Trophy hunting import ban: evidence-based or knee-jerk reaction?

Lone African elephant bull walks through the green savannah in the Kruger Park, South Africa

Over a five-year period, there were just 24 trophy imports of African elephant, which seems rather out of touch with the House of Commons statement that the ban will save "thousands of species" - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Is the new ban on trophy hunting imports to Great Britain based on fact and evidence, or is it a knee-jerk reaction to the growing animosity towards hunting in general?

Following news that the ban on trophy hunting imports has now been passed, we look back on Conor O'Gorman's eloquent article outlining the lack of scientific evidence supporting the need for a ban, and the sweeping statements made by the House of Commons in the run-up to the ban being passed.
Please note: the below article was written in November, and the ban has now been passed and is in effect.

In our BASC column in the September issue of Sporting Shooter magazine, I discussed an inquiry by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee into the Animals Abroad bill. The government says the bill will include a ban on the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals. However, the bill has not been published and no definition has been given for ‘endangered animals’ nor any justification for a ban.  

Moreover, Defra has yet to publish the outcome of its 2019/2020 trophy hunting consultation nor its call for evidence. You couldn’t make it up. And it gets worse. 

Ministers have made repeated statements in the House of Commons that banning the import of hunting trophies from endangered species will “help protect thousands of species worldwide”. 

Thousands of species - really? 

On 2 July 2021, the government stated that in 2020 there were 12 imports of hunting trophies from species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Yes, that was not a typo, they actually said twelve hunting trophy imports. Not thousands of species. Not even thousands of animals.  

Perhaps we should ask whether 2020 was an anomaly and there were hunting trophies imported from thousands of species from across the world in other years. Well, we don’t need to search too long for an answer. On 2 July 2021, the government also published a table containing data on the number of hunting trophies imported under CITES for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 for African lion (Panthera leo), tiger (Panthera tigris), African elephant (Loxodonta Africana), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and polar bear (Ursus maritimus).  

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During that five-year period there were 28 imports for African lion, zero imports for tiger, 24 imports for African elephant, zero imports for cheetah and nine imports for polar bear. In the face of this data, the government’s plans are baseless and indefensible. 

In BASC’s submission to the inquiry, we have highlighted the above facts versus the rhetoric and I hope that the EFRA committee will not shy away from challenging the government on these fundamental points. We have asked the committee to ensure that Defra publishes the summary of responses to its 2019/2020 consultation and call for evidence on the import and export of hunting trophies so that this information is available to committee members during its inquiry; particularly so that members have access to submissions from those overseas stakeholders that would be most directly impacted by the proposals. 

The government must provide detailed case studies on a species-by-species basis to evidence any assertions that the trade in hunting trophies threatens the conservation status of species abroad. There also needs to be a detailed justification and impact assessment for each species added to a hunting trophy import ban, including evidence specific to the country or region where trophy hunting is found to be causing a decline in the population of that species. 

We have made a number of other additional points to the inquiry and concluded that the government needs to drop its proposals to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered species; because overseas hunting and the import of trophies from such activities is driving species and habitat recovery and ill-conceived bans will do the opposite.

Read BASC's most recent response to the now passed ban here