Should you live in Chipping Norton, Hampstead or even Westminster you won’t go to bed tonight worrying whether you’ll wake up to find an elephant has trampled your flower bed or a lion is waiting in the bushes to snatch your children as they leave for school.
But that’s the daily reality for poor Africans living in remote villages on a continent where wild animals are an ever-present threat.
Ironically, however, it is the affluent inhabitants of some of Britain’s most desirable areas, many of whom have a penchant for safari holidays, who have taken it upon themselves to decide just how those African villagers should deal with the animals they live alongside. In their infinite wisdom they have decided that a ban on the import of hunting trophies will help save Africa’s wildlife.
To this end they are backing two bills that are currently making their way through Parliament: the Animals Abroad Bill and the Hunting Trophy Import (Prohibition) Bill, a private member’s bill introduced by a Labour MP, John Spellar.
Both are enthusiastically supported by a group of ‘Vote Blue, go Green’ Tories, including the Prime Minster’s eco-conscious wife Carrie, her friend the animal rights activist Dominic Dyer, and a swathe of virtue-signalling celebs.
But they had a rude shock this week when they discovered that the Animals Abroad Bill, which was part of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto, had not been included in the Queen’s Speech.
Ironically it is the affluent inhabitants of some of Britain’s most desirable areas who have taken it upon themselves to decide just how those African villagers should deal with the animals they live alongside
The absence of the bill, which was set to include a ban on the trade in hunting trophies and the marketing of experiences overseas that are cruel to animals, such as elephant rides, provoked an immediate response from Mr Dyer.
As soon as Prince Charles had finished reading out the Government’s plans, the policy adviser with the Born Free Foundation jumped on Twitter and railed at Boris Johnson for dropping the legislation, suggesting that the Government’s ‘initial commitment to animal welfare and wildlife protection abroad has largely disappeared’.
He blamed a push-back from Right-wing Tory MPs and said he doubted that the Government intends getting the hunting trophy bill on the statute books before the end of this parliament.
The anti-hunting lobby is now pinning its hopes on Mr Spellar’s bill, which is currently receiving its second reading in the Commons. Its supporters include Zac Goldsmith, minister for the Pacific and the international environment at the Foreign Office, and Lord Ashcroft, whose investigations into South Africa’s ‘canned lion hunting’ trade have been published by this newspaper,
All have good intentions no doubt but, according to many Africans, their proposals are driven by emotion rather than science.
Activists gathered at Parliament Square calling for a ban on trophy hunting and trophy hunting imports
The Africans argue that all the bickering over legislation obscures the basic question of whether we have any business laying down the rules of how rural African communities should deal with the wild animals they are living with.
For while our home-grown animal rights activists are hoping that a ban on the import of hunting trophies will help save Africa’s wildlife, many scientists, African environmentalists and rural community leaders insist that such a measure will have the opposite effect.
The crux of the matter is that while wild animals pose a threat to rural Africans they also represent an economic opportunity. And they are happy to put up with the threat they pose if they can reap the benefits to be accrued from the sale of hunting licences, safari packages and handicrafts.
One fact that is often overlooked in the West is that between 60 and 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s wild animals live outside national parks and thus in and around African villages.
Having dangerous predators such as lions as daily companions and rampaging elephants ruining your crops on a regular basis tends to give rural Africans a different perspective on animal rights. So it is not surprising that these communities are outraged that their old colonial masters are still trying to tell them how to run their lives.
The Animals Abroad Bill and the Hunting Trophy Import (Prohibition) Bill are currently making their way through Parliament (stock image)
Both are enthusiastically supported by a group of ‘Vote Blue, go Green’ Tories, including the Prime Minster’s eco-conscious wife Carrie (above), her friend the animal rights activist Dominic Dyer, and a swathe of virtue-signalling celebs
In a letter to The Times in December 2020, 50 community leaders from eight African countries objected to ‘vested interests, often from the Global North, putting words in the mouths of rural Africans’.
These are people who have to live off the land, eking out a living in a pretty harsh environment. They have families to support; children to feed, clothe and educate.
As Maxi Pia Louis, the director of Namibia’s community conservation body NACSO, says: ‘Conservation is underfunded in Africa and is at the bottom of every African government’s agenda. There is no conservation model in the world that is perfect, but over the years we have brought wildlife back in areas, in countries, where it had almost gone. So why close down a model that has worked?’
The African community leaders point out that across seven African countries trophy-hunting brings in £162 million annually and in Namibia, which arguably has the best-run conservation model, hunting brings in £24 million every year.
That revenue contributes significantly to anti-poaching operations, and it is widely recognised by African conservationists that international poaching syndicates represent a far greater threat to species and habitat survival than controlled, regulated trophy hunting.
As soon as Prince Charles had finished reading out the Government’s plans, the policy adviser with the Born Free Foundation jumped on Twitter and railed at Boris Johnson for dropping the legislation
The Bubye Valley Conservancy in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where lions were introduced some 20 years ago and now number around 500, is a vivid example of the conservation benefits of trophy-hunting. The 16 hunting licences sold every year give the community an annual income of £1.2 million, much of which is used to protect the local rhino population from poachers.
Rhino poaching is rife across the continent, largely because the Chinese are prepared to pay astronomical sums for the shavings from rhino horns that are used in traditional medicine.
