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The House of Lords is debating whether leopards and elephants should be ‘harvested’ as hunting trophies

Claire Bass, Senior Director of Campaigns and Public Affairs at Humane Society International - UK, writes on the need for the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill to pass its final stages in the House of Lords.

September 2023

Smiling into the camera lens Susan, a British holidaymaker, wears the still-warm body of the leopard she has just shot around her neck. Aside from this photograph, our (fictitious, in this case) hunter is undecided on what part of him to keep as the best memento of her conquest. His claws? His skull perhaps? Or maybe his skin, to go under her coffee table.

It’s ‘fair game’, currently, for her to bring all the above back to the UK. After all, she wasn’t one of the poachers who are decimating leopard populations; she killed the leopard legally and is allowed to bring home the ‘trophies’ of her hunt.

We’ve all seen such photos in the British media, with the vast majority of the public (80%) finding the activity immoral, and supporting a ban on imports of hunting trophies.

Avoiding the moral thin-ice of this issue, defenders of trophy hunting consider instead whether this leopard’s death, and the deaths of hundreds of other animals – elephants, lions, hippos, brown bears, polar bears amongst them – killed for take-home trophies, can be successfully justified in a different way. Their pitch is that, perversely, killing endangered animals is good for conservation.

Henry Smith MP’s Government-backed Bill to ban imports of hunting trophies, heading into its final stages in the House of Lords, would deliver on a Conservative manifesto commitment and public expectations. However, the Bill has run into fierce opposition from pro-hunting Parliamentarians, and a hereditary Peer has tabled amendments imploring Parliament and Ministers to allow the continued import of trophies when they are obtained from within ‘a nationally established framework for managing the harvesting of animal trophies…through which trophy hunting harvest levels can be adjusted as appropriate’. What should Peers make of such proposals? Perhaps an official-sounding framework could legitimise Susan’s ‘harvest’?

The most glaringly obvious problem with the amendment is that the idea of harvesting wild animals was hot off the press more than 100 years ago. This was a time when entitlement, combined with a lack of enlightenment about the natural world, led the British Empire to help itself with impunity to any animals it pleased.

It is similar to the language that framed the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1946, which talks about whale ‘stocks’ giving ‘yields’ of whales to be ‘harvested’, placing narrowly defined Western interests as its central tenet. This commodification of wildlife incentivises overexploitation and rapidly becomes a race to the bottom for both animals and the human communities who live alongside them and, in many cases, depend upon them.

Happily, the vast majority of British people no longer hold the archaic belief that wild animals are simply resources to be plundered. The science tells us that populations or groups of animals are not clones who may be dispatched to be wall-mounted at leisure, as long as another animal is born to replace them. This is especially the case in complex elephant societies, where the loss of a mature bull elephant can have significant damaging impacts on the group. Trophy hunting actually serves up unnatural selection and can cause deep, lasting biological and ecological damage to populations and habitats.

Trophy hunt ‘harvests’ exacerbate species declines, shore up neocolonial inequalities, fail to deliver conservation outcomes, and can overwhelm management authorities with convoluted permitting processes. The House of Lords must see the 'harvesting' amendment (see page 5 of the latest amendment paper) for what it is: antiquated, unscientific and unpopular.

The Lords can, and must, do better than this. Endangered wildlife are not fields of wheat; they are sentient individuals deserving of protection. We urge Peers to support the Government to deliver its manifesto commitment for an intact ban on hunting trophies from endangered species, delivering for both wildlife and the electorate.

Claire Bass is Senior Director Campaigns and Public Affairs at Humane Society International - UK.

Follow @ClaireHSI and @HSIUKorg

The above blog has been amended from its original content, with the agreement of the author, following feedback.

The opinions expressed in this blog are held by the author and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.