Open letter to Theresa May calling for an immediate ban on the import of hunting trophies.
On 13 April 2019 hundreds of people marched through London to call for an immediate ban on the import of hunting trophies.
At the end of the march a group of campaigners went to No. 10 Downing St to deliver Action for Elephants’ open letter to Theresa May, signed by Jane Goodall, Virginia McKenna, Michael Palin, William Shatner and many more. The full text of the letter follows.
13 April 2019
Dear Prime Minister,
The world’s iconic species and megafauna are disappearing in our lifetimes. Elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes, leopards and tigers are all threatened with extinction in the wild, their numbers a fraction of what they once were. Decimated by poaching, habitat loss, conflict with humans, and the vast trade in their body parts, these animals are also losing their lives to hunters who gratuitously kill them for ‘sport’.
We write today to ask the UK government to help bring an end to this practice and stop granting imports of hunting trophies to the UK, starting with urgent action on protected species.
The number of animals killed by trophy hunters is staggering: in total, 1.7 million trophies were legally traded worldwide between 2004 and 2014, around 200,000 of them from threatened species. Of these, 2,500 were brought home by British hunters, including hundreds of heads, feet, tails, hides, tusks and horns from some of the most endangered species like rhino and elephant. In this period, elephants were being poached in their tens of thousands each year to cater to the global demand for ivory, yet they were still deemed fair game for trophy hunters.
Lions fared the worst, hit with the biggest increase in trophy hunting among the Big Five since 2004: around 13,800 lion trophies were traded over the subsequent decade. Lion numbers plunged 43% between 1993 and 2014. Cecil’s death in 2015 prompted the UK government to conduct a study on the impact of trophy hunting, but no further action was taken and lion trophies continued to be imported in the following years.
In South Africa, a huge captive industry breeds lions to be killed by trophy hunters and for trade in their bones and other body parts, mainly to Asia. More than 8,000 lions are caged in these death facilities while only 1,300-1,700 adults survive in the wild. In Africa as a whole, as few as 20,000 wild lions remain, and in some areas have been persecuted and hunted beyond recovery.
Giraffe populations have crashed by 40% in the past 30 years. In 2018 two subspecies were listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN list. In the U.S., hunters brought back trophies from 3,563 giraffes between 2006 and 2015.
While the numbers are shocking, the true impact of trophy hunting goes far wider. Besides the loss of an individual animal, its removal can set off a cascade of destructive consequences for its family and social group, its gene pool and the survival of future generations. Trophy hunters fail to grasp these consequences when they talk about ‘helping conservation’ by removing old and weak individuals. In any event, hunters like to kill the largest and strongest animals to impress their fellow hunters. If a mature male lion is killed, his young cubs will likely be killed by the new pride male, which not only adds to the steady decline in numbers but may remove the strongest and fittest genes. Infanticide, changes in offspring sex ratio, uncontrolled aggression in juvenile males are just some of the consequences that have been observed. Killing an elephant matriarch or mature bull will eliminate huge stores of knowledge and experience that would otherwise be passed on and are vital to elephants’ survival and social cohesion. On an invisible level, the trauma and loss can leave an impact for generations.
Hunting practices such as shooting animals in breeding herds or killing a collared animal further deplete numbers – worse, they take out key individuals and undermine conservation measures by disrupting vital research. In 2018 a giant collared bull elephant in Zimbabwe and another collared tusker in South Africa were killed. With only a few super tuskers left, the loss of these repositories of knowledge and genes is nothing short of catastrophic.
Does hunting help conservation or communities?
Hunting proponents argue that trophy hunting is a key part of conservation strategies and that it benefits local communities. However, there is little evidence to support either claim. Only a fraction of hunting fees and associated revenue ever reach local communities or wildlife protection agencies, with the vast majority disappearing into the pockets of foreign hunting outfitters or corrupt officials. Local communities may receive meat from a kill, or find seasonal employment on game farms – piecemeal, transient benefits that reflect a paternalistic and inequitable status quo. However, trophy hunting has done little to address or alleviate endemic problems of poverty, change the distribution of wealth between landowners and workers, or, crucially, engage, train and equip African nationals in the stewardship of their wildlife.
Does hunting contribute to a country’s economy?
On a wider scale, trophy hunting’s economic contribution is virtually nil, providing only 0.06% of GDP in the countries where it’s practised. When viewed in the context of Africa’s overall tourism sector, trophy hunting revenues of 1.8% pale in comparison to non-consumptive wildlife tourism, which accounts for 80% of total tourism (UNTWO). Big-game hunting uses vast areas of land without generating corresponding returns; to secure these areas, the land could be better used for non-consumptive wildlife tourism, where practicable.
