By Jane Dalton – The Independent
MPs and conservationists are pressuring the government to fast-track a ban on imports from trophy-hunting of endangered species, fearing a backlog of legislation caused by Covid-19 could delay the move for years.
Backing a private member’s bill introducing the ban would save hundreds of animals from being shot by UK hunters, the campaigners say.
They worry that although the government has drafted a new law on imports, which they welcome, it could end up like the “world-leading” 2018 Ivory Act, which still has not been implemented nearly four years on, despite passing through parliament.
The hold-up allows elephant parts to still be bought and sold in the UK, “fuelling” the trade.
The government is proposing to outlaw trophy-hunt imports, but no time has been allocated for legislation to go to MPs, saying only that it will happen “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
Boris Johnson told MPs at prime minister’s questions two weeks ago that the government would introduce legislation to ban trophies.
MPs from both main parties who are co-sponsoring a bill by John Spellar have written to the prime minister asking the government to adopt it, sparing the government from having to find time in a crowded parliamentary schedule.
The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting says that despite the Covid pandemic, British trophy-hunters last year killed some of the world’s most threatened animals, including lions, elephants, hippos, giraffes, leopards, bears and zebras.
They have also shot polar bears, rhinos, wolves and wild cats.
Many travel with British trophy-hunting companies that promote “holidays” taking travellers abroad to shoot lions bred in captivity, elephants, cheetahs and monkeys.
Data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species shows that British hunters shoot on average 200 endangered animals a year.
Conservationists say the practice has contributed to a drop in species numbers of 68 per cent in the past 50 years.
Eduardo Goncalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said: “It has been two years since the ban was promised in the 2019 Queen’s Speech. Another 300 animals at risk of extinction have been killed by British trophy-hunters since then.
“The government should be moving as swiftly as possible to stop this terrible trade.
“The government recently adopted Liam Fox MP’s bill on providing lifelong care for people with Down’s syndrome, to bring the law into effect. It should do the same with John Spellar’s bill.”
In a 2019 government consultation on a ban, 86 per cent of the 44,000 responses backed a crackdown on trophy-hunting.
Sir Roger Gale MP, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on banning trophy hunting and patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, said: “The promise to ban trophies was in our election manifesto and in those of all the main parties. The ban has been promised by the prime minister himself at the despatch box.
“Every week that goes by without this ban means more animals are needlessly and often cruelly killed just for entertainment.”
A campaign billboard will tour the UK drawing attention to the delay.
Labour backbencher John Spellar said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the house, has told MPs that legislation is likely to come forward ‘in the fullness of time’. The ‘fullness of time’ is government-speak for ‘This year, next year, sometime, never’. The public will be rightly outraged by dither and delay.”
The letter to Mr Johnson said: “The government would rightly be given the credit for not only having shown leadership in putting this issue on the political map, but also ensuring that the ban became a reality and potentially saving the lives of a great many animals.
“We invite the government to seize this historic opportunity and show its leadership in helping to bring this barbaric trade to a long-overdue end.”
The government says progress on implementation of the Ivory Act was delayed because of a prolonged but ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge but that the ban should come into force in spring.