On 13 April 2019 hundreds of people marched through London to call for an immediate ban on the import of hunting trophies to the UK.

    At the end of the march a group of campaigners went to No. 10 Downing St to deliver AFE’s 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.[1]

    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. 

    Ways forward

    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.[2]

    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.


    Denise Dresner
    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:

    Alexia Abnett
    Director, Southern African Fight for Rhinos

    Drew Abrahamson
    Founder, Captured In Africa Foundation

    Jane Alexandra, Louise Ravula
    Co-founders, Two Million Tusks

    Rosemary Alles
    Co-founder, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

    Damian Aspinall
    Chairman, The Aspinall Foundation

    Claire Bass
    Executive Director, Humane Society International UK

    Catherine Bearder, MEP

    Reinhard Behrend
    Founder, Rettet den Regenwald e.V. (Rainforest Rescue)

    Candice Bergen
    Actress & conservationist

    Professor David Bilchitz
    University of Johannesburg; Director, South African Institute for Advanced
    Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law

    Scott Blais
    CEO/Co-founder of Global Sanctuary for Elephants

    Karen Botha
    Chief Executive, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

    Rob Brandford
    Director, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

    Laura Bridgeman
    Acting Director, In Defense of Animals (USA)

    Gordon Buchanan
    Wildlife photographer and conservationist

    Carol Buckley
    Founder, Elephant Aid International

    Reute Butler
    President, Friends of Conservation

    Nicky Campbell OBE
    Broadcaster and journalist

    Salisha Chandra
    Founding member, Kenyans United Against Poaching – KUAPO Trust

    Giles Clark
    Director of Conservation, Big Cat Sanctuary and TV Presenter

    Jilly Cooper

    David Cowdrey FRGS
    Head of Policy & Campaigns, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

    Jan Creamer
    President, Animal Defenders International (ADI)

    Cormac Cullinan
    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

    Audrey Delsink
    Wildlife Director: HSI-Africa

    Heli Dungler
    Founder, FOUR PAWS International

    Lee Durrell
    Honorary Director, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

    Dave Du Toit
    Founder, Vervet Monkey Foundation

    Peter Egan

    Stefania Falcon
    Founder, Future 4 Wildlife – Africa

    Dr Christian Felix
    Board Member, Future for Elephants e.V.

    Sudarshani Fernando
    Sentinels Against Wildlife Crime (SAWC, Sri Lanka)

    Eduardo Gonçalves
    President, Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting

    Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE
    Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

    Birgit Hampl
    Founder, For the Giants (Germany)

    Iris Ho
    Senior Specialist, Wildlife Programs and Policy, Humane Society International

    Sujeewa Jasinghe
    Centre for Eco-cultural Studies (CES, Sri Lanka)

    Dr Lynn Johnson
    Founder & CEO, Nature Needs More

    Stanley Johnson
    Author and Co-Chairman, Environmentalists for Europe

    Simon Jones
    Founder and CEO, Helping Rhinos

    Max and Josh Kauderer
    Founders, Elephant Highway

    Alan Knight OBE
    CEO, International Animal Rescue

    Andrew Knight
    Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, Founding Director,
    Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Winchester

    Laurene K. Knowles
    Founder, President, Elemotion Foundation

    Bella Lack
    Born Free Ambassador & member of Ivory Alliance 2024

    Rob Laidlaw
    Executive Director, Zoocheck Inc

    Professor Phyllis Lee
    Director of Science, Amboseli Trust for Elephants

    Jan Leeming
    TV presenter

    Dr. Smaragda Louw
    Director, Ban Animal Trading
    Compassion In Action

    Matt Lucas
    Comedian and actor

    Joanna Lumley

    Dr Niall McCann
    Conservation Director, National Park Rescue

    Virginia McKenna OBE, Hon Dr Science
    Founder, Born Free Foundation

    Duncan McNair
    CEO, Save the Asian Elephants

    Christine Macsween
    Co-founder, LionAid

    Chris Mercer
    Founder, Campaign against Canned Hunting

    Marcelle Meredith
    Executive Director, National Council of SPCAs South Africa

    Fiona Miles
    Country Director, Four Paws South Africa

    Dr Les Mitchell
    Pax Gaia and ICAS Africa

    Kate Moore
    Programmes Director, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust

    Stephen Munro
    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)

    Lesley Nicol
    Actress and conservationist

    Edward Norton
    Filmmaker & UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity

    Sue Olsen
    Founder, Olsen Animal Trust

    Paul Oxton
    Founder/Director, Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation

    Michael Palin, KCMG, CBE, FRGS
    Writer, actor and broadcaster

    Linda Park, Sarah Dyer
    Co-founders, Voice4Lions

    Asgar Pathan
    Executive Director , Care for the Wild, Kenya

    Donalea Patman OAM
    Founding Director, For the Love of Wildlife Limited

    Michele Pickover
    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

    Melanie Reiner
    Managing Director, Animals United e.V.

