Ban still must clear the House of Lords and gain Royal Assent, but these formalities are more likely to delay than prevent enforcement
LONDON, U.K.––The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill cleared the House of Commons on March 17, 2023 by unanimous voice vote.
The silence of pro-trophy hunting opponents, however, scarcely means that the bill to ban the importation of hunting trophies into the United Kingdom had no opposition or will easily clear the remaining obstacles to the bill becoming law.
What the unanimous support of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill does mean, though, is that the opponents are now on the defensive.
Who are the House of Lords?
Upon passage by the House of Commons, the bill moved on March 20, 2023 to the House of Lords, re-numbered HL Bill 119.
The House of Lords consists of 665 “Peers,” including more than 400 hereditary peers, who hold their appointments for life. Currently 240 peers are elected, serving a single 15-year term apiece.
The Lords do not have the authority to block the passage of legislation that has already been approved by the House of Commons, but can indefinitely delay a bill by raising amendments and repeatedly referring questions back to the House of Commons.
Lords may have mixed feelings
As the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill has the support of the governing Conservative Party, which also appears to have a solid majority in the House of Lords, it is believed likely to survive anticipated filibustering from Lords who favor trophy hunting.
However, hereditary peers are not required to disclose a party affiliation. Many are themselves owners of hunting estates, some of whom may see the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill as a threat to the legality of their own pastimes and businesses, while others may believe it might reduce foreign competition for shooting clientele.
Once the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill clears the House of Lords, a somewhat stickier wicket may be obtaining Royal Assent.
Queen Anne, in 1708, was the last reigning monarch to refuse Royal Assent to a bill approved by Parliament.
The current king, however, Charles III, was earlier in life arguably the most prominent U.K. trophy hunter, behind only his late father, Prince Philip (1921-2021), and is known to favor the hunting lobby contention––rejected by Parliament––that trophy hunting provides essential funding for wildlife conservation in the developing world, especially Africa.
Could Charles III withhold Royal Assent?
Counter-arguments include that trophy hunting chiefly supports raising animals such as lions and rhinos in captivity to be shot by hunters upon reaching maturity, contributing nothing to wildlife abundance, and that the trophy hunting practice of shooting the largest possible animals amounts to removing the largest, healthiest animals from the gene pools of targeted species.
The reigning monarch may hold a bill indefinitely before granting royal assent, as Charles III could do.
On the other hand, his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, despite being herself a fox hunter, gave Royal Assent to the Hunting Act 2004, which nominally banned fox hunting, only hours after the Hunting Act 2004 cleared Parliament.
House of Commons librarians Elena Ares and Georgina Sturge offered a research briefing to Commons members one day before the vote on the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill.
“The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill is a Private Member’s bill introduced by Henry Smith, Member of Parliament,” Ares and Sturge explained.
“The Bill has Government support and would ban the import of hunting trophies from species of conservation concern. The Government previously proposed introducing a ban on the import of hunting trophies in December 2021, following consultation,” Ares and Sturge recounted. “This was expected as part of an Animals Abroad Bill which has not been presented to Parliament to date.”
Six reasons supporting a trophy import ban
“In July 2022,” Ares and Sturge summarized, “a joint position statement from 166 civil society groups [nonprofit organizations] across the world called for a ban on trophy hunting imports. It set out its reasons with supporting evidence for calling for a ban, which include:
- Trophy hunting threatens the survival of species;
- Trophy hunting undermines wildlife conservation;
- Trophy hunting fails to deliver meaningful economic benefits to communities;
- Trophy hunting raises considerable ethical concerns;
- Trophy hunting disregards animal welfare;
- Trophy hunting is opposed by the public.
How many hunting trophies did the U.K. import?
“Globally,” Ares and Sturge observed, “the U.K. is not one of the largest importers of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species-listed trophy hunting products.”
Indeed, Ares and Sturge found, the U.K. ranked 24th in the world in hunting trophies imported between 2000 and 2020, far behind the U.S., China, and South Africa, which receives many trophies from animals shot elsewhere in Africa, in transit to the trophy hunters’ home nations.
“In 2012, when U.K. imports were at their peak,” Ares and Sturge noted, “the U.K. ranked 16th highest in the world.”
Among the 5,915 trophies imported into the U.K. between 2000 and 2020 were the remains of 2,194 elephants, 747 big cats, 649 bears, 608 hippopotamuses, 515 nonhuman primates, 483 bovines, 296 equines, 161 crocodilians, 124 wolves, foxes, and other canids, and 32 giraffes.
What the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill does
What exactly would the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill do?
