Ban on trophy hunting imports to UK approved by MPs after opposition from African nations

A lion on a reserve in Tanzania.
Proponents of the bill claim it will help to boost conservation of animal species, such as lions. Credit: AP

By James Gray, ITV News Multimedia Producer

A ban on trophy hunters importing animal parts has been approved by the House of Commons.

The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill received an unopposed third reading from MPs and will now undergo further scrutiny in the House of Lords before it can become law.

African nations including Namibia and South Africa have opposed the Bill, issuing a statement saying they are in favour of "sustainable" trophy hunting because blood sport profits are often used to pay for conservation projects.

Here, ITV News explains what the Bill is exactly proposing and the arguments both for and against it.

What is the trophy-hunting Bill's aim?

The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill aims to prevent British big game hunters from bringing back to the UK body parts of animal species, including lions, rhinos, elephants and polar bears.

It is not proposing a ban on animal exports.

According to the Bill, it will help to protect nearly 7,000 species, but researchers have disputed that figure, saying "even if all the species in the relevant appendices were counted, that totals around 5,800 species: the vast majority of which are not trophy hunted and so would not be protected in any real way under the ban".

Tory MP Henry Smith first introduced the legislation, which is now in its report stage.

Who is against the Bill?

More than 30 amendments have now been tabled against the legislation, 26 of which were made by Conservative backbencher Sir Christopher Chope.

Sir Ranulph has called Sir Christopher an "enemy" of the legislation, saying he was "delighted" to be "going up against" the MP for Christchurch, Dorset.

He said: "This makes me very happy when you look at a list of Christopher Chope's achievements over his filibustering career to date, it tells us that Henry Smith's Bill to ban trophy hunting imports into the UK is sound legislation and must become law in its full and current form.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes is one of a number of celebrities backing the Bill. Credit: PA

"The simple fact that he has decided to attempt to sabotage our Bill is a compliment to its integrity and moral content."

Tory MP Sir Bill Wiggin has also submitted an amendment, which seeks to introduce an exemption clause for certain supposed "trophies".

The clause would see British hunters allowed to bring home some of the world's most endangered animals, such as black rhinos, according to campaigners.

Who is supporting the Bill?

Alongside Mr Dance and Sir Ranulph, a number of famous names have said they support the Bill being passed into law.

Other celebrities involved include: Gary Lineker, Dame Joanna Lumley, conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, Dame Judi Dench, musicians Liam Gallagher and Sir Rod Stewart and comedian Ricky Gervais.

Members of the public have also backed the Bill, with an online petition by PETA currently registering more than 35,000 signatures in support of it.

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What are the arguments against?

Critics of the Bill say the profits from blood sports are used to pay for conservation projects in African countries, where hunting is widespread and ultimately help to protect wildlife.

The high commissions of Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Botswana, in London, issued a joint statement, on Wednesday, in favour of hunting in Africa practised "sustainably".

"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.

Their statement comes after reports that some African nations were angered by a lack of discussion over the proposed legislation.

Dr Amy Dickman, Joint CEO of Lion Landscapes and Professor of Wildlife Conservation at the University of Oxford, criticised the Bill as "hypocritical, based on misinformation, and will cause real harm to wildlife conservation".

She told ITV News the legislation "risks amplifying much greater conservation threats", arguing that it would make areas used for trophy-hunting "less economically viable and more likely to be converted to uses such as agriculture."

"That will lead to far more animals dying in far worse ways, which I think would be a betrayal of those who have been told that this will protect species," she said.

Experts have argued that a blanket ban could lead to trophy-hunting land being sold and converted for other uses, including agriculture. Credit: AP

What are the arguments for?

Proponents of the Bill say they want it introduced to help improve conservation levels of animal species.

Passing the law would also meet a 2019 government manifesto pledge to "ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals".

Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting founder Eduardo Goncalves has branded the view of allowing blood sports to continue to help fund pay for conservation projects as "the most Orwellian argument I've ever heard".

He said: "This is an absolute affront to democracy. A trophy-hunting ban is backed by nine out of 10 voters."

Mr Goncalves has also dismissed suggestions of a lack of discussion around the Bill, saying that at the consultation stage the legislation heard widely from African governments.

He added that conservationists based in Africa have expressed overwhelming support for it.

"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'?

"This may be one of the most powerful political lobbies that the Earth has ever seen. That makes it even more important that we stand up to them."

Are there alternative solutions?

One alternative could be a so-called "smart ban" which would only allow imports under strict criteria, as opposed to an outright blanket ban.

For example, trophies could only be imported if there was a demonstrable conservation benefit associated with that hunting.

Termed a "conservation exemption" a similar approach is observed in the United States, which reduces the risk of undermining conservation, while still tackling activities such as canned hunting.

Dr Dickman said that including such an exemption "would allow the UK government to surpass its original manifesto commitment, which only referred to endangered species, while still listening to the concerns of leading scientists and NGOs such as Save the Rhino International".

She also argued the case "to make biodiversity conservation a competitive land use".

"That revenue can reward conservation, while also helping local people achieve sustainable development and improve coexistence," she added.

"But these kinds of initiatives require significant funding, and recognition of the reality of complex, long-term conservation issues, so it is far less attractive to the public and politicians than knee-jerk, superficial legislation such as this Private Members Bill."