A former president of the country that has the world’s biggest elephant population has issued a heartfelt plea to Boris Johnson’s government to finally outlaw imports of body parts from hunted animals, after an outcry when ministers postponed a ban.
Ian Khama, who criminalised trophy-hunting in 2014 during his decade as president of Botswana, warned that every day without a ban on hunting trophy imports took elephants nearer to extinction.
“I hope very much that this time they will stick to it because every day that we lose, we are losing many animals out there in different parts of the world,” he said.
“So it’s very important that this is addressed sooner rather than later because the rate of decline of wild species means we’re going to see more and more of these animals becoming endangered and going extinct.”
The former president, officially known as Seretse Khama Ian Khama, spoke to The Independent before the launch of a heavyweight report by cross-party MPs and peers with testimony from experts in support of a trophy ban.
Renowned conservationist Jane Goodall, who is also at the Westminster launch on Wednesday, said: “The hunting lobby will work hard to preserve the status quo. If we want to maintain our reputation as an animal-loving nation, all hunting trophies should be banned. Time is of the essence.”
According to the all-party parliamentary group on trophy-hunting, the report is the most comprehensive inquiry into the practice ever produced in the world.
Published just before the seventh anniversary of the killing of Cecil the lion by Walter Palmer, the 278-page document includes “confessions” from British trophy-hunters about shooting monkeys and cats out of trees for “fun”, and carries harrowing descriptions of injuries inflicted on “big game” animals by British hunters.
The report, the result of a six-month parliamentary inquiry, carries some previously-unseen photos of British trophy-hunters with lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos and other animals.
Trophy-hunting, which unlike poaching is legal, is almost always carried out by wealthy shooters from richer countries who pay large sums, often under guidance, to kill popular species.
The new report also identifies British firms that offer hunting holidays to shoot endangered animals and reproduces their price lists.
After many years of being lobbied by conservationists, ministers last year drew up the Animals Abroad Bill, which included a ban on imports of trophies, such as heads, tails, ivory and even entire carcases.
But the bill was dropped from this year’s Queen’s speech, to the dismay of supporters.
Conservative MP Henry Smith has introduced a private member’s bill with a ban, which has government support so stands a good chance of becoming law when it goes to parliament in November.
It was very disappointing when the UK government postponed its bill containing a ban, the former president said.
He is locked in a fierce war of words with his successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi, who lifted Botswana’s trophy-hunting ban in 2019.
Asked whether the onus should be on the new president to ban trophy-hunting rather than rely on UK action, Lt Gen Khama said: “It’s a two-pronged approach. When I was president, I believed it was my responsibility to contribute towards the conservation of nature by banning hunting, and it’s also the responsibility of others, like in the UK, to ban imports of hunting trophies.
“And if we all work together, we will achieve a healthy planet. Global Britain means leading the world by example.”
The Animals Abroad Bill, which would also have outlawed fur and foie gras imports, was reported to have been vetoed by cabinet members claiming it was not a serious issue.
In response, the Botswanan former leader said: “Would you say global warming is a soft, cuddly issue because people don’t think about it every day walking around?
“The ceiling is sinking lower and lower and eventually we’re going to be engulfed by polluted air and loss of rainforest. We are slowly strangling ourselves to death.
“Nature affects our own livelihoods so it’s not soft and cuddly – it’s very urgent.
“The rate at which animals are being slaughtered, we’re heading for a situation when there will be very few left and they’ll be seen only in zoos.”
Environment secretary George Eustice assured the lobbyists that the government would do everything it could to ensure the private member’s bill passed, and Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner also pledged her party’s supported, according to Eduardo Goncalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting.
Lt Gen Khama said controversial attempts by Botswana’s wildlife authorities to hold a sale of ivory stockpiles were driven by “greed and corruption”.
The country is a founder member of Africa’s Elephant Protection Initiative, which opposes ivory stockpiles from “leaking” onto the illegal market, fuelling further killing.
Last year’s quota for trophy hunting animals in Botswana was around 2,279.
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to banning the import of hunting trophies from thousands of endangered and threatened species.
“This ban will be among the strongest in the world, leading the way in protecting endangered animals – and we welcome the private member’s bill that will deliver this crucial step forward.”