Photo: Alex Fieldhouse/Alamy
An alliance that brought together conservationists, African guides, taxidermists, recreational hunters and others the patron saint of upskirtersChristopher Chope MP, recovering from his protests over the past week couldn’t prevent the progress of Henry Smith’s Hunting Trophy (Importation Ban) Bill towards enactment.
These trophies are – incomprehensible to anyone whose love for animals is not expressed in killing – the body parts of the dead animal that are brought home to be displayed or sold. A current US Humane Society Investigation for example, a meeting of the Safari Club International found “elephant skin luggage sets worth between $10,000 and $18,000 and jewelry made from leopard claws.”
What is never explained is why the hunters, despite being so passionate about animals, look so jubilant after killing them
Although new UK law won’t prevent recreational killers from shooting, for example, a bull elephant (available through the UK’s Prostalk African Safaris website for £13,550.00), it’s just not the same without a souvenir of the corpse to impress friends or transform into luggage – or jackets or bags. Even an ear is better than nothing for the frustrated trophy lover.
Martin Amis coined the phrase “species defilement” a few years ago: There’s nothing quite like a tour of hunting society websites, with their price lists and photos of cheering thugs who have arranged dead animals in submissive poses as a constant reminder.
But even these enthusiasts seem sane enough to realize that they aren’t their best advocates. Rather, they trust African leaders and conservationists to redefine wildlife killing as a means of conservation, and to reiterate the controversial case that recreational hunting (and any acquisition of body parts associated with it) is a critical contributor to biodiversity, and by helping anti-poaching fund patrols, animal welfare. Although it is never explained why, despite being so passionate about animals, the hunters always look so enthusiastic after killing them.
Discussions before Smith’s private membership bill included some vigorous, impassioned attempts to explain that it’s somehow ethical to encourage the worst people to kill the nicest animals. Ideally, the argument goes, it could even benefit local communities.
Understandably, some of the recipients recalled the British allusions to earlier versions of imperialist control. “What on earth do they know about Africa’s animals, and what right do they have to interfere in our democracies?” Maxi Louis, the director of a coalition of conservation groups in Namibia, disagreed in a letter to the Just.
Anyhow, it would certainly be appreciated by at least some of us if African politicians, conservationists and influencers now returned the compliment with a reminder, perhaps about a round robin in the Justthat the persistence of recreational hunting is a blemish for the UK. Few visitors from Africa might want to return home with the skin or teeth of something they legally slaughtered in Britain, but that doesn’t seem to be reason for African equivalents of Joanna Lumley, Richard Curtis and Liam Gallagher, nor does Indigenous hunters who insist on faking bloodsports is conservation or, for its artistic proponents, Ted Hughes-style human-animal mating.
Supporting the proposed ban on trophy imports, Sir Ranulph Fiennes wrote last week that “the killing of animals for entertainment and souvenirs comes straight from the darkest ages. It’s moronic, medieval thoughtlessness. And it’s as un-British as it gets.’ It is puzzling, then, that the killing of animals for entertainment should be so remarkably well tolerated in Britain, with the apologies of hobbyists generally, as with trophies, being overshadowed by the Cruella de Vil -School for Conservation Management.
True animal lovers would regret their slaughter, ethical studies suggest. They wouldn’t become self-conscious like amateur butcher David Cameron did joke about it: “I find if I shoot a few Borises and Michaels I feel a lot better.”
No one who respects animals wants to pose triumphantly with their prey or boast of body counts. But features in British sports publications consistently feature the hunter’s stamina (outwitting a supposedly wily prey) followed by chilling orgiastic delight. This month we find in the pages of a magazine a “retired financier” ecstatically recalling an outdoor slaughterhouse – “unadulterated bliss of the most chaotic kind.”
Aspiring hunters shouldn’t be too disheartened by Tory MP Anna Firth’s statement in the trophy ban debate that “trophy hunting is a relic of the past, it has no place in modern Britain”. Because if you don’t mind getting some antlers instead of elephants, you can book a game spot today. Training courses are offered by the British Deer Society, Patron King Charles III.
A bloody digression with Prince Harry spare part might explain why Britain’s recreational hunters can still thrive in a nation of supposed animal lovers: we just love our royals more.
True, the royals don’t go for elephant skin luggage, and they probably have enough deer heads already
When he turned 15, Harry was told he was “taking true stalker initiation” and was sent to execute a deer. Enjoying this, he seems exceptionally no different from his family. After his death (“I felt a swelling pride”), his head was shoved into his intestines.
“This ‘blood facial’ was like a baptism for me,” he says. “If you love nature, Pa used to say, you gotta know when to leave it alone and when to manage it, and managing meant culling and culling meant killing. It was all a form of worship.”
As for all the land, there is so much relentless royal management that poor William was also swept off his feet to keep the partridges sustainable; We know that skilled deer killers were so few and far between that their parents had to be forced into the service before Kate Middleton got engaged. Once even Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein were needed in Sandringham for a “simple weekend of shooting” to help nature.
True, the royals don’t resort to elephant-skin luggage like despised US trophy collectors, and they’ve probably had enough deer heads as it is. From the point of view of the animal being hunted, it may not make much of a difference.
• Catherine Bennett is a columnist for The Observer