Trophy hunting helps PROTECT wildlife and isn't making species extinct
Conservation is my life’s work – and I know trophy hunting helps PROTECT wildlife and isn’t making species extinct…writes PROFESSOR AMY DICKMAN
The memory will stay with me for the rest of my life. Working as a conservation scientist in Africa, I came across the tragic corpse of a lioness, whose hind legs had been cut off and whose swollen teats suggested she had recently given birth.
For days afterwards I agonised about the fate of those newborns, which I knew would be starving to death in the bush.
Lion killings cause particular outrage among Britons, particularly after the notorious shooting of Cecil the lion by a trophy hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015. Indeed, trophy hunters are widely seen in Western circles as the darkest villains in the story of man’s destructive relationship with nature.
So despised is trophy hunting that this week MPs are expected overwhelmingly to pass new legislation which will ban the import of trophies into the UK.
Lion killings cause particular outrage among Britons, writes Professor Amy Dickman. She claims trophy hunters are widely seen in Western circles as the darkest villains in the story of man’s destructive relationship with nature
‘The memory will stay with me for the rest of my life,’ writes Dickman. ‘Working as a conservation scientist in Africa, I came across the tragic corpse of a lioness, whose hind legs had been cut off and whose swollen teats suggested she had recently given birth. For days afterwards I agonised about the fate of those newborns, which I knew would be starving to death in the bush’
In a recent Commons debate, one Conservative MP even put the activity on a par with paedophilia, while Eduardo Goncalves, founder of the Campaign To Ban Trophy Hunting, has written a book in which he ‘names and shames’ 100 British hunters, from London lawyers to Scottish farmers, some of whom were featured in the Mail last week.
Yet this focus on trophy hunting is unbalanced and potentially counterproductive. Driven by sentimentality, cheered on by celebrity campaigners such as Joanna Lumley and promoted by misinformation from lobby groups (who use these campaigns to raise money), the proposed ban could end up achieving the exact opposite of its supposed ‘conservation’ purpose.
Counterintuitive as it might seem, blanket trophy hunting bans (including import bans) are likely to undermine vital conservation work, including the protection of iconic species.
MPs who vote for the Bill this Friday will no doubt feel virtuous. But they will have failed to recognise that, carried out properly, wild trophy hunting can provide vital revenue for conserving biodiverse habitats and many thousands of species.
In most areas, there is no other viable wildlife-based revenue available, so banning hunting will hinder effective management. Worse, it will increase the likelihood of land being converted into uses such as agriculture and livestock-keeping, because the maintenance of natural habitats for wildlife imposes major costs on local people and provides no meaningful economic benefit.
It is in areas where land has been turned over to farming that we find the corpses like that of the savaged lioness I saw. She died not from a hunter’s bullet but from a poacher’s snare.
I have encountered the horrific aftermath of many other wildlife killings during my African fieldwork, including a group of beautiful tawny eagles lying poisoned on the ground, a decapitated hyena and a leopard with its right paw mangled in a trap.
These animals met their harrowing ends — far more painful than most trophy-hunting deaths — because their lives had no perceived value to local people or they were seen as a danger.
I do not write this as a hunting enthusiast. I am an animal-lover, a vegetarian. I have committed my career to reducing wildlife killings and I loathe the idea of animal parts being treated as sporting mementos or badges of wealth.
‘MPs who vote for the Bill this Friday will no doubt feel virtuous. But they will have failed to recognise that, carried out properly, wild trophy hunting can provide vital revenue for conserving biodiverse habitats and many thousands of species,’ said Dickman (pictured at a roundtable discussion on the development and acceleration of African-led conservation at St James’s Palace in November 2022)
‘If trophy hunting is removed, that might take away a small threat in some places but it would also remove the incentive to maintain wildlife habitat, increasing the risk of land conversion, extinction and human-wildlife conflict,’ she argued. Pictured: File photo of an unnamed British trophy hunter hunting an elephant
But in the case of this Bill, the supposed compassion is as empty as the moral bombast. If this ban was driven by the view that trophy hunting is morally unacceptable to British people, then Parliament would be moving to ban the export of hunting trophies from Britain as well as the import of them from overseas. Yet it is not.
