When it comes to endangered wildlife, don’t license to kill
An elephant at Chobe National Park, Botswana | Credit: Masha Kalin
A ban on imports of hunting trophies is in sight, but the House of Lords must reject wrecking amendments for licensing HMG-approved hunting trophies.
As Henry Smith MP’s Government-backed Bill to ban imports of hunting trophies of endangered species heads into its final stages in the House of Lords, amendments from Lords Mancroft and Hamilton implore 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’.
Such amendments appear designed to wreck the Bill, questionably in violation of the Salisbury Convention since the Bill delivers a manifesto commitment. But if Peers are forced to consider such undermining proposals, what should they be mindful of?
It is widely known that a ban on hunting trophy imports commands strong public support, and the arguments against trophy hunting from a conservation perspective are extremely well expressed by eminent scientists. But pausing incredulity on the rationale, let us scrutinize how Lord Mancroft’s suggestion might work in practice.
The amendment proposes that the Government should issue licenses to allow hunting trophies to be imported if they are obtained within: ‘a hunting area where the hunting operator can demonstrate that financial or non-financial benefits of trophy hunting materially contributes to the conservation of the trophy hunted species, including habitat protection, anti-poaching measures, and support for community livelihoods'.
A similar regulatory model is in place in the United States, so Peers might usefully look at its efficacy there. The first serious problem for the U.S. Government’s license-issuing agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is that it is almost entirely reliant on a heady mixture of unverified, unscientific, incomplete or misleading data generated by exporting countries, or by the trophy hunting concessions, to assess whether imports might ‘enhance the survival of the species’ (as required under the US Endangered Species Act). Population assessments are frequently years out of date; Scientific Authorities in exporting countries often lack the capacity and/or expertise to make informed assessments; and accountability for conservation assessment findings can be lost internally between national and provincial government departments.
This leads to the second problem: legal challenges. Over the last 20 years, the U.S. federal government has faced more than two dozen lawsuits over its administration of import permits for hunting trophies. Suits are filed by conservation organisations who, amongst other things, challenge the USFWS for issuing import permits on the basis of inadequate evidence that the hunt in question benefitted the survival of that species. Suits have also been filed by hunting organisations, frustrated at what they perceive to be unreasonable delays in the USFWS’s decisions on whether to authorize or deny permit applications.
Additionally, the USFWS has found itself flip-flopping on ‘enhancement findings’ for key species of interest to both hunters and conservationists, including for elephant and lion trophy imports. Such a hot and cold permissions timeline in trophy imports, and associated (purported) fluctuating conservation revenue, is entirely at odds with the need for conservation programmes and protected areas to be in receipt of consistent and sustainable revenue sources.
The infrastructure to regulate the trans-boundary movement of endangered species is already buckling under the burden of attempts to scrutinize and manage the requirements to issue permits under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). The additional demands of the U.S. system further impose on terminally under-resourced CITES Management Authorities in exporting nations. Lord Mancroft’s amendment would simply add to their impossible to-do list, with the inevitable consequence of a licensing system that might sound plausible on paper, but in reality will fail. Indeed, it is highly notable that a letter sent from 103 African experts and community leaders to the House of Lords in support of a full ban on hunting trophy imports was signed by wildlife management authority officials from the governments of nine African nations.
Finally, it is interesting to note that the U.S. pro-hunting lobby are railing against what they describe as ‘the extreme difficulty of the case-by-case method’ of assessing permit applications. Hunting organisations claim to be having to do ‘what the USFWS and range countries do not have the will or capacity to achieve themselves’. The U.S. hunting lobby has been vocal about the permitting system being ‘broken’, clearly preferring the idea of a far more permissive licensing regime.
There is no reason to imagine that, faced with a requirement to attempt to manage licenses for hunting trophy imports, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Animal Plant Health Agency in the UK would fare any better than the USFWS. There is every reason to foresee that it would significantly increase the risk of legal challenge against the UK Government, while at the same time delivering the exceedingly unpopular optic of ‘His Majesty’s Government-approved hunting trophies’.
It suits defenders of trophy hunting to portray it as an honorable, well-managed endeavor that delivers a greater good. The reality – trophy hunts exacerbating species declines, shoring up neocolonial inequalities, failing to deliver conservation outcomes, and overwhelming management authorities – tells of a far bleaker outcome.
The House of Lords must not fall prey to conservation gaslighting from the hunting lobby. It must not entertain attempts to recreate the unworkable licensing loophole system imposed by the U.S. We urge noble members of the House of Lords to support the Government to deliver its manifesto commitment for an intact ban on imports of hunting trophies from endangered species, delivering for both wildlife and the electorate.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.