UK Ban on Trophy Hunt Imports Aims to Protect 7,000 Species

Widely supported by Parliament, the law is expected to go into effect in 2022.

game hunter lines up his sights

PeopleImages / Getty Images

UK hunters engaged in the cruel and ugly sport of big-game hunting may soon find it legally impossible to return home with their trophies. 

Two years after it first announced an initial exploration of the idea, the British government is finally moving ahead on legislation that will fully ban trophy hunting imports. Expected to go before Parliament in early spring or summer, the bill—described as one of the toughest in the world—aims to protect more than 7,000 species threatened by international trade. 

“We welcome the government’s commitment today to a UK hunting trophy import ban that will protect thousands of species including lions, elephants, and giraffes, ruthlessly targeted by trophy hunters,” Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International UK, said in a release. “We also welcome that it has ruled out loopholes that would have allowed hunters to carry on shipping their sick souvenirs.”

According to the All-Parliamentary Group on Banning Trophy Hunting (APPG), British hunters have imported more than 25,000 trophies since the 1980s. Of these, 5,000 were from species at risk of extinction, including lions, elephants, black rhinos, white rhinos, cheetahs, polar bears, and leopards. 

“It cannot be right for British hunters to be able to pay to kill endangered wild animals overseas and ship the trophies home,” Born Free’s head of policy Dr. Mark Jones said. ”While the UK is by no means the biggest destination for international hunting trophies, nevertheless UK-based hunters frequently travel overseas to kill animals for fun, including species that are threatened with extinction. The proposed ban will send a clear signal that the UK does not condone the brutal killing of threatened wild animals for this so-called ‘sport’ by UK citizens.”

A Movement Sparked by Tragedy

Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park

CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia

The most recent genesis of a concerted effort by conservationists to pressure the UK to ban trophy hunting imports can be traced back to July 1, 2015. On that date, a celebrated male African lion named Cecil was lured away from a protected area and killed with an arrow by American hunter Walter Palmer. The outrage that followed sent shockwaves around the world, buoying support for conservation groups against big game hunts and pressing governments to act. 

Two years later, Cecil’s son Xanda met a similar fate

A 2019 study on the impact of Cecil’s death found that while it did not lead to a large-scale change in policy, it did hasten policy reform in some countries. 

“The fact that Cecil was a lion provided conservation and animal rights activists with a common focal point for concern and advocacy, and widespread media coverage of the event meant that both the public and policymakers became aware of Cecil's death simultaneously,” the researchers wrote. 

While pro-hunting groups have maintained for years that organized trophy hunts help to fund conservation efforts, mismanagement and corruption often derail such good intentions from having much of an impact. 

“Killing the largest or strongest animals, who play an important ecological role in genetic diversity and resilience, jeopardizes species conservation, disrupts social herd structures, and weakens gene pools of wild animal populations already facing a myriad of threats,” writes Dr. Jo Swabe for Humane Society International. “The conservation argument is a sham employed by people who know it is unsavory to admit they simply enjoy killing animals for fun and tasteless selfies. With so much at stake, and the vast majority of EU citizens opposed to the killing, it’s time for EU member states to ban trophy imports.”

Conservationists Warn 'Delays Will Cost Lives'

While the new UK law is a giant step in the right direction, conservationists warn that delays in its passage will have consequences as hunters scramble to kill and import trophies ahead of the ban. 

“Delay costs lives: every week that goes by without this ban means more animals, including endangered species, are being shot by British hunters, and their trophies brought back to the country,” Eduardo Gonçalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, told the National Observer. “Some of these species are careering towards extinction, and certainly, the British public is very strongly opposed to trophy hunting.”

Even if the ban goes into effect next summer, adds Gonçalves, as many as 100 threatened animals may be killed and brought back to Britain in the meantime. 

“It is really imperative for the government to bring the bill to Parliament as quickly as possible,” he urged.

View Article Sources
  1. Carpenter, Stefan, and David M. Konisky. "The Killing of Cecil the Lion as an Impetus for Policy Change." Oryx, vol. 53, no. 4, 2017, pp. 698-706., doi:10.1017/s0030605317001259