – if it is passed in the House of Lords and is subsequently granted royal assent – will not have a huge impact on the African hunting industry since British hunters comprise a relatively small percentage of the market. The real money on this front comes from Texas. 

But there are concerns that the British initiative could spread to the European Union. And it will still take a bite out of an industry that in South Africa alone, according to an objective and peer-reviewed 2018 study, contributes more than $341-million to the South African economy while supporting more than 17,000 employment opportunities.

The endorsement of the bill by celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench was heard loud and clear, while African voices were largely dismissed. And Africans and African wildlife will bear the consequences of a measure based on emotion rather than facts or science. DM/BM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jack Rollens says:

    Wow, that is all I can say about this opinion piece. The author is obviously totally out of touch with the reality in Africa. Hunting for the thrill of killing another sentient being is just sick. Doesn’t matter what species. The economic problems in all of Africa is corruption. Billions of dollars are stolen from the coffers of the country’s of Africa. There is absolutely no need for “Trophy Hunting” at all. The author of this piece has zero knowledge of environmental science and animal welfare and rights.

    Why don’t we Trophy Hunt for humans? Why not?? Then we can mount the heads of the different races.

    The author of this piece of garbage needs to go back to sleep.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    Sorry Mr Stoddard, but some animals ARE in need of more protection than others. You cannot compare a deer to a lion, rhino, elephant, cheetah etc. The latter are all endangered animals, while deer often have to be hunted as they risk to become too many for their territory having no natural enemies. Moreover the numbers show that hunting only generate money for a very limited number of persons (I only know about South Africa).

  • Helen Lachenicht says:

    Dear DM, Rhinos, elephants and lions are as most informed wild life lovers know, declining at levels that leave many in despair. I am dismayed that this insensitive, biased article has seen the light of day!

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Man has always been the apex predator. Removing all hunting is in denial of this and the facts show that for as long as there is an economic incentive for wildlife to be preserved it will be so.
    A sad commentary on mankind but nevertheless the case.
    Sale of rhino horn and hunting are all part of ensuring that wildlife is an asset and not a liability. Simple.

  • Rosalyn Rowe says:

    The 3 person’s that have replied to Mr Stoddard’s article show their ignorance of affairs in Africa that are unlike conditions anywhere else. One can easily imagine all 3 supporting this iniquitous and destructive bleeding hearts bill that has been passed in the UK. Thank you Mr Stoddard for an excellent article that clearly describes the practicality of benefiting both the animal and the human in a very complicated world of promoting animal survival. I particularly like your reference to the fact that the African voice is not heard and how the other two-faced UK reserves the heinous right to demand that you do what I say, not what I do. I begin to like my genetic roots less and less.

    • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

      You are free to express your personal opinion Ms. Rowe, but that does not mean that you are free to offend those who are of a different opinion.

  • Hulme Scholes says:

    Ed, from the absolutely clueless comments that precede mine with respect to your article, you can see that the logic stifling emotion prevails here in South Africa as well as in England. Very easy for privileged people to write missives about an industry they know nothing about. A ban on hunting destroys the only income that many communities rely on – North and South Luangwa in Zambia is an excellent example of this. I bet not one person who is critical of the truth in your article has ever visited a remote hunting camp in those areas or in Botswana or Tanzania or even in South Africa. It’s a simple fact that responsible hunting supports otherwise impoverished communities and controls poaching. An excellent example of this is Southern Mozambique where the hunting concessions are the bases for anti – elephant poaching initiatives that work. The answer is not to ban trophy hunting, the answer is to make sure that hunting is done responsibly and sustainably. I can promise you that a ban on trophy hunting will lead to an increase in poaching, but the arm chair conservationists who find it very easy to tell rural communities how they should or shouldn’t earn a living, are not interested in this. They should visit remote places like Luawata and Musalangu in Zambia and go and tell the Bemba people who have nothing but the income from hunting that they are going to ban it. That will never happen because there’s no cuppacino machine there and you have to walk really far and it’s very hot. But ag Ed you know what, don’t bother, because the fact is this lot are all white, privileged and a bit dim, so ignore them and keep writing what the truth really is, they don’t really matter anyway.

  • Simon Espley says:

    This opinion editorial is misleading in many places. I will focus on one matter that goes to the heart of this topic, to illustrate why this piece should not be taken seriously:

    The author claims: “But the narrative of extinction being driven by trophy hunters today is false.”

    United States Fish and Wildlife Services (who manage trophy hunting imports into US) disagree with the author – they describe lion trophy hunting as one of the causes of the drop in wild lion populations. Here is one quote from a pdf of theirs (DM won’t permit links for some reason, so reference pasted below): “Unless reforms are made to the current management of trophy hunting, we expect the declines specifically documented from excessive offtakes in Benin, Cameroon, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to continue. Furthermore, we expect excessive harvests to further contribute to declines in the species across its African range.”

    Reference: [Docket No. FWS–R9–ES–2012–0025; 450 003 0115] RIN 1018–BA29 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Listing Two Lion Subspecies

  • Peter Vos says:

    I am shocked by the majority of comments dismissing Stoddard’s well-researched and thought-provoking article out of hand.

    To hell with the science, emotions rule, eh?

    There is no doubt that South Africa today boasts more megafauna than it did 100 years ago.

    There are two reasons for this: strong property rights over land and the wildlife utilizing it (until EWC shoots the golden goose in the, uh … head).

    The proliferation of game farms where owners allow biltong and trophy hunting now accounts for nearly three times the total land area set aside for National Parks. This represents a priceless reservoir of biodiversity not only for megafauna, but for all creatures and the natural vegetation on which they ultimately depend.

    Stop hunting and what becomes of this land? It gets turned over by plough or cow.

    The Europeans have long-since eaten all their megafauna. That they should dictate what happens in Africa, the last repository of the world’s great beasts, is beyond arrogance.

    Certainly, there are rotten game farmers out there – canned lion “hunts”, breeders of Frankenbuck (genetically manipulated species, hybrids and inbreeding) and the like.

    But the fact is that a well-regulated hunting industry where private owners have a financial stake in the sustainable utilisation of their game is the last remaining hope for the preservation of our stunning wildlife.

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