Botswana President Bashes UK’s Proposed Trophy Import Ban, Calls It a Return to ‘Colonial Conquest’

The UK’s proposal to ban the import of hunting trophies is back on the table, and Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi isn’t mincing words about how much he hates the idea. The president told Sky News on Friday that he would be “abhorred, disappointed, and disturbed” if the legislation passes. He called the proposal not only condescending to the Botswana people, but a return to “colonial conquest” by the same country that ruled over the African nation for most of the 20th century.

Masisi explained that regardless of the stigma trophy hunting carries in much of the Western world, it has become essential to managing Botswana’s elephant herds. It’s also a crucial source of income for the country and provides funding for wildlife conservation. The leaders of other African nations, which would also be affected by the legislation, have made similar comments. They’ve been especially critical of the virtue signaling coming from celebrities in the UK and elsewhere.

Responding to a recent social media post by former England footballer Gary Lineker, Botswana’s Environment and Tourism Minister Dumezweni Mthimkhulu threatened to send 10,000 wild elephants to Hyde Park just so British people could see what it’s like to live with them. (Masisi later pointed out the obvious fact that Mthimkhulu was joking.)

“All your uninformed celebrities engage with government and tell the government what is unethical and what isn’t — and from a position of total ignorance,” Dr. Chris Brown, the head of Zambia’s Chamber of Environment told the Daily Mail last week. “Namibia and Botswana are the two most highly rated countries in the world in terms of megafauna conservation. The UK is 123rd in the world, and we’ve got the UK telling Botswana and Namibia and the other countries around us how to run our conservation.”

A Dying Bill Revived

The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill that Masisi and other leaders are criticizing would put an end to the importation of animal parts from “species of conservation concern” into Great Britain. It’s being sponsored by Member of Parliament John Spellar, a member of the Labour Party, and it passed unanimously in the House of Commons on Friday.

But Spellar’s bill is really just a revived version of the same proposal that has already failed repeatedly in Parliament. This marks the third time that MPs have sponsored a trophy import bill; the previous version collapsed in the House of Lords last year.

Botswana officials accuse UK celebrities of virtue signaling and colonizing Botswana’s conservation efforts. Photograph by okyela / Adobe Stock

The bill’s supporters have widely characterized hunters who travel to Africa, South America, and other places to hunt charismatic species as “barbaric” and out of touch. They say the practice of bringing back hides, heads, and horns from these trips is unpalatable for most people in modern society. (Around 89 percent of conservative voters in the UK support a ban, according to one poll.)

Read Next: Watch: Animal Welfare Activists and ‘Trail Hunt’ Supporters Brawl During U.K. Boxing Day Celebration

“[Trophy hunting] is not a natural practice of people in southern Africa,” Tory MP Henry Smith told the Mirror Friday. “This is a neo-colonial import that was brought to that continent during the time of colonialisation and is not something that is native.”

Which is true. But there is a long list of other “neo-colonial imports” that the British have brought to Africa, and which most modern-day Africans would very much like to keep. And now that their governments have seen the value of hunting as both a conservation tool and an economic wellspring, they’d like to continue hosting hunters from foreign countries.       

The Controversy Around (and Value of) Trophy Hunting in Africa

Ironically, many of the people in the UK (as well as the U.S.) who oppose trophy hunting abroad believe they’re helping the citizens and wildlife in these countries by speaking out against it. They simply can’t stand the idea of elephants, zebras, and other well-known African species being shot by wealthy hunters for sport. It’s an understandably fraught topic, as most of the non-hunting public has a hard time wrapping their minds around the notion of killing animals in the name of conservation. But leaders like Masisi and Mthimkhulu say they’ve seen the benefits of hunting firsthand.

From a management perspective, Masisi pointed out how Botswana’s elephant population is currently around 130,000 animals, which is the largest population of any country in the world. It’s also more than double what scientists say is sustainable, Masisi said. This leads to increased conflicts with humans and it’s partly why the government brought back elephant hunting in 2019 after the practice was banned for a period of five years. (Seventeen people were killed by elephants in Botswana between 2018 and 2019, according to NPR.)

Read Next: The History — and Future — of Trophy Hunting in North America

Masisi explained that in this sense, hunting can be a beneficial tool for controlling populations. And he said he’d rather see hunters picking out individual elephants to hunt with the help of a Professional Hunter than see entire herds culled by sharpshooters.

These government-sanctioned trophy hunts also bring a sizable amount of money into the country. Hunting permits aren’t cheap, and according to the estimates a government spokesperson shared with Voice of America, elephant hunting contributed roughly $5 million (USD) to Botswana’s economy between January 2021 and December 2022. A sizable portion of these dollars goes directly into wildlife conservation and helps support the government’s anti-poaching efforts.   

“Come and live with [the elephants], come and live with us,” Masisi told a reporter who criticized his stance on the trophy import ban. “All our critics — even the mover of this bill — I bet you have never set foot in Botswana to fully understand how we live with and cherish our elephants.”

The post Botswana President Bashes UK’s Proposed Trophy Import Ban, Calls It a Return to ‘Colonial Conquest’ appeared first on Outdoor Life.

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