By every measure, trophy hunting has only detrimental impacts on the already threatened animal populations it targets, is unsustainable and brings little or no meaningful benefits to communities.
It is time to end trophy hunting altogether and focus on lasting, sustainable solutions that work for conservation and for communities. Conservancies provide a working model for the joint management of lands by private partnerships and communities, and aim to protect wildlife and generate sustainable income for the community. In Kenya, networks of conservancies based on collaborative strategies for land use are expanding, increasing tourism revenue and bringing economic benefits to communities.
This is an opportunity for the UK to support such initiatives with international development aid. As MPs noted during the Ivory Bill readings in 2018, there is a clear link between poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability, and the work of the DFID must reflect this. Such aid programmes can work with communities toward solutions that lift people out of poverty and offer them a future where the protection of their natural heritage brings tangible and lasting benefits.
When it comes to saving the last of Earth’s megafauna, it is not only a question of conservation but a moral imperative. Animals that once teemed in their millions have been largely wiped out, part of an anthropocentric extinction event that has claimed 60% of the Earth’s fauna in the past 50 years. Today, the last of these animals continue to be relentlessly killed for their body parts to feed the demand for trinkets, bushmeat and fake medicinal cures. But even at this late hour it’s not too late to save them and put in place the protections they need to recover and thrive in the wild. Banning the import of hunting trophies will send a clear message to the international community that there is no place for trophy hunting in this day and age.
We hope the British government will act quickly to implement such a ban and will lead the way in urging other countries to do the same. As with the Ivory Bill, the government can expect full and enthusiastic support from the British public for this move.
We look forward to your reply and hope to hear good news from your government soon.
Action for Elephants UK
cc: Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Note: The figures cited are from CITES Trade Database, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK, and from IUCN.
And the undersigned:
Director, Southern African Fight for Rhinos
Founder, Captured In Africa Foundation
Jane Alexandra, Louise Ravula
Co-founders, Two Million Tusks
Co-founder, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos
Chairman, The Aspinall Foundation
Executive Director, Humane Society International UK
Catherine Bearder, MEP
Founder, Rettet den Regenwald e.V. (Rainforest Rescue)
Actress & conservationist
Professor David Bilchitz
University of Johannesburg; Director, South African Institute for Advanced
Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law
CEO/Co-founder of Global Sanctuary for Elephants
Chief Executive, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Director, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Acting Director, In Defense of Animals (USA)
Wildlife photographer and conservationist
Founder, Elephant Aid International
President, Friends of Conservation
Nicky Campbell OBE
Broadcaster and journalist
Founding member, Kenyans United Against Poaching – KUAPO Trust
Director of Conservation, Big Cat Sanctuary and TV Presenter
David Cowdrey FRGS
Head of Policy & Campaigns, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
President, Animal Defenders International (ADI)
Director, Wild Law Institute (South Africa)
Dr Mahinda Deegalle
Reader in Study of Religions, Philosophies and Ethics
Arend de Haas
Co-founder & Director, African Conservation Foundation
Dr Louise de Waal
Sustainable Tourism Consultant and Creative Writer
Green Girls in Africa
Wildlife Director: HSI-Africa
Founder, FOUR PAWS International
Honorary Director, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Dave Du Toit
Founder, Vervet Monkey Foundation
Founder, Future 4 Wildlife – Africa
Dr Christian Felix
Board Member, Future for Elephants e.V.
Sentinels Against Wildlife Crime (SAWC, Sri Lanka)
President, Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting
Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE
Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace
Founder, For the Giants (Germany)
Senior Specialist, Wildlife Programs and Policy, Humane Society International
Centre for Eco-cultural Studies (CES, Sri Lanka)
Dr Lynn Johnson
Founder & CEO, Nature Needs More
Author and Co-Chairman, Environmentalists for Europe
Founder and CEO, Helping Rhinos
Max and Josh Kauderer
Founders, Elephant Highway
Alan Knight OBE
CEO, International Animal Rescue
Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, Founding Director,
Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Winchester
Laurene K. Knowles
Founder, President, Elemotion Foundation
Born Free Ambassador & member of Ivory Alliance 2024
Executive Director, Zoocheck Inc
Professor Phyllis Lee
Director of Science, Amboseli Trust for Elephants
Dr. Smaragda Louw
Director, Ban Animal Trading
Compassion In Action
Comedian and actor
Dr Niall McCann
Conservation Director, National Park Rescue
Virginia McKenna OBE, Hon Dr Science
Founder, Born Free Foundation
CEO, Save the Asian Elephants
Founder, Campaign against Canned Hunting
Executive Director, National Council of SPCAs South Africa
Country Director, Four Paws South Africa
Dr Les Mitchell
Pax Gaia and ICAS Africa
Programmes Director, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust
Managing Director, The Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education (C.A.R.E.)
