UK legislators support ban on importing hunting trophies

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A ban on importing hunting trophies to the UK has moved a step closer to becoming law with a vote by MPs.

Body parts of elephants, bears, lions, hippos and zebras are among those currently allowed to be brought back from hunting trips.

This is the third attempt to pass a new law to tackle the issue and the bill is still at an early stage.

Opponents argue profits from trophy hunting go towards protecting endangered species.

But environment minister Rebecca Pow said the government would support the bill to ensure trophy hunters “are not putting additional pressure on already threatened species”.

Government backing means a bill has a far greater chance of making it on to the statute book.

But the legislation will undergo further scrutiny and, to become law, will have to clear its remaining parliamentary stages before a general election expected later this year.

Labour MP John Spellar, who is shepherding the private members’ bill through Parliament, welcomed the 49-to-zero vote, saying the legislation would help protect endangered species all over the world, including polar bears from Canada.

“The public really do not want these magnificent animals to just be slaughtered, not only for a bizarre form of pleasure but to decorate people’s houses,” said the MP for Warley.

“Australia, France, Belgium and other countries have already shown the way by banning the trade in hunting trophies.

“I hope what we decide here will start to send a message to other countries that this is an international movement… and we need to move on from this.”

Conservative MP Henry Smith said his own attempt to get an earlier version of the bill through Parliament ran out of time last year when “a very small minority of peers… sought to block this legislation”.

He urged the Lords to support this bill, adding “this is not a natural practice of people in southern Africa – it is a neo-colonial import”.

A Lords briefing paper last year stated 190 hunting trophies from Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (Cites) listed species were imported into the UK in 2020.

Multiple MPs urged wildlife lovers to use film and not guns to shoot animals in their own habitat, including Tory MP Tim Loughton who said trophy hunters could instead “show how brave and manly they are by getting up close with cameras rather than guns”.

Conservative former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers highlighted how the death of Cecil the Lion had outraged people across the country.

But Tory opponent of the measure, Sir Bill Wiggin, President of the Association of Professional Shooting Instructors since 2006, labelled the reaction to Cecil’s death “knee-jerk” and warned MPs against “blundering into inadvertent racism”.

“The picture, widely circulated, of Walter Palmer standing over Cecil’s body, became emblematic of man’s destructive relationship with nature,” he said.

“Reasonable though this reaction is, it is knee-jerk – it fails to acknowledge that for many Africans trophy hunting is vital for the local population.

“It’s a wildlife conservation measure that generates income used to combat illegal poaching.”

Outside Parliament, academic Professor Amy Dickman agreed with opponents of the bill that it could do more harm than good.

Prof Dickman, Director of Oxford University’s Conservation Research Unit WildCRU, said: “The Parliamentary debate today was riddled with misinformation.

“MPs pushing for a blanket import ban demonstrated that they were willing to ignore scientific evidence, major risks to conservation and animal welfare, and the rights and livelihoods of affected people.”

But Edith Kebesiime, of World Animal Protection Africa, said it was “extremely encouraging that this important bill has been resurrected”.

She said: “African people do not support trophy hunting. Most money from these hunts does not reach local communities.

“It is nothing but an opportunity for a cruel and wealthy few to inflict pain and suffering on our native wildlife for their own enjoyment.

“The UK’s trophy hunting import ban will help us protect our wildlife heritage and make space for wildlife friendly conservation solutions.”

Eduardo Goncalves, of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said they were delighted.

“Sick sport shooting of magnificent animals is an anachronism in today;s world,” he said.

“It’s simply a dirty facet of a shameful past, where both man and beast were used and abused by a wealthy minority.”

A pledge to ban the import of hunting trophies was included in the Conservatives’ 2019 general election manifesto. – BBC