Illegal rhino horn sells for £29,000 a kilo (£13,155 per pound). Bubye is host to the country’s largest population of these endangered animals and while they bring no revenue to the land owners they are expensive animals to protect.
Were the income from hunting licences removed, the knock-on environmental effect would be catastrophic. In short, Zimbabwe would lose its rhinos.
‘Trophy hunting enables governments and landowners to maintain land under a wildlife-based use,’ says Amy Dickman, professor of wildlife conservation at Oxford University. ‘It therefore helps reduce the major threats to wild animals — human encroachment and poaching, for example.
‘If trophy hunting is well implemented and, critically, has the buy-in of local and national communities and governments you really do see an increase in wildlife populations.’ And to assess how much of a threat human encroachment is to wildlife, we need only look at the demographics.
Africa’s human population is in the process of growing exponentially. It stands at 1.25 billion today, but is set to double to around 2.5 billion by 2050, and then double again by the end of the century. The scientists say the pressure will be on to turn the vast rural landscape into farmland, raising cattle and growing crops to support the burgeoning human population and, if wild animals are unable to pay their way, cutting wildlife out of the equation.
Graeme and Greig Blundell, a father and son from Kinross, Scotland, are pictured with a zebra
This is an option that has already been embraced in some parts of the continent and if it becomes the predominant land-use model then we will see the end of wild Africa in our adult lifetime.
The common argument that trophy hunting can be easily replaced by photographic tourism displays a massive ignorance of both the international tourist industry and of African landscapes. Luxury safari tourism requires a sophisticated infrastructure, political and social stability, an absence of disease carriers such as the tsetse fly, and photogenic landscapes containing a wide variety of wildlife.
This picture-book backdrop does not apply to much of the African wild lands where hunting takes place. These are often harsh, remote, arid habitats that do not support the comforts of Western photographic tourism but add to the adventure of a lone hunter stalking a dangerous and elusive prey — the romance of the hunt.
When Lord Ashcroft conducted an expose of the horrors of the ‘canned lion’ industry in South Africa — an investigation he subsequently described in his book Unfair Game: An Exposé Of South Africa’s Captive-Bred Lion Industry — he was, in fact, addressing a small, albeit barbaric, aspect of the hunting business.
For years South African opportunists bred lions in captivity solely for the purpose of providing them as soft targets for lazy or incompetent hunters.
Lord Ashcroft’s investigation into this practice is widely regarded as an important exposé that has led to a significant re-examination of the industry in South Africa and may indeed lead to its outright banning.
What Lord Ashcroft and many Western anti-hunting activists have brought to the discussion is emotion. This has been ably supported in the Twitter-sphere by an army of celebrities – notably Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley (above) and Piers Morgan
What the celebrities have to support their anti-hunting arguments are the photographs of overweight Texans squatting on the carcasses of dead male lions. Pictured: Charlie Reynolds standing with a giraffe
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), arguably the world’s biggest conservation organisation, is appalled by the canned lion hunting industry and has condemned it.
But IUCN spokesmen make it clear that to conflate the canned lion hunting industry with the broader trophy hunting business is a mistake. ‘It’s the same with poaching,’ says Dr Dilys Roe, chairman of the IUCN sustainable use and livelihoods specialist group. ‘The anti-hunting lobby almost deliberately conflates poaching with trophy hunting.’
What Lord Ashcroft and many Western anti-hunting activists have brought to the discussion is emotion. This has been ably supported in the Twitter-sphere by an army of celebrities – notably Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley and Piers Morgan — who, without an ounce of scientific support, claim that trophy hunting will bring about the end of animals in the wild.
The point here is that, while these celebrities have online audiences numbering millions, the rural Africans living cheek-by-jowl with wild animals don’t have access to a mobile phone signal and are therefore voiceless.
What the celebrities have to support their anti-hunting arguments are the photographs of overweight Texans squatting on the carcasses of dead male lions or giraffes or big tusker elephants in unedifying displays of faux masculinity.
Such images do little for the argument that big-game hunting has an altruistic, conservationist hinterland. And you don’t have to be a woke activist to find the idea of cutting off a wild animal’s head and mounting it on the study wall primitive and somewhat 19th century.
Such images do little for the argument that big-game hunting has an altruistic, conservationist hinterland. Pictured: Unnamed British hunter with an elephant
The hunting industry clearly has to get its house in order and persuade its more reckless practitioners to rein in their social media braggadocio if they are to win over the supporters of the scientific argument.
At the end of 2019 two British-based environmental scientists, Professor Dickman and Dr Roe, had a meeting with Zac Goldsmith, one of the main protagonists of the Tory anti-hunting movement.
They brought a sheaf of documents that offered the scientific justification for supporting a regulated and closely monitored big-game hunting industry in Africa.
As they walked Lord Goldsmith through their carefully prepared, scientifically verified documentation, they were keenly aware that he had taken in their detailed presentations.
‘We cannot expect the poorest people in the world to maintain something that is largely valued by the richest people in the world. That is not a sustainable model,’ Professor Dickman told him.
Lord Goldsmith listened, absorbed the information and then said: ‘I hear what you’re saying. But hunting. I just hate it. I hate it.’
Clearly, for the moment the emotional idealism of Westerners is winning over the pragmatic economic demands of rural Africans.