UK looking at whether to ban importation of legally-hunted animal 'trophies'
The UK is looking "very carefully" at whether to ban legally-hunted animal "trophies" being brought in to the country following the outcry over the slaughter of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, environment minister Rory Stewart said.
Mr Stewart highlighted the issue as he announced a £5 million fund for initiatives which tackle the "barbaric" illegal trade in wildlife that threatens species such as rhinos, tigers and elephants.
The Government money will support schemes around the world which help strengthen law enforcement against poachers, reduce demand for illegal products such as elephant ivory and rhino horn, and help communities develop sustainable livelihoods without targeting wildlife.
Mr Stewart said that Britain had a role in "supporting and listening to" governments trying to stop big-game hunting, rather than "lecturing" them on what to do.
Public outrage over trophy hunting exploded last month after it emerged an American dentist, Walter Palmer, had paid 50,000 dollars (£32,000) to track and shoot Cecil, a lion that was being studied by conservationists and Oxford University.
Speaking at London Zoo, Mr Stewart condemned the "horrifying situation", saying Cecil's slaughter was "an illegal action, a disgusting action" and "one that we completely condemn".
Mr Stewart said that certain countries carried out legal "trophy hunting" on the advice of conservationists who believe it is one of the best ways of encouraging people to get involved in conservation and protection of wild animals.
Asked whether the UK government was happy for legally-hunted "trophies" to be imported to the country, he said: "We are looking very carefully at that. We are discussing carefully with the public, we are discussing carefully with other countries, but this has to be international.
"This isn't, I believe, about some short-term response from the United Kingdom. It is about thinking about the interests of the animals, and about making sure that we have trust in the relationship, particularly with African countries going forward, which are going to save those animals."
He added that moves to stop big-game hunting needed to be led by African countries, saying: "Conservation, in the end, has to work with the countries in which the animals are located.
"We are working here from Britain, but the best way we can do this is by supporting African countries, supporting the countries where the animals are and listening to those governments.
"So it isn't really a question of us lecturing, it is a question of us supporting, because what really matters is conserving those animals for the long term, and we will only do that with the political support from those countries."
Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that the UK issued 61 permits in the last 12 months to allow animal parts, such as skins or hides, to be brought in to the country.
Only 16 of these were used, and none were issued for the importation of lion parts.
Meanwhile, the hunter who helped Mr Palmer kill Cecil the lion appeared in court today in Zimbabwe, where he dismissed the case against him as "frivolous".
Theo Bronkhorst faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of failing to prevent an unlawful hunt.
His case was postponed to September 28, and Bronkhorst said he did not think he had done anything illegal, adding that hunting is "an integral part of our country and it's got to continue and if we do not use wildlife sustainably, there will be no wildlife".
The £5 million earmarked for new projects is part of the illegal wildlife trade challenge fund announced by Defra and the Department for International Development (DfID) in December 2013.
The scheme, which has Government funding totalling £13 million, has already supported 19 projects to protect endangered species such as rhinos, elephants and snow leopards.
The new tranche of money will be used to support projects that focus on the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by the illegal wildlife trade.
Mr Stewart said that it was vital that the projects engage with communities and with the "human dimension" of dealing with issues of nature and the environment.
He said: "It is that human dimension, whether in terms of support in the West or support on the ground in countries such as Kyrgyzstan or countries in Africa, that is going to be the key to our success."