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The UK trophy hunting ban and some hard truths about preservationism



Over the last several years, animal rights organizations in the UK have pushed the government to ban the importation of animal parts. Interesting enough, the UK government has not sought testimony from conservation scientists researching these animals nor from the sovereign governments and rural indigenous communities that may be adversely affected by such bans.


In this Shepherds of the Wild vlog, listen as host Tom Opre talks about these issues with conservationists Nikolaj Bichel and John Shields.



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TRANSCRIPT:


Tom Opre:

Hey folks, this is Tom Opre, your host understanding everything related to wildlife and habitat conservation. I asked the tough questions regarding man's impact on the world's wildlife, raw and unfiltered. I strive to have you fully understand the real issues at hand. Our goal ensuring the world's wildlife and wildlife habitat exists forever. Sit back and enjoy another excellent discussion.



Hey folks, I'm Tom Opre here with the Shepherds of the Wild. We got an incredible discussion here today. Something that's in the news all over the world. We see it in both the British Columbia. We've seen it at throughout the United States, and now we're seeing a lot of headlines coming out at the UK. Well, what is that subject? Well, it's trophy hunting bans, seems to be all the rage of politicians this day. In the British Columbia three years ago, the NDP government came out and said they would vote for them.


And they would go ahead and enact a trophy hunting ban on grizzly bears. Here in the United States, we've seen politicians, governors so forth that have said, hey vote for me. And I'm going to go ahead and ban black bear hunting or some other form of hunting. In the UK right now there's [inaudible 00:01:14] this trophy hunting ban that will literally ban the importation of almost 7,000 species of animals into the United Kingdom.


I guess the question I've here is trophy hunting or what we need to establish is what is trophy hunting? I've got Nikolaj Bichel here. Nikolaj is currently in Hong Kong. He's just finished up his Doctorate at the University of Hong Kong. You're a social science guy dealing with a lot of the issues around trophy hunting. I also have John Shields from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. He is the Vice Chairman. So I'm hoping that you two guys can help teach me and our viewers about really what is a trophy hunting ban in particular what's going on right now in the UK. And what are the effects of these bans? So Nikolaj, tell us a little bit about what a trophy hunting ban is?


Nikolaj Bichel:


Basically what the UK has just done is they have this animals abroad bill, which details, how they could take care of both conservation and animal welfare abroad. Recently, they had a meeting with three witnesses, animal rights organizations, and also the campaign to ban trophy hunting. And they were heard the reports from these witnesses, which contained quite a lot of misinformation about what trophy hunting actually is and the about wildlife numbers and so on.


And following from this meeting, they recently reported that they were going to ban the imports of 7,000 endangered species or nearly 7,000 endangered species where they would ban the trophy imports for them. But it's quite unclear that we don't really have anything more than that. We don't have any timeline for when this is actually going to happen. And it's also very unclear what these 7,000 species actually are because the number 7,000 to me, it doesn't really seem to make any sense to ban the imports of 7,000 trophy species. Because as far as I know, if you look at the record books for trophies of the record organizations like Safari Club International for example. In their record book, they have less than 500 different species that are actually trophy hunted.


Tom Opre:

And you're talking about less than 500 in their total record book. So there's nothing anywhere close to 7,000 is what you're saying.


Nikolaj Bichel:

Less than 500 species can be set to be trophy hunted in any meaningful way. And furthermore, these 7,000 species are set to be 7,000 endangered species and the 500 species, less than 500 that I think are actually trophy under that's all species. So how many are actually endangered? That's considerably less. I don't even know. But no matter with the specifics of these numbers, one thing is for certain is that the number 7,000 doesn't make any sense at all. So I took a look at the Cites trade database for international trade in endangered species. And the UK has had trophy imports for 73 different species in the last 40 years, since 1981.


Tom Opre:

So what you're saying is that they want to ban the importation of almost 7,000 animals yet. There's literally less than a 100 animal species that have been brought in over the last 40 years. You brought up these experts that the government in the UK brought up. I'd say John, I mean, you're from the UK, who are these people?


