Why worry about an import ban on hunting trophies when you can bag one at home?
Catherine Bennett/ The Guardian:
In alliance that brought together conservationists, African leaders, taxidermists, recreational hunters and the patron saint of upskirters, Christopher Chope MP, is recovering, its protests having last week failed to prevent the progress of Henry Smith’s hunting trophies (import prohibition) bill towards enactment.
These trophies being – incomprehensibly for anyone whose love of animals does not express itself in killing them – the dead animal’s body parts, brought home for display or sale. A recent US Humane Society investigation at a Safari Club International convention found, for instance, “elephant skin luggage sets ranging from $10,000 to $18,000 and jewellery made from leopard claws”.
Although the new UK law will not stop recreational killers hoping to shoot, say, a bull elephant (available via the UK’s Prostalk African Safaris website for £13,550.00), it is just not the same, you gather, without souvenirs of the corpse to impress friends, or turn into luggage – or jackets, or bags. Even an ear, for the frustrated trophy lover, is better than nothing.
Some years ago Martin Amis coined the expression “species shame”: there’s nothing like a tour of hunting company websites, with their price lists and photographs of exultant goons who’ve arranged dead animals into submissive poses, for bringing it repeatedly to mind. But even these enthusiasts seem sufficiently sensate to realise that they are not its finest advocates. Rather, they trust in African leaders and conservationists to redefine their wildlife killings as a conservation tool, rehearsing the contested case that recreational hunting (and any related body-part acquisition) is a crucial contribution to biodiversity and, by helping to fund anti-poaching patrols, animal protection. Though what is never explained is why, if the hunters are so passionate about animals, they always look so thrilled after killing them. Discussions before Smith’s private member’s bill featured some energetic, impassioned attempts to explain that encouraging the worst of humanity to kill the most beautiful of animals is somehow ethical. Ideally, it may even, the argument goes, benefit local communities. mUnderstandably, to some of those at the receiving end, UK tellings-off echoed earlier versions of imperialist control. “What on earth do they know about Africa’s animals, and what right do they have to interfere in our democracies?” Maxi Louis, the director of a coalition of conservation groups in Namibia, objected in a letter to the Times. Anyway, it would certainly be appreciated, at least by some of us, if African politicians, conservationists and influencers were now to return the compliment with a reminder, perhaps via a round robin in the Times, that the persistence of recreational hunting is a stain on the UK. Few visitors from Africa may wish to return home with the skin or teeth of something that they legally slaughtered in Britain but that seems no reason for African equivalents of Joanna Lumley, Richard Curtis and Liam Gallagher not to reproach indigenous hunters who persist in pretending blood sport is conservation, or, for its artier exponents, a Ted Hughes-style communion between man and beast.
Supporting the proposed ban on trophy imports, Sir Ranulph Fiennes wrote last week that “killing animals for entertainment and mementoes is something straight out of the darkest Middle Ages. It is moronic, medieval mindlessness. And it is about as un-British as you can get.” It’s mystifying, then, that killing animals for entertainment should be so remarkably well-tolerated in Britain, the hobbyists’ excuses generally coming, as with trophies, from the Cruella de Vil school of conservation management.
Genuine animal lovers would be, as ethics studies have suggested, regretful about their butchery. They would not, as the amateur slaughterman David Cameron has done, confidently joke about it: “I find when I shoot a few Borises and Michaels I feel a whole lot better.”