Figures suggest at least 715 animals, ranging from elephants to bears and leopards, have been killed by wealthy British hunters since October 2019, when the Conservatives first promised a ban in the Queen’s speech.
Every year, hunters from the UK travel abroad and pay thousands of pounds to legally shoot animals. They bring back bodies or body parts as souvenirs.
After several failed attempts in recent years to ban imports of “trophies” of endangered wildlife, a fresh drive is being made in parliament in the coming weeks, and stands on a knife edge.
The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting has used the trade database of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) to calculate numbers of bodies or body parts – such as skins, tails, heads, horns and feet imported – since October 2019.
The organisation counted 56 in the last three months of that year; 202 in 2020; 57 in 2021 – a lower tally because of Covid travel curbs – and estimates of 200 for 2022 and 2023. CBTH says that 200 figure is a conservative estimate, since British trophy imports have sometimes been 300 or more in a single year.
The species from which they came include lions; African elephants; Russian bears; American cougars and Asian mountain sheep.
The trophies include whole bodies of bears, elephant and giraffe feet; elephant and hippo tusks and the skins of leopards and zebras – species that are already under increasing pressure from habitat loss, climate change, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
Actor Peter Egan, a supporter of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said the failure to ban imports had led to hundreds of animals – many of them endangered – being “needlessly butchered” by British trophy hunters.
“It is incredible that the hunting trophy ban is not yet law,” he said.
Outlawing imports had been promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, and the pledge was repeated in the government’s “animal welfare action plan”â¯published in 2021. The proposed ban was included in the Animals Abroad Bill – but this was dropped after months of delay, to conservationists’ dismay.
A private member’s bill containing a ban was then scuppered when a group of lords tabled dozens of amendments designed to stop it passing.
Mr Egan added: “Over 44,000 stakeholders took part in the government’s extensive public consultation, of whom 86 per cent supported the proposals. The bill was backed by every party in the Commons – Labour even had an identical pledge in its manifesto.
“A ban has the backing of nine out of 10 voters. One would have thought that a government facing potential electoral wipeout would have moved heaven and earth to get such a popular bill passed.”
The star of Downton Abbey and Ever Decreasing Circles said the government would help ensure the survival of many Conservative MPs as well as innocent animals by passing the ban.
“The longer the delay, the more lions, elephants, giraffes and hippos will die needlessly at the hands of British trophy hunters. It is time to end this disgrace without any further dithering,” he said.
A private member’s bill by MP Henry Smith – banning trophy imports and drafted by the government – passed the Commons with support from MPs across the parties, but was blocked in the Lords when several peers tabled more than 60 amendments to discuss as the deadline approached and then expired.
Now Labour MP John Spellar has introduced another bill, again as a private member’s one and again containing a ban. It is due to have a second reading in the Commons on 22 March before progressing to the lords – where it’s feared peers could again decide to wreck it.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are committed to delivering on our pledge to ban the import of hunting trophies and will continue to explore ways to bring this forward.”