John Shields:

Let me explain a little bit what the process is, the way that parliament passes a bill like this, the government will have a first two readings as they're called in the commons. When MPs have a discussion about the bill, it's then thrown into where we now, which is a committee stage. And during that stage, the relevant government department in this case, DEFRA has an opportunity to cross examine witnesses, receive evidence. The government has also done a consultation, and I know people have opinions about how even handed the government's opinion on that consultation. But in theory, this is put before the committee. Now I had an exchange with one of the civil servants responsible for this committee, following the government's announcement last week about proceeding with its plans regardless of apparently what inputs conservation scientists and local communities have tried to have in the consultation process.


And she reiterated that it was purely a government or a political announcement that was made last week and the committee will be continuing with its job, which is taking evidence and that's going to continue in the New Year. So there are some absurdities about the announcement that came out last week, politically the UK, as people may know the government has had a lot of bad press in recent weeks, and it may well have been just trying to make up for that by coming up with a popular feel good announcement and the use of the number 7,000, I think maybe as informative, it smacks of a civil servant in a bit of a panic. He's been told to draft something quickly and has just gone on to Wikipedia and plucked a number that seems vaguely plausible based on IUCN data. And, they are going to scrutinize it, for actually what that means with regard to hunting specifically trophies, in particular, the kind of African trophies that are really the subjective of most press on this matter. So that's I think the current situation politically.


Tom Opre:

Being here in the United States, when I see our government come up, like what I saw that there's a press release on their website for the British government Boris Johnson's Conservative Party, who's in power there, but the names of these people, the campaign, the ban trophy hunting, [inaudible 00:07:48] society international, The Born Free Foundation. But, as a wildlife conservationist, myself in being on the ground and seeing what's going on, those three entities are the absolute diametric opposite of wildlife conservation, they are preservationists.


John Shields:

[crosstalk 00:08:06] absolutely. The Animal Rights Organizations and Carrie Johnson, the PM's wife is quite close to some of these organizations and a government that's already under scrutiny for a sort of rather [inaudible 00:08:24] meaty sofa government approach to legislation, and indeed to responding to the coronavirus crisis has perhaps done the same thing with this bill. It's gone to celebrity in crowd people from London who are well known to some senior conservatives, Zac Goldsmith, Carrie Johnson, and others. So, but I think that it is worth mentioning that one can hope that the committee's going to continue with this work and scrutinize the likes of Amy Dickman, the likes of Maxi Pia Louis and other people who can provide a conservation science and local development perspective on this because that's important and around.


Tom Opre:

And when mentioning, professor Amy Dickman, she's just announced, I think yesterday, the new director of Wild Crew, which is part of the University of Oxford's conservation work and research going down in Africa, [inaudible 00:09:30], I don't know if they're just in Zimbabwe Hwange National Park, but I know that they're very, very active in scientific research of wildlife and they do an incredible job. So it would be great to see that some of the things that I've seen bantered about from the government is just talking about this 60% decline in wildlife populations globally. I don't know where that comes from as far as what their benchmark is, but they talk about a lot about the loss of biodiversity. Nikolaj these hunting trophy, hunting bans, really what is their purpose and why do they occur in our society?


Nikolaj Bichel:

Maybe roughly speaking three different motivations on the politician sides for these bans. One person who may want these bans is the people who are ignorant of the conservation benefits that trophy hunting can actually provide. So they will think that they are actually saving wild life by banning trophy hunting imports, because that's what they are being told by all of these celebrities who are campaigning for the ban of trophy hunting imports. And then there's the second kind maybe who realized that, there is actually some conservation benefits to trophy hunting, but they just think that trophy hunting is so important that they don't think that the conservation benefits of trophy hunting can justify it. So they will want to ban it regardless of the damage that it can cause the conservation.


Nikolaj Bichel:

And then I think what is maybe unfortunately the biggest group is people who is politicians who may or may not realize that there are conservation benefits to trophy hunting, but who are mainly just doing what is popular with the voters and what is popular with the voters is unfortunately suggests want a ban on all kinds of trophy hunting, because the voters, the general public, they don't know, but they don't follow these scientific debates on Twitter. They don't read the scientific articles. They generally don't know anything about conservation hunting. So when they hear these celebrities Ricky Gervais and Peter Egan and the campaign to ban trophy hunting conservationist. The only thing they are here is these claims that we can save the lions if we ban trophy hunting thing. So that's what the General Public knows. The General Public is not properly informed of what trophy hunting actually also do.


