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By Earl Russell
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Ethical and sustainable conservation can’t be achieved with endangered animals in hunters’ cross-hairs

Humane Society International UK

Humane Society International UK | Humane Society International UK

5 min read Partner content

MPs debating a Bill to ban imports of hunting trophies should reflect on a new biodiversity law in South Africa enshrining that killing wildlife for pleasure and to acquire body parts as a status symbol has no place in the future of sustainable tourism or biodiversity policy.

Most South African citizens (70%) agree that South Africa would be a more attractive tourist destination if it banned trophy hunting. Most international tourists (74%) also believe that making trophy hunting a key part of its economy will damage South Africa’s reputation.

The new South African law on biodiversity and sustainable use seems to agree.  It considers use to be sustainable, including the use of lions, leopards, elephants and rhinoceroses, only if it is:

  1. ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable,
  2. does not contribute to its long-term decline in the wild or disrupt the genetic integrity of the population,
  3. does not disrupt the ecological integrity of the ecosystem in which it occurs,
  4. ensures continue benefits to people in a manner that is fair, equitable, and meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations; and
  5. ensures a duty of care towards all components of biodiversity for thriving people and nature.1

UK policymakers should strongly consider South Africa’s new legal definition when they are given a second chance to support a ban trophy hunting imports later this week, as trophy hunting does not seem to meet this definition. Trophy hunting incentivises the lethal overexploitation of endangered and vulnerable species, which are already under increasing pressure from habitat loss, climate change, and illegal wildlife trade—many of the same pressures affecting vulnerable people in trophy hunting areas.

In March 2022, Henry Smith MP’s Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill arrived in the Houses of Parliament seeking to disincentivise British hunters from playing a role in this damaging and unsustainable blood sport. The Bill, intended to satisfy a 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment, swept through the House of Commons with the overwhelming support of MPs and the British public, over 80% of whom support an import ban.2

However, a small minority of Peers delayed the Bill’s progress in the House of Lords until it ultimately fell due to a lack of time. This frustration of the public’s will and expectations threatened to thwart MPs’ efforts to finally bring end to a cruel, archaic and unnecessary practice. Fortunately, MPs have been given a second chance.

A new Bill was introduced by Rt Hon John Spellar MP and awaits its second reading in the House of Commons on 22nd March. This Bill gives parliamentarians a fresh opportunity to protect imperilled wildlife from becoming prizes in the bloody games of wealthy hunters. With these animals already facing countless direct and indirect pressures from humans, MPs have a vital opportunity to protect them from egregious killing for kicks.

Critics of the Bill wrongly argue that trophy hunting doesn’t affect wildlife population management. However, trophy hunts can disrupt complex social and territorial animal structures3, decrease genetic variation4, and directly compete with and undermine ethical and non-consumptive revenue generating initiatives. 

Critics also argue that trophy hunting contributes to the funding of conservation but these claims are grossly and deliberately exaggerated. Analysis of purported conservation benefits from revenue derived from hunting trophies are regularly dependent on unreliable and incomplete data, making confidence in such claims impossible. The majority of funds generated by trophy hunting never reach conservation programmes or communities. If and when they do, such funds are negligible compared to the damage caused through the irreversible loss of key natural resources. 

Trophy hunters typically compete to kill the largest and most iconic animals and there is considerable money in sating such bloodlust. Despite industry claims to be interested in long term sustainability, the desire for short-term profits competes and conflicts with any concerns for long-term damage or sustainability. Conservation efforts predicated on the unsustainable and extractive use of natural resources are inherently flawed and this is reflected in the South African Government’s new position.

The South African law also considers animal well-being. Trophy hunting does not.

Animals shot for trophies often do not die right away and can suffer in agony for hours before the hunters finally dispatch them and recover their bodies. Often trophy hunters are inexperienced and do not kill the animal on the first shot or they refrain from taking additional shots and prefer to let the animal bleed out to death to  preserve the quality of the trophy. The industry offers special awards to encourage the use of less efficient weapons such as bows or spears, which do not deliver quick kills.

Trophy hunting does not reflect the values of the British public.

It is an ugly throwback to an age of exploiting wild animals for entertainment and status. To miss this opportunity to finally ban the import of hunting trophies would be to fail the public and to fail to protect the many hundreds of wild animals killed by British hunters. There are ethical and more sustainable alternatives to generating revenue for conservation and communities than tourists killing animals for pleasure, in doing so removing any value that those animals can provide local people in the long term. We urge MPs and the Government to support the Bill.

  1. Policy Position on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Elephant, Lion, Leopard and Rhinoceros: Comments invited (
  3. Milner, J. M., Nilsen, E. B., and Andreassen, H. P. (2007) “Demographic Side Effects of Selective Hunting in Ungulates and Carnivores” Biological Conservation 21(1)
  4. Balme G., Slotow R., and Hunter L. T. B. (2009). “Impact of conservation interventions on the dynamics and persistence of a persecuted leopard (Panthera pardus) population” Biological Conservation 142(11)

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