Ingrid E. Newkirk
Founder, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Actress and conservationist
Filmmaker & UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity
Founder, Olsen Animal Trust
Founder/Director, Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
Michael Palin, KCMG, CBE, FRGS
Writer, actor and broadcaster
Linda Park, Sarah Dyer
Executive Director , Care for the Wild, Kenya
Donalea Patman OAM
Founding Director, For the Love of Wildlife Limited
Director, EMS Foundation
Ian Redmond OBE
Independent Wildlife Biologist
Co-Founder of the Elefriends campaign (1989) and Ambassador
for the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species
Managing Director, Animals United e.V.
Actor and conservationist
Professor Alice Roberts
Biological anthropologist, author and broadcaster
Dr Jill Robinson MBE
Founder & CEO, Animals Asia Foundation
CEO, Naturewatch Foundation, Coordinators of the World Animal Day movement
Dr Adam Rutherford
Geneticist, author & broadcaster
Co-founder and President, Africa Nomads Conservation
Executive Director, Greenpeace UK
Founder and Director, Elephantopia
UK Country Director, World Animal Protection
The Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith
Bishop of St Albans
Dr Bool Smuts
Director & Founder, Landmark Foundation
Rhino Conservation Dubai
CEO, Stop Ivory
Director, Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization
Founder and CEO, Animal Aid Abroad (Australia)
Founder & Director, PitTrack K9 Conservation
Chairman, Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas e.V.
President, Born Free Foundation
CEO, The Cape Leopard Trust
Director International Program & Senior Attorney
Center for Biological Diversity
Co-founder, Animal Law Reform South Africa
Co-founder, Chengeta Wildlife
Members of Parliament
Heidi Allen (Ind)
Sir David Amess (Con)
Hilary Benn (Lab)
Clive Betts (Lab)
Sheffield South East
Tom Brake (LibDem)
Carshalton and Wallington
Alan Brown (SNP)
Kilmarnock & Loudon
Rosie Cooper (Lab)
Sir David Crausby (Lab)
Bolton North East
Jim Cunningham (Lab)
Sir Edward Davey (LibDem)
Kingston & Surbiton
Martyn Day (SNP)
Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Emma Dent Coad (Lab)
David Drew (Lab Co-op)
Tim Farron (LibDem)
Westmorland and Lonsdale
Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab)
Poplar and Limehouse
Yvonne Fovargue (Lab)
Sir Roger Gale (Con)
Zac Goldsmith (Con)
Richmond Park & North Kingston
Helen Hayes (Lab)
Dulwich and West Norwood
Kelvin Hopkins (Ind)
Andrea Jenkyns (Con)
Morley & Outwood
Sir Greg Knight (Con)
Peter Kyle (Lab)
Pauline Latham (Con)
Emma Little Pengelly (DUP)
Caroline Lucas (Green)
Ian Lucas (Lab)
Kerry McCarthy (Lab)
Stuart McDonald (SNP)
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East
Catherine McKinnell (Lab)
Newcastle upon Tyne North
Rachael Maskell (Lab Co-op)
Carol Monaghan (SNP)
Glasgow North West
Jessica Morden (Lab)
Matthew Pennycook (Lab)
Greenwich and Woolwich
Rebecca Pow (Con)
Virendra Sharma (Lab)
Tommy Sheppard (SNP)
Angela Smith (Ind)
Penistone and Stocksbridge
Alex Sobel (Lab Co-op)
Leeds North West
John Spellar (Lab)
Wes Streeting (Lab)
Graham Stringer (Lab)
Blackley and Broughton
Giles Watling (Con)
Daniel Zeichner (Lab)
House of Lords
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Baroness Young of Old Scone
 ‘Dereck Joubert sets the record straight about trophy hunting impact on lions and refutes claims of so-called benefits’, Africa Geographic Feb 2019.
 ‘Strengthening Partnerships in African Conservation: Kenya’s Wildlife Conservancies Movement’, Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group, Aug. 2018.