Tom Opre:

So what you're saying is that the worst of these politicians are literally using trophy hunting bans to gin up their base to come and support them or vote for them. And that's what we've seen here in the United States. I think it was the Governor of Maryland, the current governor. I think it's Murphy said, hey, if you vote for me, I'm going to ban black bear hunting. And when you start to get into these individual bans, at least 300 states, we have a great history of wildlife conservation after we decimated it back in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Obviously that conservation ethos that was brought about by President, Theodore Roosevelt, like him or not, that's the reason why we have all these large numbers of species of wildlife existing on the land here in the United States and why we have all this habitat, these National Force and State Force that was all brought up by him and other smart individuals back in the early 1900s.


And so we have a lot to be thankful for. But when I start thinking about trophy hunting, I hate this word guys, trophy hunting, why throw an adjective? Hunting is hunting. I don't care what your background is, what your religion is, your culture is, whatever it is. I think we all of us all over the world can agree. As long as humans have walked on two feet, we've hunted and now we've got our thumbprint or our heel over all of the world. And, we're not being good neighbors.


So this trophy, the word trophy, I hate it. People that go hunting, we're really talking about people that are spending money to travel to some place away from their home to go hunting, whether it be for ducks and geese or lion, somehow these people are being labeled by a very small group of people, which sounds to me, some of these folks that are being used by the UK is to justify their ban. But I guess John, this trophy ban, if it were enacted in the ones that we've already seen in these other states and other provinces here in Canada, what do you think the effect will be on wildlife and these rural indigenous communities if they can't see a benefit for their hard work and wildlife conservation?


John Shields:

Well, I think there's two orders of magnitude problems that could arise. If UK alone ban trophy imports, I think realistically the global impacts would be relatively small. There aren't so many UK hunters going around the world that it really would make [inaudible 00:15:08] difference, albeit that maybe in certain parts of Europe, it would be felt more keenly. But I doubt it in places like where I'm now in Zambia, hunting more widely banned. And that is part of the risk of the current UK proposal will be used as an excuse. People will look at it and say, well, look what the UK's done. That must have been properly scrutinized. And that's a good example to follow without people realizing how flawed the process has been, but were it to be banned globally?


Because the impact is massive, over 50% of land purposed for wildlife conservation in Sub-Saharan Africa has a hunting element, hunting fees can price a huge amount of the funding for anti-poaching activities in a place like Zambia. A huge amount of the funding for the wildlife services full stop. And as I think, as killing the Shepherd's shows very well, when it doesn't matter that it's trophy hunting or anything else. The fact is that wildlife and habitat is holding on by a threat in many of these slightly less loved places in the hinterlands where tourists don't go and any small change to the value of wildlife and trees, which can be very rapidly turned into charcoal as we know can lead to a huge effect.


Even in your film, you showed the precarious balance between gamekeeper and poacher. It takes very little for people to potentially cross that line and see that there is more value in these animals being dead than alive. There is more value in them cutting down those trees, they're not. About 50 kilometers South [inaudible 00:17:23] a couple years ago, I was talking to a headman in an utterly ravaged landscape where across an entire valley, the village had really cut down most of the sizeable trees to make charcoal. And it was tragic not only because of what had happened, of course, but it was because he knew what the impact of this was going to be long term in terms of soil quality, water resources, and so on. But his concern was not what happened next year.


It was what happens this year. He needed to get through a period of drought and the community needed the cash from charcoal to survive. People are living in certain parts of Africa, particularly very precarious existence. And if you weighed in with all of your lofty Northern and Western morals and say yes, I know we've got rid of all of our wildlife in Britain, but we know how best to do it. And we're going to impose on you. It takes very little to tip the balance. And we know what happens when areas lose that value. People have seen it in Kenya. People have seen it in Botswana. People have seen it here as well in Zambia, anywhere you look when that value disappears, so does the wildlife.


Tom Opre:

Yeah, now you kind of hit on a real key point here. I appreciate you bringing up the reference to killing the Shepherd. I spent over a hundred days in country over three and a half years documenting this story of this rural community, basically trying to survive. And they had destroyed their wildlife resources through poaching, well subsistence, but mostly for the commercial Bush meat, which is I think it's a multi like $2 billion industry, black market industry in Africa alone. So it begs me to ask the UK government, their leaders, a lot of people look at them, obviously the long history through colonial times. It seems to me like this almost harkens back these trophy hunting bans, specifically from the UK harkens to a more of a colonial mindset.


