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MP Says Big Game Hunting Trophy Ban ‘Virtue Signalling at Expense of African Wildlife’

A Conservative MP has told the House of Commons a private member’s bill that would ban the importation of big game hunting trophies was a “classic case of virtue signalling at the expense of African wildlife and the conservation efforts of African people.”

The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill—which is supported by actors Charles Dance, Joanna Lumley, and Vicki Michelle and TV presenter Gary Lineker—was debated in Parliament on Friday.

Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire, said some of the “high profile celebrities” who have been campaigning and lobbying on the issue had very little experience on the subject but he said, “their voices seem to speak louder due to their fame than the African community leaders and scientific experts who have objected to the Bill.”

The Bill, which was tabled by another Conservative MP, Henry Smith, would stop the import into Britain of body parts from thousands of species including lions, rhinos, and elephants killed abroad.

Wiggin, who initially tabled more than 30 amendments to the Bill, said it could have unintended consequences and “open the floodgates to poachers.”

MPs Accused of Ignoring ‘Scientific Evidence’

Wiggin said: “I’ve been concerned throughout the progress of this Bill that it is not motivated by a desire to see African wildlife flourish and prosper. If it were, then it would have paid heed to the scientific evidence provided by experts in conservation.”

He said British conservationists Amy Dickman and Adam Hart have both argued 90 percent of protected areas with lions were severely underfunded and removing trophy hunting without providing a suitable alternative of funding would expose those areas to the risk of poaching.

Epoch Times Photo
Anti-Poaching Teams with seized ivory in an undated photo. (Courtesy of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust)

Wiggin said: “According to the IUCN Red List, trophy hunting is not considered to be a threat driving any species to extinction, instead trophy hunting generates revenue for anti-poaching and habitat conservation.”

Earlier this week the representatives in London of the governments of South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana issued a joint statement supporting sustainable hunting.

The statement said: “What advocates for a UK ban on the importation of hunting trophies should appreciate is that hunting in Africa, when practised sustainably, feeds families, puts children through school, funds anti-poaching units and, ultimately, secures the long-term viability of the habitats and species we all care about so much,” the statement said.

‘Wrong for British People to Kill Animals for Pleasure’

But Alex Sobel, the shadow environment minister, said: “We can say that it’s wrong for British people to kill animals for pleasure and momentoes. We can set an example … We human beings have a responsibility to look after this planet and its animals. We need to put trophy hunting in the dustbin of history along with the slave trade, female infanticide, and witch-hunting.”

Wiggin said when Botswana brought in a temporary ban on paid hunting, in 2014, there was a 593 percent increase in the discovery of fresh elephant carcasses.

The ban—which was lifted in 2019—also had unintended consequences in some villages in Botswana.

Thebeyakgosi Horatius, a former head of human-wildlife conflict for Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, told National Public Radio said “because [the elephants] are feeling comfortable, they are not feeling disturbed by shootings, they come through the villages. They are free to go wherever they want to go.”

Wiggin said Dickman, a conservation biologist and director of wildlife conservation research at the University of Oxford, had argued this legislation would actually lead to, “more painful and prolonged deaths from poachers than from a hunter’s bullet.”

Wiggin said: “The concern held by both conservationists and African community leaders is enforcing the removal of the vital source of revenue supplied by trophy hunters to these communities will open the floodgates to poachers who will cause far more cruelty and pain to the animals and will pose a far greater threat to endangered species.”

He went on: “I am very, very sensitive of racism. And I spoke out against this bill because I fundamentally believed that it was a NEO colonial attempt to control conservation management programs of African democratic countries. I know that not one of us here today is a racist or has that really nasty streak of wanting to judge people by the color of their skin. But we have to be pretty careful that we don’t signal that we know best to countries that are emerging.”

Earlier this week the founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, Eduardo Goncalves, said the view expressed by Wiggin was, “the most Orwellian argument I’ve ever heard: killing an animal for kicks and saying it’s for the good of the animal and the good of the species.”

Goncalves also said: “When I hear these people on the other side say this Bill is neocolonialist, please, can anyone tell me if there’s a better definition of colonialism than white people flying to Africa and saying ‘I’m going to shoot all these animals for fun, it’s my right to do so?’”

Trudy Harrison, a junior minister in the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, said: “I do recognise that some of the income from trophy hunting has contributed towards the protection of habitat and the prevention of poaching. But to bring the body part of endangered species in is not the way forward. This government recognises this, the country recognises that and I am absolutely clear that it is time for change. It is absolutely what the public expects.”

‘Cecil the Lion Didn’t Die in Vain’

Referring to a case that caused a global backlash against trophy hunting in 2015, Harrison said: “Dare I say, Cecil the lion didn’t die in vain.”

But another Tory MP, Christopher Chope, queried why the Bill would not apply to Northern Ireland and he asked Harrison: “What solution does the minister have to The Daily Telegraph headline, ‘Brexit loophole allows input of Hippo heads and stuffed tigers?’”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson echoed Chope’s concerns in the light of the Windsor framework.

Harrison responded: “Let me reassure the House that we will do everything we possibly can to ensure that this is not the case, that Northern Ireland will not be a back door for so-called trophies from endangered species to enter Scotland, England, or Wales. It will not be a stepping stone for imports to Great Britain.”

The Bill was given its third reading, without a vote, and is now likely to become law, if approved by the House of Lords.

PA Media contributed to this report.

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