“Clause 1 of the Bill,” Ares and Sturge summarized, “prohibits the import of hunting trophies into Great Britain as part of the process of taking them from where the specified animals were hunted to where the hunter resides. Trophy hunting is defined as whole animals, parts of animals, or derivatives processed in any way.
“Clause 2 sets out the animals the import ban will be applied to.
“Clause 3 sets out the territorial extent of the Bill and how it applies to imports and exports between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to take account of the Northern Ireland Protocol,” Ares and Sturge explained of the most controversial detail of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, a loophole that may allow hunting trophies to be imported into Great Britain if they pass through Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland exemption
Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland remains within the European Union trade agreement.
According to Ares and Sturge, “The Bill will prohibit the import of hunting trophies into Great Britain, including via Northern Ireland. However, there will be an exception for qualifying Northern Ireland goods under the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, which will be allowed to be imported into Great Britain.
“These are defined as goods that are ‘lawfully present in Northern Ireland and are not subject to customs control’ other than for export; or goods that are ‘Northern Ireland processed,’” wrote Ares and Sturge.
“Clause 4 sets out the territorial extent as England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as international trade is a reserved matter,” Ares and Sturge said.
“The Bill is about U.K. import policy”
Ares and Sturge quoted Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill author Henry Smith, who stated in the House of Commons that “photo safaris generate many more jobs for African people in rural communities, and generate significantly greater revenues for conservation” than trophy hunting.
Added Smith, “The Bill is about U.K. import policy. It is about what we, as a sovereign nation, choose to allow through our borders.
“It is a Bill about Britain making a concrete contribution to tackling the global conservation crisis. A British ban on imports of hunting trophies would help to save thousands of animals that are threatened with extinction. It would make a strong statement to the international community that we must act decisively to conserve our living planet.”
Ares and Sturge also quoted Margaret Ferrier, a Member of Parliament representing the Scottish National Party, who expressed concern about Botswana having reversed in 2019 an elephant hunting ban, not because of an increased abundance of elephants, but simply because a political party favoring trophy hunting had gained ascendance.
(See “Ban wildlife trophy imports!” pleads former Botswana president to U.K. & U.S. and Botswana, please rethink resuming hunting! by Sebastian Mwanza.)
“Ulster would become a back door”
The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill “quickly descended into farce as it emerged the rules will not apply to Northern Ireland,” assessed Daily Mail chief political correspondent David Churchill.
“Ulster would become a back door for big game hunters to bring souvenirs into Britain,” Fumed Churchill. “It means they could fly into Belfast with a hoard of body parts before simply crossing the Irish Sea. The loophole is made possible because Northern Ireland was left behind in the European Union’s single market after Brexit.
Said Member of Parliament Sammy Wilson, who represents the Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party said, “To find a law which is supported by over 86% of the U.K. population cannot apply in one part of the U.K. is offensive.”
Reported BBC News political reporter Becky Morton, “Campaigners backing the bill had feared it could be blocked after more than 30 amendments were tabled by two Conservative Members of Parliament, Sir Christopher Chope and Sir Bill Wiggin,” who broke with the majority of their party to try to stop passage of Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill by amending it in various ways to preclude enforcement.
“However,” Morton said, “after the government accepted two of their proposals––to establish an advisory board on hunting trophies and to limit the power of the secretary of state to add new species to the list the ban would apply to––the pair dropped their other demands for further changes to the bill.”
“Hippos, leopards, & polar bears”
As the bill stands, noted Guardian reporter Patrick Greenfield, the trophy import ban “will cover about 6,000 species and include some of the most endangered and charismatic animals, including hippos, leopards, and polar bears.”
Political momentum leading to passage of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill built steadily after U.S. trophy hunter Walter James Palmer, 55, a U.S. dentist, shot a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe in early July 2015.
Cecil had been perhaps the most photographed lion in the world, and was a particular favorite of British tourists.
“We are not alone”
Conservation journalist Eduardo Gonçalves in 2018 he founded the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. His 2019 book Undercover Trophy Hunter: Britain’s Top 20 Hunters, published on the first anniversary of Cecil’s death, influenced the Conservative Party to add the promise of banning hunting trophy imports to their party platform.
“Introducing the Bill,” wrote Ares and Sturge in their research briefing to the House of Commons, “Henry Spencer [a Member of Parliament from Scotland] highlighted similar legislation that exists in other countries.”
Said Spencer, “I am pleased to say that we are not alone. The Australians, the French and even some American states have all brought in varying degrees of trophy hunting bans. The Dutch have introduced sweeping prohibitions, the Belgian Parliament has voted unanimously to implement identical restrictions, and, in the last few weeks, the Government of Finland have announced plans for a ban on hunting trophies from outside the European Union.”
