Henry Smith is the Conservative MP for Crawley and a Patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.
On Friday my Bill to end the import of hunting trophies into the UK will be led through its Second Reading in the House of Lords by Baroness Janet Fookes.
It is almost one year since the First Reading of the Bill in the Commons, and in this time I have been grateful for the strong support offered by my fellow MPs across parties, as well as charities, NGOs, and leading academics. This has even included Ian Khama, the former President of Botswana, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year.
Not everybody supports this legislation, however. The pro-trophy hunting lobby, and a minority of parliamentarians with thinly-veiled vested interests, do not believe this Bill should make the statute book.
In advance of the Second Reading on Friday, therefore, I would gently remind my colleagues in the Lords that this Bill carries a significant democratic mandate.
The Bill has already passed through the elected chamber and delivers on a key 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment. This was, of course, the same manifesto that prompted almost 14 million people to vote the Conservatives into power, with its highest percentage of the popular vote since 1979; needless to say, the move to end imports of hunting trophies is one which accords very much with public opinion.
When the Government consulted on this policy in 2019, it received over 44,000 responses which showed clear constituent and conservation group support for tighter restrictions on the trophy hunting trade.
Polling also shows 86 per cent of voters would like to see an end to hunting trophy imports, and this opinion is even stronger amongst Conservative voters, 92 per cent of whom would like to see the Government enact a ban.
The British people were outraged by the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe almost eight years ago, yet tragically there are many Cecils killed every year and many of these are imported to this country.
The UK will not be the first European nation to take a stand against trophy hunting imports. The Netherlands, for example, banned trophy hunting imports of more than 200 species in 2016. We can and should follow their example.
Despite the views professed by a minority, the move to enact a trophy hunting import ban is widely supported across the African continent too. Last year, in a joint position paper, 136 conservation and animal protection organisations from all around the world, including 45 NGOs from African countries, spoke out against trophy hunting and called for lawmakers to enact a ban on imports.
Khama is particularly concerned about the impact trophy hunting has on the gene pool of animals hunted. Hunters typically favour killing the best male species for their trophy; this, over time, has a damaging impact on successive generations of wild animals, many of which are struggling against the threat of extinction already.
He also considers trophy hunting “the most colonial thing you can possibly imagine”, citing images of predominantly white hunters who have flown to Africa and killed endangered animals, only to pose next to the carcass grinning. The belief we have a right to destroy endangered native African wildlife in order to bring it home to the UK simply does not belong in the 21st Century.
There are now many alternatives to trophy hunting, such as photo-safaris, which enable tourists to enjoy the incredible backdrop of African wildlife without depleting it. These are the activities we should support, which allow local communities to generate revenue from tourism and do not rely on the killing of wild animals.
Generations to come will look back in disbelief at the treatment of majestic animals like elephants, lions and rhinos, which need our protection now more than ever. With global wildlife on the decline, we must send a strong message to those who seek to destroy it.
On Friday, the House of Lords has a vital opportunity to do just this.
I hope they will seize the opportunity to assert that animals on the brink of extinction are worth more than a place on the mantelpiece. Having begun in the 19th Century as a new colonial recreation, today trophy hunting is a relic of a past we must leave behind.
Let us ensure Great Britain is on the right side of history and say no to trophy hunting imports.