A year ago a news story broke that caused a ripple almost like no other. Outrage spread across the globe like wildfire, the Twittersphere and Facebook went into overdrive and condemnation from all corners of the world played out across all media channels. I myself was called into Sky, the BBC and even the sofa of This Morning to discuss the event in question. That event had a name, and its name was Cecil the Lion.
So one year on from the infamous killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe by a trophy hunter, has anything changed? Did the outrage do anything to stop dentists like Walter Palmer from paying big bucks (believed to be $54,000) to go and kill a lion, or an elephant, a buffalo or any other magnificent animal who until that very day wandered wild and free?
The disappointing truth is that not much has changed, particularly in the UK and also in the US, where trophy hunting as it is known is big business. A positive step was the listing of African lions onto the Endangered Species Act which means that permits for importing a trophy can only be issued if the lion has been killed in a country with a scientifically sound management plan for the species in place. In New Jersey, import and trade is now banned for all 'Big Five' species (these are the ones that trophy hunters most like to kill - it is like a macabre badge of honour to have killed one or more of all five of these: rhinoceros, African leopard, African elephant, African lion and Cape buffalo).
Closer to home too, some progress has been made. In the Netherlands, for example, the Dutch government is advocating for an international ban on trophy hunting and as of April has banned the importation of trophies from 200 species, including lions. But, the Netherlands aren't really a key player in this barbaric industry - an industry that has seen an estimated 1.7 million hunting trophies traded between nations between 2004 and 2014 alone, according to a new report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) just released.
In the same period at least 200,000 trophies from threatened taxa (categories of species and sub-species), that's an average of 20,000 per year, have been traded between nations. But, the spread is far from even and there are a couple of very big players amongst the list of over 100 countries that have moved these trophies. In fact, the top 20 countries are responsible for 97% of trophy imports, with the United States accounting for 71% of imports, an incredible 15 times more than the next highest nations, Germany and Spain (both 5%).
And it seems that Cecil was far from a one off. Whilst the lion species diminishes (having dropped from an estimated 200,000 to just 30,000 in the last century) it is African lions that have the strongest statistically significant increase of trophy hunting trade since 2004. A staggering, and rather appalling, 11,000 lion trophies have been traded worldwide in the report period.
Whilst it is common knowledge that elephants are at risk, being slaughtered at a rate of one every 15 minutes so that their tusks can adorn someone's mantelpiece, surprisingly it seems ivory isn't the only 'fun' part of an elephant for some - according to the report data, killing them for fun seems to be quite in fashion too. Over 10,000 elephant trophies were traded in the period, and as their numbers go down, their killing for fun has increased since 2004.
So, how are we doing in the UK? The truth is that we're a lot less keen on killing lions and on trophy hunting overall, ranking around 23rd on the global list, which is significantly low in comparison with other Western European countries. But, we are no saints either, having imported over 150 trophies from lechwes (a type of antelope), over 100 trophies from leopards, 35 from African elephants and 31 from wolves, amongst others. Ironically though, whilst we aren't a big player now, it was arguably the UK that came up with the concept of trophy hunting, invented by the British Empire during Victorian times, following on from a couple of hundred years prior to that starting killing deer and stag and mounting their horns. When taxidermy developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s, mounted animals became much more popular and travelling to kill began.
Whilst we don't tend to go abroad to hunt so much it seems, a small minority do find an outlet for their bloodlust locally, through the use of exemptions in the Hunting Act to avoid prosecution when stag hunting.
Seeing as we invented trophy hunting, the British Government really should take a lead in stopping it. In the wake of the Cecil outcry, the Government has threatened to ban the importation of lion trophies into Britain, but only if there isn't significant improvement in trophy hunting practices. A review has been commissioned, but it is a two-year review. The simple fact is that lions like Cecil can't wait that long. They only have until the next crossbow or bullet from a wealthy trophy hunter penetrates their skin.
You can read the full report Killing for Trophies here.
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