And we're dealing with colonialism and the problems all over Africa. I know you see that John, with just arbitrary boundaries that have been created for governments, for countries, and where wildlife preserves and parks have been created, they're great, but the people have been removed from the landscape. So they can't benefit from the resources there. And so they get shoved in the cities. And obviously that ends up being an issue, but isn't this UK ban more of a colonial racist view of how wildlife conservations exist and around the world and these rural areas.


John Shields:

No one obviously thinks themselves are racist or a colonialist for that matter nowadays. But, I think that there are echoes of it. If you take away someone's ability to harness their own natural resources that does have echoes of what Britain has done in this part of the world before. There are echoes throughout this debate of colonialism. People raise it with regard to try the hunting full stop. The idea of wealthy, mainly white people coming from the North and West shoot animals, does have a colonial ring, but so do a lot of the supposed alternatives. I've sat at a lodge having a sun downer in south Luangwa, and I was speaking to a guide watching some elephants cross the river. And there were loads of people sipping their gins and tonic and watching these elephants cross the river, where they were going to raid the village as they did every night to destroy all of the gardens in that village.


And that village gets as this guide pointed out to me, handsomely compensated by the lodge for putting up with this every day, every other day. Now that is profoundly distasteful. The idea that you can charge into someone's landscape cause havoc, destroy all of their livelihood and just hand them some dollars and then walk away with the gin and tonic in your hand. That is a very disturbing thing. And it does point to a number of things. It points to the fact that a lot of our interactions with this part of the world have that colonial ring unavoidably. It also points to the fact that there are only certain sources of funding available to these places. And it also points to the fact that it takes a huge amount sometimes, often people paying thousands of dollars a night in a lodge for a local community to put up with a high density of elephants nearby.


There are a lot of things that play here. And I don't think me, Nikolaj, anyone would say that trophy hunting is somehow this panacea. In lot of these places, it is the only thing. When you go away from one of these big ticket lodges, where the tourists don't go, there's nothing else. It is tragic. And the idea that someone has the right, as I say to [inaudible 00:23:19]. I think it [inaudible 00:23:25], it is questionably ethically, this should be up to those local communities as they did in your film to invite people in to do something according with their wishes, be that tourism, be that hunting, be that farming, be that whatever it is, it is up to them to figure out how they want to live with these animals. And it is if we want to preserve those animals, it's up to what's the step in with the funding that they may need to get there.


Tom Opre:

That's a great point. And Nikolaj, just in closing this. Is there a solution do you see from your perspective as social scientist?


Nikolaj Bichel:

Well, can I add something else to that first? So apart from the colonialism aspect of these trophy bans, there's also just a hypocrisy aspect, because what about trophy hunting in Britain? They're not talking about that as all. The Scotland has a huge red deer hunting industry, and they export thousands of red deer hunting trophies every year. And if they want bans on moral grounds, they're not just talking about conservation issues here. They think that trophy hunting is morally reprehensible. Then why are they still not talking about trophy hunting in Britain at all. If they should forbid it in Britain first of all before they start bordering African countries and others.


Tom Opre:

That's a good point. Here in the United States, our native American peoples, first nations in Canada, native Americans here in the continental U.S. and Alaska, some of these tribes do incredible conservation work on the reservations. For instance, the White Mountain Apache's, they have people coming from all over the world because they've done such an incredible job growing American Elk or wapiti to the point where it takes the waiting list to go hunting, there is multiple years and it's tens of thousands of dollars to go there and have that privilege. And they make a lot of money doing that so. We have some of the similar issues here with our politicians matter of fact in one of our appropriation bills in Congress right now. There is quite a few elements of the [inaudible 00:25:36], which is basically the ban of all the big five from being able to be imported into the United States from Africa.


So with that, we're running out of time. I just wanted to say, thanks guys for being a part of this great conversation. At the end of the day, we either need to make sure we leave this plant better than we found it. And I really hope that folks will listen to this, listen to the two of you and your thoughts and provocative comments. At least I think I was probably the provocative one here, but it's the end of the day. Let's make sure that we've got plenty of wildlife, which means we have to have plenty of habitat. So if you want to find out more information about wildlife and habitat conservation, go to the shepherds of wildlife website @shepherdsofwildlife.org. You can also find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook until next time, ask yourself, are you truly a wild life conservationist?


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