An ban on the import of hunting trophies was introduced in the Italian parliament in early 2022, with 88% public support, according to a poll commissioned by the Humane Society International subsidiary of the Humane Society of the United States.
While the Italian bill has not advanced, Amy Buxton of Plant Based News reported on October 21, 2022 that “The Italian Exhibition Group, which organizes trade fairs and congresses across Italy,” had dropped promotion of an annual trade show that formerly attracted 500 exhibitors and 40,000 visitors to the city of Vicenza, apparently in deference to public opinion.
John Nash says
Unlike most ANIMALS 24-7 commenters, who identify themselves if associated with a particular organization or campaign, John Nash (below) did not identify himself in submitting his comment as a writer for multiple hunting industry media. He did, however, recite a variety of familiar tropes that the House of Commons in the United Kingdom has already discussed and debated for four years now, and has for the most part rejected.
His comment is published in full below, in quotes, along with brief rebuttals by ANIMALS 24-7.
“This bill is anti-hunting, not pro-wildlife.”
There is no difference. The natural evolution of predator and prey species did not account for the existence of recreational killing.
“However, since there is no legal basis to ban hunting, it has to rely on the “evil trophy hunter” myth of the green horror genre.”
A person of even elementary knowledge of British history should know that most of the U.K. banned trophy hunting and even hunting deer for food by any but the hereditary nobility for most of the millennia that the British legal tradition has existed, even imposing the death penalty for killing “the king’s deer.)
“Just look at the claims above:
1. Trophy hunting threatens the survival of species. Wrong. There is no scientific evidence anywhere that modern regulated trophy hunting has caused the extinction of any species anywhere in the world”
Extinction is only the extreme end product of practices that typically lead toward that outcome for decades. When exactly “modern regulated trophy hunting” began in any given habitat tends to be a moving target, but it is clear that tigers and elephants in India, lions, elephants, and rhinos in much of Africa, and grizzly bears and wolves in the Lower 48 states of U.S., among many other species, had become highly endangered and were headed toward extinction before wildlife advocates & the general public finally overcame mobilized opposition from the trophy hunting industry to bring their practices under regulation.
ANIMALS 24-7 is not impressed that some of the wealthiest of all trophy hunters more than 60 years ago formed the World Wildlife Fund and a variety of other organizations to try to forestall the rising opposition to trophy hunting in the developing world that eventually led to India and Kenya banning it outright.
“and plenty of evidence from Southern Africa that trophy hunting increases numbers as landowners raise wild animals in natural bush in anticipation of hunting and meat revenue. In South Africa alone, that has produced 40 million acres of privately funded conservation.”
Ranching lions to be shot in pens, in numbers far beyond what nature would support, can hardly be honestly claimed as “privately funded conservation.”
“2. Trophy hunting undermines wildlife conservation. Wrong. There is no hunting, for example, in the national parks of South Africa. Leasing government land to hunters puts eyes and ears on the ground, preventing poaching and illegal settlement. South Africa encourages hunting and has increased the wild animals outside its parks by 2000% in thirty years.”
South Africa actually has some of the most publicized poaching and park encroachment problems in the world; rhino poaching may have decreased in recent years chiefly because high poaching in past years significantly reduced the numbers of rhinos, even in captivity.
The rest of his argument is somewhat like claiming that pig and poultry farmers have increased the abundance of quadruped mammals and birds.
“Kenya banned hunting, made wildlife worthless, and has lost 75% of its wildlife in the same period, replaced by more valuable cattle. These are facts, unfortunately.”
The facts, unfortunately, are that Kenya lies on the equator, is therefore exceptionally vulnerable to global warming and drought, and has lost wildlife chiefly in proportion to the vegetation losses caused by drought. Trophy hunters cannot shoot rain down from clear blue skies.
“3. Trophy hunting fails to deliver meaningful economic benefits to communities. Wrong. It’s valuable in remote places where photo- tourists don’t go. In popular places, photo-tourism is good, but out in the sticks, trophy hunters are welcome – they pay well, take only skins and leave the valuable meat to the locals. Africa needs both incomes.”
African Elephant Journal editor Adam Cruise and anthropologist Izzy Sasada thoroughly rebutted this nonsense in their 2021 study Investigation: The Efficacy of Namibia’s Wildlife Conservation Model As It Relates to African Elephants.
(See Why Namibia is losing wildlife despite claimed success of conservancies.)
“4. Trophy hunting raises considerable ethical concerns. Yes, but ethical concerns are in the minds of urban people. The realities of rural Africa and the needs of wildlife are very different, as all the scientific evidence shows.”
On the contrary, ethical concerns about when, how, and where animals may be harmed, including wildlife, predominate in rural cultures around the world, and are among the fundamental teachings of many of the religions––Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam––most observed in rural regions.
