The import of hunting trophies makes a mockery of the UK’s reputation as a nation of animal lovers.
Wildlife conservation charities are teaming up to force the government to keep its pledge to ban imports of trophy hunting.
The UK allows body parts of animals killed by trophy hunters as long as the importer can show there has been no detrimental impact on the endangered species, and the trophy has been obtained from a “sustainable” hunting operation.
The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting (CBTH) reports that trophy hunting has risen in popularity with British hunters since the shooting of Cecil the lion in 2015.
For the three-year period before the killing of Cecil, the number of lion trophies taken by British hunters was 27, but this rose to 64 in the three years following the controversy, the organisation found.
In 2015, the government said that it would ban imports of lion trophies following international outcry over Cecil’s death.
However, it has not yet taken action, and in April, environment secretary Michael Gove told the BBC that the issue was a “delicate political balancing act”, and that he had been advised by wildlife charities to “be cautious” in following other countries such as France, the Netherlands and Australia in outlawing imports of animal bodies killed for sport.
Gove invited wildlife charities including the CBTH, Born Free and Lion Aid to a meeting in May to discuss the issue. Siobhan Mitchell, campaign director at the CBTH, said that they had been expecting a ban on imports of trophies from canned lion hunts, where the lion is bred in captivity specifically to be hunted, since even the pro-hunting groups attending the meeting opposed this form of hunting. However, they had heard nothing since, she said.
"We want to keep up the momentum on this," she said, adding that Born Free, Four Paws, Lion Aid and Voice of Lions were some of the groups that CBTH was to collaborate with.
In a statement, the environment department (Defra) said that any policy decisions must be based on robust evidence, adding: “The recent roundtable showed the strong desire on all sides to ensure wildlife is conserved, but also underlined the many opinions on the best way to achieve this.
“The secretary of state will hold further discussions on this critical issue to ensure we find the right solutions.”
An Early Day Motion calling on the government to ban imports of hunting trophies has been signed by 170 MPs from all political parties. Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who tabled the motion, said that the idea of people wanting to kill wildlife for fun as the world goes through an “extinction event”, where populations of animals have plummeted by 60% on average since 1970, was “beyond belief”.
“The import of hunting trophies makes a mockery of the UK’s reputation as a nation of animal lovers,” he told guests at a Parliamentary event hosted by the CBTH.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.