British trade, dominated by the export of stag and deer heads from Scotland, is unaffected, which not only smacks of rank hypocrisy but also carries a whiff of outdated colonialism, where rules that must be adopted by Africans and people in other remote countries can be avoided by the British.
In 2019, the president of Botswana argued that Western policymakers ‘speak as if there are no humans here. It is just a big zoo and they are the keepers of that zoo’.
This sentiment was echoed in news that representatives of five African countries complained to the UK Government that ‘they feel this is another way of recolonising Africa’.
Even if this were about morality, is it moral to undermine the livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable communities in the world? Are we really saying animal lives matter more than human ones?
Lacking any true moral basis, the only possible justification for this ban is that it will improve the conservation of endangered species. It won’t.
Campaigns to ban trophy hunting present the activity as a major threat to the survival of some of the most cherished animals on earth, especially lions. But the narrative of extinction being driven by trophy hunters today is false.
Red List data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows that trophy hunting is not driving a single species to extinction.
Although poorly managed trophy hunting can threaten some populations, overall it is far less of a danger than other problems such as habitat loss, land conversion and human-wildlife conflict.
READ MORE: Britain’s proposed ban on big game trophies is ‘arrogant’ and five African nations say the plan smacks of ‘colonialism’
African leaders and conservationists have accused the UK of endangering animals by trying to ban the import of big game trophies. Pictured: File photo issued by Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting of hunters who have killed a lion
If trophy hunting is removed, that might take away a small threat in some places but it would also remove the incentive to maintain wildlife habitat, increasing the risk of land conversion, extinction and human-wildlife conflict. A small threat is gone but far larger ones are amplified.
Furthermore, wild trophy hunting — however repulsive it might seem — can bring real benefits, which are particularly important at the local level. These do not apply to ‘canned’ hunting in which animals are bred for the sole purpose of being hunted in an enclosure, which needs far stricter prohibitions. But wild hunting provides real incentives to look after habitats, provides money to maintain anti-poaching patrols and discourages deforestation and the conversion of land to agriculture.
More than £200 million is estimated to be made annually in South Africa alone from trophy hunting, and bans — including import bans —would undermine that income. Claims that photo-tourism could be just as lucrative are wishful thinking.
About 90 per cent of protected areas with lion populations already fail to cover their costs despite income from both photo-tourism and trophy hunting, as well as state subsidies and donor aid. Removing one of those income streams would only increase threats to wildlife and people.
The positive impact of hunting can be seen by looking at the real experience of Africa and elsewhere. At Zimbabwe’s Bubye Valley Conservancy, a well-run system of hunting licences has not only brought in £1.2 million every year but also grew the lion population to more than 500.
Trophy hunting has played a vital role in the recovery of black rhino, white rhino, markhor, argali and many other species.
It is telling that the world’s top three nations for mammal conservation are now officially judged to be Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania, whereas the UK, so keen to indulge in condescending lectures, is in 123rd place.
Even the celebrated ecologist George Monbiot, who says he ‘hates’ trophy hunting, recently admitted that the practice in Africa has sparked a ‘remarkable’ revival in the numbers of rhinos.
In 2011 I was researching in southern Tanzania and found that the level of lion killing was more than 50 times higher than in areas with licensed hunting. Similarly, Kenya — often portrayed as an African success story since it banned trophy hunting 34 years ago — has seen wildlife numbers decline by nearly 70 per cent since then, while livestock numbers have soared.
‘The reasons are complex, but banning trophy hunting certainly does not guarantee conservation success,’ she wrote. ‘Anti-hunting campaigners in Britain love to claim that the vast majority of the public supports such a proposal — hardly a surprise, given the misleading propaganda and celebrity cheerleading.’ Pictured: File photo of three men on a legal trophy hunt in Africa
The reasons are complex, but banning trophy hunting certainly does not guarantee conservation success.
Anti-hunting campaigners in Britain love to claim that the vast majority of the public supports such a proposal — hardly a surprise, given the misleading propaganda and celebrity cheerleading.
But more nuanced polling shows that only 40 per cent of Britons would support a ban if it harmed wildlife or local communities. That is exactly what will happen if this measure is imposed.
Instead of signalling their virtue, parliamentarians should put the real interests of animals, local people and the environment first.
Professor Amy Dickman is a conservation biologist and senior research fellow in Wild Cat Conservation at the University of Oxford.
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