Trophy hunting, meaning killing animals for sport and to display body parts, has for millennia been practiced and accepted chiefly by urban dwellers, whose systems of belief tend to incorporate little or nothing pertaining to ethical treatment of animals.
“5. Trophy hunting disregards animal welfare. Wrong. It is the intention of every trophy hunter to creep up unseen to an animal (the stalk) then shoot it without warning so that it drops onto its own shadow. it is the very opposite of cruelty. Traditional indigenous hunting methods and poaching with spears, arrows, poisons, snares and pitfalls are far, far, worse.”
It is the goal of every hunter, hunting for whatever reason, to kill animals with the least possible risk to himself. This scarcely makes the hunter who has more efficient equipment any more ethical. The ethical approach is to live without killing, and certainly without killing for fun.
“6. Trophy hunting is opposed by the public. Yes, but only because the public have no idea what modern hunting is – they fall for the Ryder Haggard, Victorian “evil trophy hunter myth” put out by “non-profits” who profit by donations whipped up by misguided public anger.”
Actually it was Victorian imperialism that created the trophy hunting industry as it exists today.
“It is such a pity. The UK ban is hypocritical (the UK itself exports 20,000 deer trophies annually) and an unwarranted sanction against Southern Africa and will simply encourage hunting countries to ignore the UK and turn to other markets. It will kill far more animals than it will save and encourage criminals to profit from the ban.
That’s what happens when you don’t listen to Africans’ and Scientists’ voices.”
Coincidentally, trophy hunting in Africa nations and poaching elephant ivory, rhino horn, and lion body parts peaked during the same years.
Concerning Africans’ and scientists’ voices, see:
“Ban wildlife trophy imports!” pleads former Botswana president to U.K. & U.S., South Africa debates end to “canned lion” industry & ivory sales, and Botswana, please rethink resuming hunting! by Sebastian Mwanza.
Jamaka Petzak says
It would be a fitting, if incomplete, tribute to Cecil if this legislation passes.
Sharing with gratitude, and hope.
John Nash says
Hunting writer John Nash, after posting his general defense of trophy hunting, also posted the following defense, in quotes, of killing Cecil the lion, to which ANIMALS 24-7 has also responded.
“Cecil was an old lion, pushed to the edge of Hwange by younger, tougher lions. Hwange Reserve is over 14,000 sq kms in area, surrounded by hunting grounds to prevent lions and other dispersals from getting out to the surrounding farms and villages. You wouldn’t want a lion loose in your town, so why would Africans?”
Hwange, designated a national park in 1928, is surrounded by former agricultural properties that have been converted into hunting ranches, at significant cost to local employment & food production. As agricultural properties, these lands were formerly at times visited both by herbivorous species who damaged crops and by the predators of those herbivores, as is true of other agricultural regions worldwide, few of which have claimed a need for trophy hunting to remain productive.
Incidentally, Cecil was ineptly killed by archery far from any town.
“All dispersals are killed. If he wasn’t killed by a trophy hunter, he would have eventually been shot, snared or poisoned for nothing. He had a good life and deserved a better death than suffering overnight, but being killed by starvation or other lions or hyenas is a lot worse.”
This is somewhat like arguing that a prostitute would eventually have died of a drug overdose or HIV infection if a serial killer had not slowly strangled her for kicks.
“Of 65 collared Hwange lions in the period of study, 34 died, 24 at the hands of hunters. Cecil’s end was normal for Hwange lions and shows that he 500 lions in the area are doing well.”
A 70% death rate from a cause which does not occur in nature can scarcely be described as “normal.”
“His death brought some income to Zimbabwe and to the African owner of the Antoinette hunting ground, Mr Ndlovu.”
If a pimp sells a prostitute to be strangled for kicks, does that somehow make her death not an atrocity?
“It’s the reality of Africa.”
Among the 40-odd recognized African nations, perhaps ten (at most) permit trophy hunting at any given time. (Some have gone back and forth between allowing and prohibiting it.)
“Unfortunately, the UK ban on trophy hunting imports will get many more animals killed than it will save – like Cecil, if animals don’t bring an income for locals, they are worthless and they are killed to protect people and cattle that are valuable. Sad but true.”
Many of the animals killed in Africa by trophy hunters have been bred for the sole purpose of being hunted in captive venues. Most of those killed, worldwide, to “protect people and cattle,” are not “trophy” species. And non-lethal wildlife viewing and photography has for decades created more jobs and brought more revenue to communities that keep wildlife alive than to those whose wildlife tourism is funneled through a few hunting lodges owned and operated by the wealthy, for the wealthy.