The killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in July 2015 by a dentist from Minnesota has generated a great deal of public outrage and concern about the ethics and sustainability of trophy hunting.
Born Free is wholly opposed to the killing of animals for sport or pleasure, whether they are wild-born or bred in captivity. We have been working to bring the brutality of this so-called ‘sport’ to the attention of policymakers, enforcement bodies, and the public, for many years.
Our ongoing efforts include attempting to persuade those countries that still allow trophy hunting to restrict or ban the practice. Among African countries, Kenya banned trophy hunting in 1977, and Botswana has recently followed suit. In Central America, Costa Rica introduced a strict ban in 2012. These enlightened countries are showing the way forward.
We also focus on the countries from which most trophy hunters emanate, by calling for tighter restrictions, and ultimately complete bans, on the importation of animal ‘trophies’. If hunters can’t bring their trophies home, we are convinced that they will be far less likely to engage in expensive trophy hunts.
In the USA, the largest importer of animal trophies, we push for at-risk species to be listed on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which, among other things, restricts trophy imports. Thanks to our efforts and those of our partner organisations, lions are about to be listed as ‘threatened’. However, getting species listed on the ESA can be a long and arduous process, so we have also been at the forefront of developing and promoting the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act, which will extend import and export prohibitions to sport-hunted species that have been proposed for listing, but are not yet listed under the ESA. The CECIL Act had its first reading in the US Senate in August 2015.
A large number of trophy hunters also come from EU countries. Some 117,000 animal trophy items derived from around 140 species were legally imported into the EU from 2004 to 2013. The most common species was the African elephant (14,666 items), followed by hippopotamus (14,205) and American black bear (12,077). Significant numbers of specimens derived from leopards (4,016), African lions (3,308) and white rhinos (1,270) were also imported into EU countries. While these numbers do not necessarily equate to individual animals, nevertheless they indicate the huge scale of the problem.
We are working with the European Commission and EU member States to ban trophy imports, or at the very least to persuade the authorities to strictly apply their own rules relating to threatened species. Those rules require importing EU countries to establish that trophy hunts do not damage wildlife populations, and for the most endangered species, that they actually enhance conservation. In the firm belief that trophy hunting has no conservation benefit, and in most cases is harmful to conservation, we believe that by strictly applying its existing rules, the EU will not be able to issue permits to allow hunters to bring their trophies home.
We are also calling on transport companies to stop transporting animal trophies. To this end we have written, both directly and jointly with other groups, to a wide range of airlines, international couriers, and shipping companies urging them to adopt or strengthen restrictions on trophy carriage. Kenya Airways have shown the way forward, working with Born Free to promote ethical policies.
Lastly, we are working to end to the appalling ‘canned hunting’ industry in South Africa, which intensively breeds lions and some other wild animals in terrible conditions to be released into enclosed areas and shot by so-called ‘hunters’. Currently, in South Africa, far more lions live in captivity — often on game ranches — than remain in the wild; according to the South African government there are at least 6,000 lions in more than 200 captive breeding facilities in the country, compared to an estimated 3155 wild and managed wild lions. These captive bred animals are commercially exploited throughout their lives; unwitting volunteers pay to help hand-rear cubs, unsuspecting tourists are encouraged to participate in photographic and ‘walking with lions’ opportunities, and ultimately the trophy hunters pay for the privilege of killing them in their canned hunting enclosures. Even after they have been killed, the exploitation continues through the sale of bones and other body parts into international trade, which feeds a growing demand that threatens to incentivise wild lion poaching. We are appealing to the South African authorities to ban this cruel practice, and we hosted the launch of ‘Blood Lions’, a disturbing but compelling film exposing the industry, at both the European Parliament in Brussels and at London’s Royal Geographic Society in November 2015.
At Born Free we absolutely reject the argument put forward by hunters that trophy hunting is a sustainable conservation tool, or that it generates significant income for conservation. Instead, we promote compassionate solutions to conservation challenges, which encourage the development of sustainable and non-consumptive opportunities to generate income from wildlife while implicitly respecting and protecting the inherent value of individual wild animals and the natural world.