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SCI Responds to UK’s Trophy Ban Hearing

In November, the United Kingdom’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee held a public hearing to discuss the potential “Animals Abroad Bill,” which could prohibit the import and export of hunting trophies into and out of the UK. The purpose of the hearing was for Members of Parliament to panel of so-called experts on topics that included whether a ban is the best way to address biodiversity loss and support conservation, what a ban would mean for the UK, and whether well-managed trophy hunting can be effectively used to fund conservation.

The panel, comprised exclusively of anti-hunting and animal rights activists, included: Dr. Mark Jones, Head of Policy at Born Free Foundation, Eduardo Goncalves, Founder at Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, and Dr. Audrey Delsink, Wildlife Director at Humane Society International UK. Many of the answers given by panelists were plainly biased and wildly inaccurate. If the Committee had call for a balanced panel, conservation groups, like Safari Club International, would have set the record straight. Below are some of the questions asked during the panel, followed by how Safari Club International would have answered them: 

Question: What will the effect be if we ban trophy hunting as well as the import and export of animals into and out of the UK?

Answer: Although specific details of the bill have not yet seen published, one proposed approach would prohibit the import and export of ALL hunted animals, regardless of species and harvest location. This includes ducks, deer, elk, and many other common species that clearly need no protection. Implementation of this proposal would be detrimental to conservation efforts worldwide, including in the UK which has a robust hunting tourism industry, and utilizes hunting as an important tool for game management. Such a ban is not supported by any legitimate scientific literature. The anti-hunting panel cited a widely discredited study that erroneously concluded that local communities receive only 3% of hunting revenues. In reality, many communities and local governments in southern Africa (and elsewhere) rely significantly on revenues generated by hunting. In addition to funding for management for species and ecosystem protection, hunting revenues from ethical, highly regulated hunts often benefit of the species. Landscapes and habitats have a higher value under this system; higher than the alternatives to hunting, which are habitat destruction through mining, agriculture, or infrastructure development. When a hunting lodge employs members of a local community, it creates meaningful work and connects communities to nature. In turn, the community is more likely to tolerate human-wildlife conflict- an all too frequent reality. When international hunting is diminished by scientifically unsupported import prohibitions, unemployment rises, human, wildlife conflicts escalate, habitats are degraded, poaching increases, and wildlife populations plummet. 

Question: The government said the purpose of this bill is to address and support endangered species? Is a ban on the import from endangered species the best way to achieve the same?

Answer: Wildlife is thriving in southern Africa due to successful conservation efforts funded by hunting sportsmen and women. NO species have become extinct due to modern, regulated hunting programs. For example, since the 1980s black rhinos have increased from a population of 1,000 to 5,500 today. Even more successfully, the southern white rhinos have increased from less than 100 in 1895 to around 20,000 today thanks to conservation programs funded by hunters. Hunting requires adequate habitat, population size, and ecosystem health. Maintaining habitat, conducting wildlife population surveys, and monitoring biodiversity are all extensive operations that require resources. Hunters often foot the bill for these conservation efforts, with extraordinary results for species. Banning imports and exports of hunting trophies would diminish funding for these efforts and provide no benefit to “endangered” species or any other wildlife. Simply put, enacting the proposed bill is not the way to support conservation efforts in Africa or elsewhere.

Question: How much of a factor is trophy hunting in the decline of large animals compared to other factors such as human-wildlife conflict and natural habitat growth?

Answer: Through the harvest of a relatively small number of individual animals, hunters enhance conservation programs, maintain habitats, and help communities coexist with wildlife. In many areas- a large populations of dangerous animals like elephants are exceeding their carrying capacity. With robust anti-poaching programs, elephant numbers have gradually increased over the past several decades, to the point where they are now over-concentrated in some areas of southern Africa. This overconcentration creates human-wildlife conflict issues, such as deaths and injuries directly caused by elephants, and destruction of buildings or crops. Elephants also often have a negative effect on habitats and other species. Herds trample and cause immense habitat destruction, quickly affecting species in the same ecosystem, and eventually negatively impacting the elephants themselves. Human-wildlife conflicts is not limited to elephants; lions, leopards, buffalo, and other species regularly negatively impact communities that live closest to wildlife. Hunters provide the necessary management and funds to keep wildlife at sustainable numbers while also funding overall conservation programs. 

Question: Is tourism a creditable alternative for trophy hunting and has photo tourism successfully replaced trophy hunting in other places?

Answer: Botswana provides an excellent case study to answer this question. In 2014, Botswana suspended (i.e., prohibited) hunting on public lands, hoping that the potential for photo tourism would replace consumptive use of wildlife as a source of wildlife management funding. Unfortunately, this policy led unprecedented level of human-elephant conflict, and the predicted benefits of photo tourism did not materialize. Like all wildlife, elephants need to be managed within their ecological and social carrying capacities. With the suspension in place,  local communities faced new hardships and were deprived of revenue once brought in by international hunting tourists. Although Botswana’s (former) government thought photo tourism would replace hunting, many areas had no existing infrastructure to accommodate such tourism, the government provided no funding to build new infrastructure, and the tourist never came. Thankfully, under leadership of a new President, Botswana has listened to the concerns of its people and rescinded the hunting suspension. Ultimately, the experiment failed, and the UK would be wise to learn from Botswana rather than ignore the lessons learned. And these lessons are not limited to Botswana; time and time again hunting proves to be effective management tool for successful conservation programs throughout the world.

Overall, the proposals expected in the Animals Abroad Bill will harm wildlife, including endangered species Hunting is a conservation tool that provides incentives and, resources, to help ensure management of healthy wildlife populations ecosystems. Safari Club international will continue to support scientifically driven, successful sustainable use wildlife management programs and defend hunters’ ability to conserve wildlife though hunting. 

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