That is an interesting statistic, because I think that would not have been the case 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The extinction of many animals and the talk about that—for example, David Attenborough talking about it—have raised awareness among the general population, which can be only a good thing. I am sure the Minister is listening intently.
Local people in different countries do not benefit financially from this appalling trade, just the big greedy bosses of the operations. Elephants, tigers, rhinos, gorillas, lions and many more species are endangered—even giraffes are affected. British big game hunters have travelled to every corner of the globe, from Africa to Asia, North America to South America, and across Europe, in pursuit of often-rare hunting trophies. The most popular destination for UK hunters is South Africa.
Thanks to the determination of the Government and the previous Secretary of State, the ivory trade will be reduced, which will hopefully have an impact on the poaching of elephants for their tusks. Although other countries did that before us, we have at last caught up. With respect to trophy hunting, we might get to the forefront, although other countries have in fact banned trophy hunting imports.
During this debate, I wish to concentrate primarily on lions. Once they roamed free across many countries in Africa, but now there are far fewer truly wild lions. Although killing a lion for sport is bad enough, I can almost understand why that was done when they were plentiful, but I find the new, popular canned hunting of lions especially offensive.
Imagine being born into captivity, stolen from your mother at the age of about two weeks to three weeks and sold by merciless breeders to face death at the hands of bloodthirsty tourists. Laughing, smiling tourists pose for photos with dead lions, and I have even seen a photo of tourists kissing next to that fabulous being. That is the face of the animal that was once hailed as king of the jungle.
For 11,000 lions in South Africa, there will not have been one day of freedom. At a young age, they will be shot by a hunter who cannot miss. Lions are bred in cages for the canned hunting industry at more than 300 farms in South Africa. There will be no chase, no escape, no mercy. It beggars belief that British hunters are among those propping up this desperately cruel industry. The lions are reared in cages and forced to breed too young, and their cubs are taken away from them soon after birth so that the mothers can breed again, but too quickly.
The cubs might then be taken to petting zoos where tourists—possibly unaware of the past or future of those cubs—are able to bottle-feed them. Some tourists are even able to walk with the young lions until they are about nine months old, when they become much harder to control. From then on, these immature lions are kept in small pens until they are about two years old.
These animals have trusted humans because they know no different. They have been bred in captivity. This trust is tragically misplaced. The lions are either let out of the cages and shot at almost point-blank range by the trophy hunter or are taken by truck into the bush to make it more like the kill of a wild animal. In this instance, the lions are allowed out of the truck and shot—again at almost point-blank range—although some are never let out of the cages and are actually shot while in captivity, through the bars, by these so-called trophy hunters.
These magnificent animals have had no freedom to roam and live as nature intended, thanks to an industry that is, believe it or not, legal in South Africa. This kind of hunting is often given a licence thanks to the sometimes-corrupt authorities turning a blind eye, or because the owners of these “farms” persuade them that it is being done in the name of conservation. That is simply a lie. It is a heinous activity that lines the pockets of greedy owners. Every time a trophy hunter shoots a lion, they have paid many thousands of dollars for the privilege. These lions are farmed in great secrecy to produce cheap, quick trophies for hunters. In some cases, the breeders themselves shoot the lions so as to sell lion bones in the far east for ritual medicines. It is easy to see that it is only a matter of but a short time before the only lions we will see will be those in zoos.
Shamefully, Britain still allows so-called hunter trophies to be brought into the country. Yes, lions’ heads may be flown into our airports by hunters who glory in adorning their walls with them. We need to make it clear that the UK condemns the killing of lions, as well as other threatened species. This should start with legislation preventing hunters from bringing back the heads, tails, feet, skins and other body parts of these animals to the UK. We need a clear moral response.
The Government should impose an immediate moratorium on the importation of trophies until legislation is made. There is no reason this cannot be done immediately. People’s lives are in danger when they speak out about this terrible practice, so we need to protect those who whistleblow about it. People might not be aware that there are three times more canned lions than wild lions in South Africa today. There are fewer than 15,000 lions left in the wild across the world. Indeed, our own Prime Minister mentioned this recently at Prime Minister’s Question Time.
Over the past decade, 10,000 lion trophies have been taken. Despite the very small number of lions, trophy hunting of adult males is still allowed in Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania. There is an absolute dearth of information that such activities are in any way sustainable or contribute to the conservation of the species in any way. In fact, it has been shown in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania that trophy-hunting concessions are now so devoid of wildlife, largely due to overhunting, that they cannot garner any further interest in tenders from trophy-hunting operations. There has never been a population count of lions in any trophy-hunting concession in any African nation that permits lion trophy hunting. It is no wonder that trophy-hunting operators are increasingly reliant on illegal hunts inside national parks, luring lions such as Cecil out of national parks, along with many other such transgressions on lion populations that should be strictly protected. The UK has put in place much funding to combat the illegal wildlife trade, but hunting transgressions on protected areas should be considered as one of the important illegal activities.
It is now abundantly clear that the future of wild lion survival in Africa is dependent on not more than four populations, which still have more than 1,000 individuals. Those populations are located in Northern Botswana; perhaps in the Kruger National Park in South Africa; in the Serengeti in Tanzania; and in the Selous in Tanzania. The estimate of 15,000 lions in total depends on an accumulation of small, scattered and isolated groups of lions across this very large continent. For example, there are 16 lions left in Senegal, 34 in Nigeria, 32 in Malawi, 34 in Angola and maybe 60 in Ethiopia.
This practice should stop and should stop now. Britain should not be allowing trophy-hunted imports of any species from any country. How can we allow zebra, rhino, lions or, indeed, any single animal from an endangered species to be brought in to go on someone’s wall at home or in the office when we are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers? Other countries have banned imports, but, so far, we have not banned them all. I am told we still allow some to come into this country. Why? That does not help conservation.
Shockingly, the infamous killing of Cecil the lion has encouraged British hunters to go to South Africa and shoot dead more big cats than ever. Experts had believed that worldwide revulsion at the shooting would mark a turning point for the endangered species and the start of a decline in trophy hunting. Instead, the number of British hunters targeting farmed lions and bringing home their body parts more than doubled in the three years after Cecil’s death, compared with the three years before, according to statistics from the global wildlife trade regulator.
This is not about telling African countries how to manage their wildlife. It is not even about laying down the law on trophy hunting to them. It is simply saying that the UK does not agree with killing lions, elephants and other threatened species for sport, nor with allowing hunters to bring back the heads, tails, feet, skins and other body parts of these animals to the UK.