Britain’s international environment minister Zac Goldsmith and famous anti-trophy campaigners like Ricky Gervais have been accused of neo-colonialism by African community leaders, who warn they are ignoring the voices of people who live alongside elephants, lions and other wild animals.
The UK government is expected to propose a ban on the import of hunting trophies during this Parliament, arguing that the new law will strengthen the conservation of endangered species.
With broad support from the British public and a trophy-hunting campaign backed by celebrities such as Gervais, Brian May, Ed Sheeran and Joanna Lumley, a ban would be popular and similar legislation is expected in other European countries.
In 2015, the killing of Cecil the lion by a trophy hunter in Zimbabwe sparked global outrage and revulsion at the industry, with hunters paying tens of thousands of pounds to shoot and pose with the bodies of wild animals such as giraffes, elephants and leopards.
But a growing number of African scientists, conservationists and community leaders have warned that the new law could accelerate wildlife loss, pointing to the contributions of regulated trophy hunting to the recovery of black and white rhino populations in Namibia and South Africa, and the snow leopard. in Tajikistan.
During a visit to London last week, Maxi Pia Louis, a Namibian representative of communities from nine southern African countries, met with Goldsmith and other British politicians to express her opposition to the ban in its current form, insisting that it would remove financial incentives to protect wildlife without providing an alternative.
“Africans are not consulted, especially in southern Africa where we have the majority of wildlife. If there is no incentive to conserve wildlife, we will see a lot of land lost to agriculture. You can imagine what will happen to lions and elephants that need large litters,” said Pia Louis, who also meets the European Parliament and other governments during her visit with colleagues.
“I am not a hunter. I don’t like guns. I saw people killed with guns under apartheid in Namibia, but that doesn’t give me a reason to deprive people of their livelihoods,” she said.
Since independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia’s community-based conservation approach, which allows regulated trophy hunting, has had remarkable success in restoring populations of elephants, lions, leopards , cheetahs and desert giraffes, which fell due to poaching in the 1970s and 1980s.
Pia Louis said she was surprised by Goldsmith’s suggestion during their conversation that Namibia could learn from the example of Costa Rica, which has gained international acclaim for its success in stopping and reversal of tropical deforestation, but has a climate very different from hot and arid conditions. of the South West African country.
Africans have no say in the UK deer hunting industry, she said, and local communities should be free to decide how to live alongside potentially dangerous wildlife.
“[The ban] is a form of neocolonialism. We are open to discussions as long as there is mutual respect,” she said. “Who is Ricky Gervais? We don’t even know him. Celebrities have the money, influence and access to social media, not our communities. He should stand up for the vulnerable.
Louis invited Gervais, Goldsmith and other famous activists to Namibia to see the conservancies in action.
Gervais was a strong supporter of a total ban on imports of hunting trophies, encouraging his 14 million Twitter followers to write to the British government to support a change in the law. He also said that trophy hunting is not conservation, reject it as “a lie to allow rich psychopaths to shoot things and corrupt officials to make money”.
In January, some experts warned that the UK ban risked undermining the conservation of rhinos, elephants and other endangered species, proposing a smart ban on imports instead. Guardian writer George Monbiot is among those who changed his mind about trophy hunting, warn that a ban without financial alternatives would accelerate the slaughter of wildlife.
A British government spokesman said it remained committed to imposing “one of the toughest bans in the world” on trophies from thousands of species, adding that it would help protect endangered animals and strengthen and support their long-term conservation. Ricky Gervais declined to comment.
Earlier this year, conservation experts met with Defra’s chief scientists to explain the science behind trophy hunting-based conservation models. Dilys Roe, head of IUCN’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, said while there were damaging examples of trophy hunting, the practice was not leading to species extinction. .
“From a scientific perspective, the main threats driving species extinctions are habitat loss as the absolute key threat, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict. trophies can actually solve some of them. The evidence for trophy hunting is much more positive than negative,” she said.
“We really believe that decisions are made based on politics and emotions rather than science.”