Cecil the Lion has not died in vain after British MPs vote through a ban on the importation of hunting trophies

Britain is leading Europe in the creation of legislation to ban the importation of hunting trophies from big game into the UK. There is no EU law banning trophy imports. It seems that this UK legislation is one benefit of Brexit. Yesterday, Members of Parliament unanimously backed a ban on the importation of hunting trophies. The legislation now goes to the House of Lords where animal advocates hope they will also agree to it and it will become law.

A stuffed lion head on a wall somewhere that was once a trophy and ended up being for sale online
A stuffed lion head on a wall somewhere that was once a trophy and ended up being for sale online. Image in the public domain.
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In a nice touch, Trudy Harrison, an environment minister, said:

“Actually, dare I say that Cecil the Lion has not died in vain. It’s an emotional day for all of us. We are sending a very strong message to the rest of the world that in this country we are demonstrating our support for endangered species and we do not accept their body parts being used as so-called trophies to be brought back into this country.”

The administrators of African nations where they sell licences to shoot lions and other iconic species, are disappointed. They lobbied hard to have this proposed law overturned. Maxi Pia Louis, a leading campaigner against the bill from Namibia, said:

“We are immensely disappointed African’s voice has not been heard. Britain has ignored our numerous attempts to engage. What is the purpose of the diplomatic ties we supposedly share? This bill will make African communities poorer for many years to come.”

My understanding of that statement is that his argument is that European and American money paid for licences goes towards improving the lives of local people. But is that a good argument? It is treating lions as commercial assets. It’s worse than that. It is treating lions as commercial assets the value of which is only realised when they’ve been shot dead with a bullet or a bow and arrow! That simply cannot be acceptable at any level never mind the ethical and moral.

You may remember that Cecil the Lion was a famous lion who was killed by an American dentist, Walter Palmer. Cecil was particularly carefully selected as he was an iconic individual in West Zimbabwe. He was the most popular visitor attraction in Hawange National Park. Actually, Walter Palmer couldn’t shoot dead Cecil with a bow and arrow and he had to rely on others to finish off the animal. The whole episode was well-publicised and quite disgusting for many animal advocates.

But his death, was not in vain because it helped to inspire people to put an end to trophy hunting in Africa by, usually, rich Americans and British.

There are attempts by some members of Parliament to scupper the bill by putting forward large numbers of amendments but it didn’t work. There was a ground swell of campaigning to push it through. It is hoped that this vote will now inspire other governments to follow.

There is a danger that there may be a back door to getting trophies into the UK via Northern Ireland which apparently is not subject to this law because of Brexit.

The ban on the importation of trophies from Africa into the UK begs the question as to whether the shooting of African lions enhances and supports conservation of lions which is the argument used by both the shooters and the organisers.

They have pleaded with great passion that the shooting of these animals helps to conserve them but they are biased on there? They would say that wouldn’t they?

The picture isn’t black-and-white because perhaps some money paid for licences does go into conservation. A safari businessman, Robin Hurt, 77, said:

“Take the legal hunt out of the bush and he or she will soon be replaced by legal poachers, the poachers’ methods being unselective, and geared to overkill and often extermination.”

That’s his point of view. But if the conservation of lions and other wild species has come down to shooting them to protect them, for me, there is something dreadfully wrong with the conservation programme. That’s why I don’t believe the arguments supporting sport hunting in Africa are good ones.

When you treat animals like that you devalue them which must have a negative knock-on effect for conservation. If you devalue animals there less need to protect them. It’s about mentality, morality and ethics and fundamental processes.

All the arguments that the shooters use our pragmatic arguments. They are compromises. And they are compromises to the point where conservation is undermined.

There are other issues. I can think of two instances where sport hunting has actually altered the anatomy of the animals being hunted. For example, the average size of lions in Africa has dropped. This is because the sport hunters want to shoot the biggest and best lions. This has an effect on natural selection because it is in effect artificial selection taking place inadvertently by the culling of the best individuals.

And secondly, elephant tusks are shorter than they were in the 1980s with a growing number of adult elephants having no tasks at all. The sport hunters are damaging the gene pools of these animals.

This is an argument which we don’t see discussed by the shooters. But they wouldn’t, would they? They are carefully selective in their arguments which are, for me, transparently flawed.

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