Is the sun setting on trophy hunting?

Dec 17, 2022 | Commentary

By Adam Cruise

On the 25th November, the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, a Private Members Bill supported by the government, successfully passed through the House of Commons. It is currently in the House of Lords and, if ultimately successful, the bill will prohibit the import of hunting trophies into the United Kingdom.

The bill was introduced as a reflection of the views of British citizens who, as confirmed by latest polls, overwhelmingly believe (82%) that trophy hunting is a practice that they can no longer tolerate.

Across the channel, the Belgium Parliament also took a significant step in March against the import and trade in hunting trophies, adopting (again with overwhelming support) a resolution urging the government to immediately end the authorisation of trophy import permits of certain threatened and endangered species. Among those included are rhinoceros, elephant, lion, polar bear and argali sheep.

Last week, the German government’s Agricultural ministry terminated the Country’s membership in the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC), Europe’s largest hunting association. Daniela Freyer of Pro Wildlife, a German-based conservation organisation, explained why: “The CIC is at the forefront of putting a bounty on rare animals of protected and endangered species. It is propagating the shooting of elephants, polar bears, lions, leopards and other species – even though killing of animals for trophies violates requirements of Animal Welfare Legislation, scientific studies prove its negative effects and this unacceptable practice is increasingly criticised in the public and by politicians.”

The governments of Italy, Spain and Poland are considering policy options to ban the import of certain hunting trophies. These are also fostered by strong public opinion polls whereby the majority of citizens in each country support a trophy hunting ban.

Also this year, there was a call by the European Parliament for an EU-wide ban on imports of hunting trophies of protected species. The call was based on a growing realisation among MEPs and their constituents that trophy hunting is abhorrent and anachronistic – a brutal vestige of a past colonial era.

Prior to these developments, the Netherlands and France had already implemented a ban on the import of trophies. France specifically banned the import of lion trophies (2015), and the Dutch government adopted a broader decision to ban trophy imports of over 200 species, which came into force in 2016.

Theodore Roosevelt in Africa

At the source, in Africa, only about 13 of the continent’s 54 countries offer trophy hunting. The countries where trophy hunting is still popular are predominantly in southern Africa. These are countries still grappling with recent colonial pasts…and habits. Those African countries that do not allow trophy hunting include much of West and East Africa. Kenya, for example, is home to many of Africa’s iconic species and some of the most crucial populations of lions, elephants, zebra, wildebeest and giraffes. For decades the main destination for foreign trophy hunters that included hunting doyens such as Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemmingway, Kenya banned the practice in 1977 due to crashing numbers of wildlife populations. The current Kenyan attitude to trophy hunting is one of neo-colonialism. “Africans,” I am often told by Kenyans, “don’t trophy hunt, they never did.”

Dwindling wildlife numbers

Wildlife numbers throughout the world are crashing at alarming levels. According to the WWF Living Planet Report for 2022, almost 70% of the world’s wildlife species have declined since 1970. Species are facing numerous threats from anthropogenic causes such as climate-related problems, natural habitat reduction, pollution, poaching and, despite denials from the hunting fraternity, from trophy hunting.

Between 2014 and 2018, almost 125,000 trophies of endangered species such as elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and others were imported globally, according to the CITES trade database. This figure excludes an even greater number of non-listed CITES species such as hundreds of varieties of ungulates and antelope, and even monkeys and baboons. The US and EU are the biggest importers of trophy-hunted species. Unsustainable trophy hunting practices in Zimbabwe and Tanzania have forced the United States to place a series of bans over the years on the imports of lions and elephants in particular.

In 2014, Botswana placed a moratorium on all trophy hunts because of concerns of wildlife population declines. That moratorium has since been reversed under a new administration, which, according to the 2023 hunting quotas includes a few hundred elephants to be shot by trophy hunters. These quotas do not seem to be based on scientific research but rather on a government that has been co-opted into the false idea that trophy hunting brings in much needed benefits for the country.

Benefits for whom?

The benefits of trophy hunting are under serious scrutiny. For too long, policymakers have swallowed the yarn that income generated from trophy hunting both provides a financial support for the continued conservation of wildlife as well as economic upliftment for local communities living within or alongside the wilderness areas where trophy hunting takes place.

For starters, nobody seems to know just how much money is generated from trophy hunting. Some say it’s in the neighbourhood of US$190 million to US$326.5 million for the entire continent of African while another source claims it is US$250 million in South Africa alone.

Whatever those numbers are, the one fact that IS clear, the money filtering down to conservation programs and local communities is negligible at best. The elephants hunted in Botswana are having a severe impact on the dwindling pool of big male tuskers, while in Namibia, targeted adult bulls have dropped to dangerously low numbers in the Kunene Region, an area famed for its uniquely desert-adapted elephants. Lions, gemsbok and other targeted species in this region have also seen a drastic reduction of populations whose declines have been exacerbated by over-hunting.

As for local communities and indigenous peoples, studies in Botswana have revealed that communities relying on trophy hunting are the poorest in the country, with incomes per individual averaging at just a few US cents per annum.

In Namibia, it’s no different. My own recent investigations as well as a cluster of other studies and research in Namibia reveal that local communities in conservancies where trophy hunting has dominated for the past 30 years have remained impoverished and marginalised as ever without any hope of their situation improving.

Dawning of a new era

It is clear, in Africa at least, that trophy hunting as an economic activity is wholly inconsequential – to the point that it doesn’t warrant being called ‘an economic activity’.

Trophy hunting, rather, is a sunset activity. Those halcyon days of the great white colonial hunter are thankfully long gone. All that remains are the remnants of a colonial past where foreign hunters over-exploit wildlife at the expense of local communities. That this is finally beginning to dawn on policymakers and their constituents in the former colonising countries is a significant step in discarding persistent Western attitudes toward Africa and its people.

Hopefully, these moves to ban imports of trophy hunted animals by some European countries will prompt other governments to do the same, and so end this dastardly practice once and for all.

Adam Cruise is an award-winning investigative environmental journalist, academic and author. He has a PhD in Philosophy specialising in environmental ethics.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This license allows re-users to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.

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