    Dan Richardson
    Actor and conservationist

    Professor Alice Roberts
    Biological anthropologist, author and broadcaster

    Dr Jill Robinson MBE
    Founder & CEO, Animals Asia Foundation

    Caroline Ruane
    CEO, Naturewatch Foundation, Coordinators of the World Animal Day movement

    Dr Adam Rutherford
    Geneticist, author & broadcaster

    Noor Santosian
    Co-founder and President, Africa Nomads Conservation

    John Sauven
    Executive Director, Greenpeace UK

    Elizabeth Schrank
    Founder and Director, Elephantopia

    William Shatner

    Stephen Sibbald
    UK Country Director, World Animal Protection

    The Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith
    Bishop of St Albans

    Dr Bool Smuts
    Director & Founder, Landmark Foundation

    Patsy Stagman
    Rhino Conservation Dubai

    John Stephenson
    CEO, Stop Ivory

    Yvette Taylor
    Director, Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization

    Janet Thomas
    Founder and CEO, Animal Aid Abroad (Australia)

    Carl Thornton
    Founder & Director, PitTrack K9 Conservation

    Thomas Töpfer
    Chairman, Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas e.V.

    Will Travers
    President, Born Free Foundation

    Helen Turnbull
    CEO, The Cape Leopard Trust

    Sarah Uhlemann
    Director International Program & Senior Attorney
    Center for Biological Diversity

    Amy Wilson
    Co-founder, Animal Law Reform South Africa

    Rory Young
    Co-founder, Chengeta Wildlife

    Members of Parliament

    Heidi Allen (Ind)
    South Cambridgeshire

    Sir David Amess (Con)
    Southend Wes

    Hilary Benn (Lab)
    Leeds Central

    Clive Betts (Lab)
    Sheffield South East

    Tom Brake (LibDem)
    Carshalton and Wallington

    Alan Brown (SNP)
    Kilmarnock & Loudon

    Rosie Cooper (Lab)
    West Lancashire

    Sir David Crausby (Lab)
    Bolton North East

    Jim Cunningham (Lab)
    Coventry South

    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)
    North Thanet

    Zac Goldsmith (Con)
    Richmond Park & North Kingston

    Helen Hayes (Lab)
    Dulwich and West Norwood

    Kelvin Hopkins (Ind)
    Luton North

    Andrea Jenkyns (Con)
    Morley & Outwood

    Sir Greg Knight (Con)
    East Yorkshire

    Peter Kyle (Lab)

    Pauline Latham (Con)
    Mid Derbyshire

    Emma Little Pengelly (DUP)
    Belfast South

    Caroline Lucas (Green)
    Brighton, Pavilion

    Ian Lucas (Lab)

    Kerry McCarthy (Lab)
    Bristol East

    Stuart McDonald (SNP)
    Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

    Catherine McKinnell (Lab)
    Newcastle upon Tyne North

    Rachael Maskell (Lab Co-op)
    York Central

    Carol Monaghan (SNP)
    Glasgow North West

    Jessica Morden (Lab)
    Newport East

    Matthew Pennycook (Lab)
    Greenwich and Woolwich

    Rebecca Pow (Con)
    Taunton Deane

    Virendra Sharma (Lab)
    Ealing, Southall

    Tommy Sheppard (SNP)
    Edinburgh East

    Angela Smith (Ind)
    Penistone and Stocksbridge

    Alex Sobel (Lab Co-op)
    Leeds North West

    John Spellar (Lab)

    Wes Streeting (Lab)
    Ilford North

    Graham Stringer (Lab)
    Blackley and Broughton

    Giles Watling (Con)

    Daniel Zeichner (Lab)

    House of Lords

    Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb

    Baroness Young of Old Scone

    [1]Dereck Joubert sets the record straight about trophy hunting impact on lions and refutes claims of so-called benefits’, Africa Geographic Feb 2019.

    [2]Strengthening Partnerships in African Conservation: Kenya’s Wildlife Conservancies Movement’, Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group, Aug. 2018.

    ©2018 Action for Elephants. All rights reserved.

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