Peers parrot trophy hunting industry’s deceptive ‘neo-colonial’ defence against an imports ban

Two White Rhinos in the wild in South Africa.
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At a debate in the House of Lords on Friday 16 June, a number of peers served as a mouthpiece for the trophy hunting lobby. Parliament is currently considering a new bill which would seek to prohibit imports of hunting trophies from endangered species protected under UK wildlife regulations.

As the Canary has previously reported, MPs passed the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) bill during its final reading in the House of Commons in March. It now sits with the House of Lords and will undergo committee scrutiny before a final reading in the second chamber.

During the bill’s second reading on Friday, peers parroted deceptive trophy hunting talking points in the House. Specifically, they spouted pervasive industry framing that positions those supporting the bill as ‘neocolonial’ and ‘racist’.

However, over a hundred communities and government officials throughout Africa have called for peers to back the bill. In an open letter the coalition wrote to UK peers, signatories called out the accusations of neocolonialism and racism. Notably, they instead argued that the practice of trophy hunting in Africa is itself neocolonial.

Trophy hunting ban as ‘neocolonial’?

Speaking to the chamber, Conservative peer Lord Lilley repeated the industry’s deceptive framing. He claimed that the Bill was ‘liberal imperialism’. Lilley made headlines in 2021 when he was appointed to a parliamentary committee to review UK government policy on the climate crisis. The appointment was a controversial move owing to his former trustee role for the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The group was established by former Conservative chancellor and climate denier Nigel Lawson.

Echoing Lilley, Lord Swire also said the bill was “neocolonial”. While Swire claimed to “stand with” Africa, he appeared to completely ignore the open letter from over one hundred people living and working across the continent.

The group of community representatives, conservation experts and government officials argued that:

Read on...

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Although they purport to speak for Africa, they present grossly over-simplified and unsubstantiated arguments, and it is critical for Honourable Members of the House of Lords to acknowledge that they do not represent the views or experience of many scientists and community members living and working throughout the African continent.

In addition, they challenged the idea that the imports bill was ‘neocolonialist’:

We also reject the fallacious proposition that banning trade in hunting trophies is neocolonialist or racist.

Instead, they stated that:

The irony of this claim is that it is in fact the Western-conceived, profit-driven trophy hunting industry that perpetuates colonial power dynamics and continues to drive social and economic inequalities every day across many communities.

Framing funded by the hunting industry

The Canary’s Tracy Keeling has already highlighted the “deep rifts” between conservationists over the bill. Scientists for and against it have penned a number of letters to the journal Science.

However, as Keeling has also pointed out, some of the signatories of a key letter against the ban have links to a prominent trophy hunting advocacy group. Additionally, the Times has also reported that four of the letter’s authors have close ties to hunting groups. This raises clear impartiality concerns.

Moreover, in a previous article, I argued that the framing of the ban as ‘neo-colonial’ was coming from those in Africa employed by the industry, who therefore have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

What’s more, an All-Party Parliamentary Group on banning trophy imports found that a prominent US hunting group had funded social media campaigns to push pro-trophy hunting messaging. In particular, this involved an astroturf organisation – a fake grassroots group – funded by the US hunting concern Safari Club International.

Titled the ‘Inclusive Conservation Group’ (ICG), the Land reported that the fake grassroots campaign organisation had:

vigorously promoted the idea that criticism of trophy hunting is a form of neocolonialism

In other words, the hunting lobby has pushed this rhetoric to silence critics of the industry. In addition, it aims to garner support for the practice as a form of conservation. As the exchange in the House of Lords suggests, some politicians are happy to platform the industry’s pitch.

‘Colonial relics’ of trophy hunting

The letter to the House of Lords also highlighted what it termed the “colonial relics” of trophy hunting. In particular, it raised the issue that trophy hunting has displaced communities. It also highlighted that the practice had obstructed opportunities for communities to secure land rights.

A number of Maasai pastoralists from Tanzania signed the letter. As the Canary has previously reported, the Tanzanian government has been violently evicting the Indigenous community from their ancestral lands to lease it to a UAE-based trophy hunting company.

The situation in Tanzania is therefore exemplary of the destructive colonial impacts of the industry. Moreover, it illustrates how the hunting pursuits of Global North’s wealthy elite are forcing the practice on communities in Africa. This is disrupting Indigenous and community ways of life.

As a result of these devastating impacts on people and Nature, the signees argued that:

Trade prohibitions on hunting trophies are absolutely necessary to stop the extinction of imperilled animals and to disincentivize exploitative colonial practices. Only by leaving trophy hunting in the past, where it belongs, may we establish conservation and development programmes that have preservation, rather than greed, as the primary imperative and ensure that local communities have a real stake in the management of their natural resources.

In other words, the letter authors and signatories have raised their voices as members of the communities that trophy hunting directly affects. Importantly, they argue that trophy hunting ‘conservation’ is subordinating nature as well as the lives of both human and non-human inhabitants to the exploitative and extractive whims of rich, white hunters from the Global North.

The UK now has an opportunity to listen and move beyond this abhorrent colonial legacy.

Feature image via Bernard DUPONT/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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