UK plan to ban animal trophies too slow - conservation groups

By Jonah Fisher
Environment correspondent

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Animal trophies are brought into the UK each year

Conservation groups and campaigners have called on the government to move faster with plans to ban the import of animal hunting trophies.

On Friday, the government published its long-awaited response to a public consultation on the issue and promised a ban.

But it stopped short of naming a date when legislation would be introduced.

Trophies made from hunted lions and elephants are brought into the UK each year.

"The longer it goes on, the more animals are being shot and brought back to Britain as trophies," Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting founder Eduardo Goncalves told BBC News.

"It's encouraging that the government is setting out its plans - but it's deeply frustrating that we still don't have any timetable".

Stuffed heads

Every year, hunters from the UK travel abroad, often to southern Africa, and pay thousands of pounds to legally shoot animals such as lions and elephants.

With the right paperwork, they can then bring trophies, such as stuffed heads or horns, back to the UK.

Announcing details of the new bill, Environment Secretary George Eustace said the legislation would go further than originally promised.

The import ban would include not just endangered and threatened species but also more than 1,000 others, such as zebra and reindeer.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Animals such as elephants are hunted for trophies to be displayed in the UK

"This would be one of the toughest bans in the world, and goes beyond our manifesto commitment," Mr Eustace said.

"We will be leading the way in protecting endangered animals and helping to strengthen and support long-term conservation."

In 2020, despite the pandemic restricting travel, elephant tusks, hippo skulls, lion, baboon and giraffe were among the trophies legally brought back to the UK from southern Africa, the latest, incomplete data shows.

And between 2015 and 2019, there were 335 documented imports of trophies from animals covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the government report says.

A ban on the import of hunting trophies was included in the Conservative Party's 2019 election manifesto and the Queen's Speech that followed and has been mentioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson several times in Parliament.

But asked in early December when the legislation would be brought to Parliament, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg replied: "In the fullness of time."

On Friday, Labour MP John Spellar will table a private member's bill that would ban the import of trophies - but it has little chance of success without government backing.

"The public will be rightly outraged by dither and delay," Mr Spellar said.

"It's time to put an end to this vile trade once and for all.

"The government should either allow my private member's bill to progress or rapidly introduce its own legislation."

Media caption,
On frontline with Kenya's anti-poaching force

But although 86% of the 44,000 responses to the public consultation called for tighter restrictions on the import of hunting trophies and a ban has cross-party support in the Commons, some conservationists say hunting provides funds that can be used to protect endangered animals and their habitats.

"This decision is a triumph of propaganda over science, and prejudice over evidence," Christopher Graffius, from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, told BBC News.

"What aid will the government give to replace income from hunting to seriously economically and environmentally challenged communities around the world?

"This ban will be bad for animals, people and the land they live on."