Ode to Cecil the lion as UK MPs vote to ban import of hunting trophies

LONDON, United Kingdom – British lawmakers on Friday voted to support a controversial ban on importing hunting trophies from thousands of species into the United Kingdom, preventing British hunters from bringing the body parts of lions, elephants and giraffes into the country.

A private member’s bill put forward by the Conservative MP Henry Smith and backed by the government received the support of parliament after years of divisive debate on the issue. MPs from across the political spectrum spoke in favour of the legislation before it passed.

Cecil the lion – killed at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park in 2015 – “did not die in vain”, environment minister Trudy Harrison said, as the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill was given an unopposed third reading by MPs.

The government says the law, which will now move for debate in the House of Lords, will strengthen the conservation of endangered species and has widespread support from the British public.

The ban was part of the 2019 election manifesto of the ruling Conservative Party and comes after a high-profile anti-trophy hunting campaign backed by celebrities including Ricky Gervais, Brian May, Ed Sheeran and Joanna Lumley.

In an emotional moment, Harrison told the House of Commons: “Actually, dare I say that Cecil the lion has not died in vain.

“It is an emotional day for all of us for very many reasons.”

Cecil was a 13-year-old male lion living at Hwange National Park, who was killed in 2015 by an American big game hunter.

The killing resulted in international outrage, with criticism from UK MPs at the time from across the political spectrum.

Clashes had been expected in the Commons after Tory backbenchers Sir Bill Wiggin and Sir Christopher Chope tabled a series of amendments to the proposals, which animal rights campaigners had claimed would weaken the Bill.

But neither of the senior Conservatives moved their significant changes to the Bill.

The government accepted two of their amendments aimed at establishing an advisory board on hunting trophies, and at limiting the power of the Secretary of State to add new species to the list the ban would apply to.

Many scientists, environmentalists and African community leaders have said the new law could inadvertently accelerate the loss of wildlife, and accused celebrity campaigners of “neocolonialism”. They point to the contributions of regulated trophy hunting to the recovery of populations of black and white rhino in Namibia and South Africa and the snow leopard in Tajikistan.

The ban will cover about 6,000 species and include some of the most endangered and charismatic animals, including hippos, leopards and polar bears.

British hunters are not a large part of the trophy hunting industry and the ban is considered largely symbolic by conservationists.

The actor Peter Egan, a prominent anti-trophy hunting campaigner, said the vote was “sensational” news.

Claire Bass, a senior director of campaigns and public affairs at Humane Society International-UK, also welcomed the vote. “We’re delighted that this extremely popular bill has passed its report stage and third reading, with dozens of cross-party MPs taking the floor in today’s debate to share their strong support for legislation to stop hunters bringing their sick souvenirs back to the UK. We … look to the House of Lords to ensure swift passage of this vital law,” she said.

But others expressed their disappointment and urged the Lords to oppose the law in its current form.

“It is bitterly disappointing MPs have succumbed to an emotive but misinformed animal rights campaign”, said Amy Dickman, an Oxford University professor who is an expert on lion conservation. “This bill will kill more animals than it will save. Hopes for a rational, evidence-based debate now rest in the House of Lords.”

Maxi Pia Louis, a community leader from Namibia, said she was disappointed that the voices of Africans had not been heard. “Britain has ignored our numerous attempts to engage. What is the purpose of the diplomatic ties we supposedly share? This bill will make African communities poorer for many years to come,” she said.

A government spokesperson said the decision to support the bill followed a lengthy consultation on the issue.

“As more species face extinction than ever before, banning the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals will play an important role in protecting some of our most threatened wildlife,” a spokesperson said.

“Following our consultation and call for evidence, the concern at the thought of hunters bringing back trophies from endangered animals was very clear and this ban will further demonstrate the UK’s leadership in driving global efforts to reverse biodiversity loss.”

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