Ruaha Carnivore Project

Yesterday, in a move widely celebrated as a ‘victory’ by animal rights groups, the UK Government stated in the Queens Speech that they would ban trophy hunting imports. Writing in my personal capacity as the Director of the Project, I think this is a deeply alarming and depressing move.

The UK is not a major importer of wild trophies, but this still matters. Firstly, it shows that decisions are not being based on science. Science clearly shows the important role that trophy hunting plays in reducing habitat loss, the key threat to biodiversity. Well-regulated hunting has also led to important population recoveries for species including the black and white rhino. Zac Goldsmith and others said they were interested in a proper consultation and were open to hearing evidence about conservation benefits associated with trophy hunting – and yet they have failed to meet key people to hear that very evidence. What hope do we have for addressing issues like climate change if science is ignored and decisions are made based on populist movements and uninformed campaigns?

Secondly, it is terrifying that animal rights campaigners see this as ‘job done’ and then instantly want to move on to the next target, such Ban Trophy Hunting‘s call for a ‘worldwide ban’. If you are truly concerned about conservation, your next step surely must rather be to dedicate huge amounts of efforts and resources to ensuring that your actions do not lead to unintended negative consequences for conservation, local people or animal welfare in the real world? What about monitoring wildlife to assess the impacts of your actions?

But no – you don’t seem to actually care about that. That is apparently left to us, the people in the field who are desperately trying to secure funding for conservation, positively engage local communities, implement workable solutions, prevent wildlife killings and deal with the huge issues of human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss and prey loss – all of which moves like this will only worsen. We have nowhere near enough resources to tackle the existing biodiversity crisis, so it is hugely depressing when millions of well-meaning people across the world push for actions that actually make things worse for both people and wildlife.

Poorly regulated trophy hunting can damage wildlife populations, but in even those cases it is nothing compared to the avalanche of cruel, totally unregulated killing that occurs in areas where wildlife has no value. If trophy hunting revenue is replaced with equal or greater benefits for wildlife and people, that is wonderful – but I see no evidence that that will happen here, or anywhere else where import bans are put in place. So we will end up with no reason to maintain vast areas, and far more killings like the ones pictured here. These images are hard to see, but they are even harder to witness – they are terrible deaths of amazing animals, which occur because wildlife has no value to local people. I don’t find them any less devastating because there is no hunter in them, and that certainly does not matter to the animal concerned. A lack of regulated hunting does NOT mean a lack of killing, and without better alternatives in place, removing existing revenue streams and incentives for habitat protection will only make things worse.

Trophy hunting is decried as immoral, and I personally dislike it. However, undermining it without implementing better solutions will increase horrible, unregulated killings, undermine local decision-making about wildlife use, reduce wildlife revenue, increase habitat and biodiversity loss, and leave the world far poorer for all our children. I deeply believe that is far more immoral. For anyone who cares about conservation or animal welfare, truly understanding this issue would reveal it to be an extremely hollow ‘victory’.