After an expert's opinion in the Mail, LORD ASHCROFT offers a riposte

Trophy hunting ISN’T the way to save species… it’s nothing but blood money: After one expert’s provocative argument in the Mail, LORD ASHCROFT provides an equally passionate riposte

Earlier this month, journalist Graham Boynton wrote a thought-provoking piece for the Daily Mail on the heated issue of trophy hunting in Africa. 

In it, he argued it is a cruel irony that a ‘celebrity campaign’ to ban this activity —and an associated effort to ban the importation into Britain of hunting souvenirs such as lion skins — could end up being counter-productive. 

‘In their infinite wisdom they have decided that a ban on the import of hunting trophies will help save Africa’s wildlife,’ Mr Boynton wrote sarcastically. Clearly, he has a different view. 

In essence, he seems to believe that banning trophy hunting and outlawing trophy imports undermines attempts to protect lions and other endangered animals in Africa.

Since he named me in his article, stating that those on my side of the debate who­ ­support a trophy import ban are ‘driven by emotion rather than science’, I feel duty bound to respond.

A U.S. celebrity hunter Olivia Nalos Opre poses with her kill

I don’t understand why people kill animals for fun, but my position is that I am not against hunting per se. For example, I have never campaigned against traditional or ‘fair chase’ hunting, in which animals might be pursued cross-country for up to three weeks with no guaranteed outcome. 

Personally, I would never hunt. Neither do I enjoy playing golf or sunbathing on a beach. Still, I wouldn’t want either of those pastimes banned. 

I entered into this debate because I abhor animal cruelty, and several years ago I became aware of barbarism being carried out on a massive scale in relation to lions in South Africa. 

This brutality was outlined in my book Unfair Game, published in 2020, which describes two undercover operations I funded in South Africa in 2018 and 2019. My book showed how, since the 1990s, lions in South Africa have been commoditised to such a degree that a new, captive-bred species has in effect been created.

 It is estimated that in 1980 there were 80,000 wild lions in the whole of Africa. Today, there are about 20,000 wild lions, 3,000 of which are in South Africa. 

At the same time, there are up to 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa. What happens to them is truly disgusting. Cubs are born in cages. They are taken from their mothers when days old and used to lure naive tourists into paying to cuddle and pet them in zoos and safari parks. 

Lord Ashcroft: ‘Whoever is killing Africa’s trophy species, it’s not Africans’

When the lions are considered too big and dangerous to interact with humans, they are killed in a ‘canned hunt’ — a charade in which people pay thousands of dollars to gun down an animal in a confined space from which it cannot escape — or slaughtered at an abattoir. 

Whichever type of death they endure, their carcass is worth a significant amount. Canned hunters often choose to take a trophy such as a head or a hide home with them to show off to their friends. This trophy commands a fee on top of whatever the hunter paid to shoot the hopeless creature. 

Once these gruesome mementoes have been taken, all lions are gutted for their bones and other body parts, which are sold to dealers who trade in Asia’s bizarre wildlife markets. 

Lion bones are especially favoured in China, a country where ‘traditional’ medicine has never been more popular. 

Yet international criminal gangs and wildlife smugglers control much of this twisted industry, which is rotten from top to bottom. 

In 2019, the Conservative Party manifesto promised: ‘We will bring the ivory ban into force, extend it to cover other ivory-bearing species, and ban imports from trophy hunting of endangered animals.’ 

This pledge — which would cover captive-bred and wild lions — became the Animals Abroad Bill, a proposed piece of legislation that has, sadly, slipped down the Government’s agenda over the past two years. 

As Graham Boynton correctly observed, the Government did not include the Bill in this month’s Queen’s Speech. Hopes now rest instead on the Hunting Trophy Import (Prohibition) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by a Labour MP, John Spellar. 

I back Mr Spellar’s Bill wholeheartedly. After all, it would be impossible to distinguish between a trophy from a wild lion versus one from a captive-bred lion. On that basis alone, surely scrapping the import of all trophies makes sense. 

Other nations such as America, France and Australia have already prohibited the import of trophies of threatened or vulnerable species such as lions. I struggle to understand why anybody would find it undesirable for us to join them. 

Graham Boynton appears to suggest that a responsible hunting industry — and by extension the ability of hunters to bring trophies into the UK legally — can create employment opportunities in Africa. 

Although he didn’t mention it in his article, I am aware that he is a board member of the Resource Africa group, which supports rural communities in nine Southern African countries in a bid to boost employment. Resource Africa also condones responsible hunting. 

I don’t know who funds Resource Africa, but I do feel it would have been helpful for Mr Boynton to have acknowledged his links to this group. 

For one thing, there are anti-hunting activists in southern Africa more cynical than I who believe organisations like Resource Africa use underdevelopment as a reason to promote trophy hunting. 

Mr Boynton and those on his side of the debate argue that scientists, environmentalists and rural community leaders in Africa say the economic opportunities wild animals offer should not be discounted. 

It may well be true to claim that trophy hunting can provide an income for marginalised and impoverished people but, as the economist and wildlife supporter Dr Ross Harvey has asked, surely the key question is whether it should provide that income. 

For how much longer can Graham Boynton or others rely on economic arguments to support lions being shot for trophies? If something is deemed fundamentally wrong, it can’t be justified simply by saying it brings a small financial benefit to part of a community, whether they be rich or poor.

I am also troubled by the assertion that those who oppose trophy imports are somehow meddling in a foreign country and that some African communities ‘are outraged that their old colonial masters are still trying to tell them how to run their lives’. 

Mr Boynton certainly feels free to offer his view on hunting in Africa, even though — according to his Wikipedia page — he was born in Britain (though educated in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe) and has spent most of his career in this country, too.

Why should those who live outside Africa not have a say in Africa’s conservation? Lions, among other endangered species, are iconic to the world, making their future a global issue. And let’s face it, whoever is killing Africa’s trophy species, it’s not Africans, who have no history of killing animals for pleasure. 

It is curious that Mr Boynton thinks trophy hunting — a colonial construct if ever there was one — is the answer to the prayers of rural communities in Africa. 

In my experience, the pro-trophy hunting lobby often tries to portray its opponents as ’emotional’ or ‘uninformed’.

But there are plenty of scientists, conservationists, community leaders and citizens from Africa who oppose trophy hunting. I know. I have met them and talked to them during my own research. Besides, the move to ban the import of trophies is being driven from within the continent. 

A year ago, Barbara Creecy, South Africa’s environment minister, announced her intention to act on the recommendations of an independent committee, which spent months examining the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of lions and other species including elephants, leopards and rhinoceroses. 

Captive-lion breeding and hunting is now in line to be scrapped in South Africa, as are all tourist interactions with captive lions. The sale of products such as bones is also on course to be outlawed. 

I can think of no better way for Britain to support its Commonwealth partner’s efforts to get a grip on this complicated issue than by outlawing trophy imports. 

I don’t see how this could have a negative effect.

  • Lord Ashcroft is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For information about his work, visit lordashcroft.com and for more information on his wildlife work, visit lordashcroftwildlife.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook: @LordAshcroft

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