Why Four Should Come Before Three
DEFRA is currently considering the issue of banning the importation of hunting trophies into the United Kingdom. In this open letter to DEFRA we explain why Option Four (no ban) is preferable to Option Three (total ban)
February 24, 2020
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Trophy Hunting Team
Seacole building, 2 Marsham Street
London, SW1P 4DF
To whom it may concern,
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has asked conservation organizations to respond its “call for evidence on the scale and impacts of the import and export of hunting trophies”. We would like to speak specifically to the concerns we have over banning the importation of hunting trophies from Africa.
The mission of the African Wildlife Conservation Coalition is to support sustainable use projects that benefit both the people and the wildlife of Africa. Our members include wildlife biologists, guides, veterinarians, anti-poaching officers, researchers, scientists and professional hunters. Our position is that conservation decisions should be based on scientific evidence and rational policies. Hunting is a proven conservation tool that has given value to animals in Africa. This value has provided incentives for local communities to conserve wildlife. As a result the countries that allow hunting have seen an increase in their animal populations. Conversely, attempts to ban hunting have negatively impacted Africa’s biodiversity and the livelihoods of rural people living there.
The single greatest threat to biodiversity worldwide is habitat loss and fragmentation. [1,2] Without suitable space to live animals cannot survive. Hunting areas in sub Saharan Africa conserve more than 1.5 million square kilometers for wildlife habitat. This area is greater than all of the national parks combined.  Without the revenue generated from hunting these areas would be forfeited to human encroachment, agriculture and pastoralism. Wildlife populations would be decimated as wildlife is pushed out to make room for people.
Competition for land use in Africa is fierce. If one form of utilization fails to maximize benefit, it will be replaced by a form that does. In South Africa and Namibia game ranching became more profitable than farming. As a result game animals outnumber cattle in these countries. If hunting became less profitable these game ranches would revert back to livestock farms.
Many people have suggested that hunting areas could simply be converted to photographic tourism. This idea fails to take into that account that most hunting areas are not suited to phototourism. Hunting takes place in areas with little infrastructure and low game numbers. One study clearly shows the limits of photographic tourism based on wildlife density and diversity.  In short there is little to attract wildlife photographers to these areas let alone spend thousands of pounds that hunters do.
An illustrative case concerns the hunting moratorium enacted in Botswana in 2014. Hunting on government land was halted and concessions put up for tender. Rural communities were promised that converting these concessions to photography only would benefit them. Jobs would be created and more revenue would be generated. In reality few concessions were successfully converted. As a result, unemployment and poverty increased in these areas. To make matters worse, areas left vacant and unprotected allowed poachers to move in. In light of these developments, it isn’t surprising that 91.2% of local people surveyed wanted hunting to return.  Hunting remains the best land use in marginal areas and contributes significantly to rural livelihoods.
Last fall 133 scientists and conservation experts expressed the same concerns in the journal Science. They stated repeatedly and unequivocally that an importation ban will cripple conservation efforts. A ban would distract attention from the actual threats to biodiversity and would inevitably lead to unintended consequences. The consequences could include an increase in both human wildlife conflict and poaching. While expressing a personal distaste for hunting they concluded “conservation policy that is not based on science threatens habitat and biodiversity and risks disempowering and impoverishing rural communities.”
In contrast support for a ban comes from activists, not scientists or experts. Celebrities and politicians, while highly visible, have no actual experience in conservation. This effort is being led by The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting and its founder Eduardo Gonsalves. Gonsalves and activists like him use emotive language and images to create a sense of moral confusion. Inaccurate information and exaggeration are used to bolster their claims. With uncritical zeal and little tolerance for contrary ideas they have constructed a narrative far removed from the truth.
There is a very real risk to this kind of fanaticism. Suppose the National Health Service relied on the opinions of people opposed to vaccinations instead of medical evidence? Anti-vaccine campaigns on social media have proliferated in recent years. By sowing doubt and confusion this movement has negatively affected public health. Immunization rates have dropped and diseases like mumps and measles are on the rise. Animal rights organizations employ similar tactics which will lead to the same kind of negative results.
We encourage DEFRA to ignore the emotionally charged atmosphere and instead focus on scientific consensus. Simplistic proposals such as banning the importation of hunting trophies will not help solve a complex problem. A successful solution would address both the actual threats to biodiversity as well as the needs of local communities.
We respectfully submit that DEFRA consider “Option Four" which would continue to apply current controls without modification.
Dr. Jon T. Peterson
African Wildlife Conservation Coalition
1. J Rybicki, I Hanski (2013)Species–area relationships and extinctions caused by habitat loss and fragmentation-Ecology letters, 2013 - Wiley Online Library
2. Didham, Raphael. (2010). Ecological Consequences of Habitat Fragmentation. 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021904.
3. Booth, V. Chardonnet, P. Guidelines for improving the administration of sustainable hunting in sub-Saharan Africa  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy
4. Winterbach, Christiaan & Whitesell, Carolyn & Somers, Michael. (2015). Wildlife Abundance and Diversity as Indicators of Tourism Potential in Northern Botswana. PLoS ONE. 10. 10.1371/journal.pone.0135595.
5. Israel Blackie & Sandra Ricart Casadevall (Reviewing editor) (2019) The impact of wildlife hunting prohibition on the rural livelihoods of local communities in Ngamiland and Chobe District Areas, Botswana, Cogent Social Sciences, 5:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311886.2018.1558716