Lord Ashcroft is Wrong about Trophy Hunting

BY JOHN NASH

Earlier in May, The Mail published a piece by Graham Boynton explaining that our beloved government’s proposed Ban on the Importation of Hunting Trophies would be very, very bad for the remote people and wild animals of southern Africa. He wrote that supporters of the ban, including Lord Ashcroft, “have good intentions no doubt but, according to many Africans, their proposals are driven by emotion rather than science”. That upset Lord A.

On 24th May, The Mail published Lord A’s reply. Michael Ashcroft is, of course, the Auric Goldfinger of British conservative politics, so I shall be polite and not upset the owners of this publication – Ashcroft admirers – whose blood is as blue as the soft azure surface of the southern sea.

Ashcroft in his reply was not very polite about trophy hunting or Mr Boynton and used lions, or at least lion farming in South Africa, to roast both of them, even though Mr Boynton and trophy hunting in general are not connected with lion farming in any significant way. This common logical fallacy has become a cliché, a firehose of falsehood for UK slebs, politicians and all eco-chuggers seeking greenwash clicks, donations or piety. (I am not suggesting that Lord A cares about any of the above).

Lord A mentions his book, “Unfair Game”, in which he investigated (“secretly and covertly”, don’t they all?) the crappy end of lion farming in South Africa. Now, I hate to pee on his explosive fireworks, but lion farming is, er, lion farming. It’s not a game, unfair or otherwise. It’s not trophy hunting. It’s not even hunting. It’s farming – lions.

Like it or not, lion farmers raise lions and sell them, alive or as processed products, just like any other stock or fur farmers around the world. They raise and sell lions to restock private reserves, to petting zoos, lion walking companies, trophy hunting companies, taxidermists, jewellery makers and to traditional medicine suppliers locally and in the Far East, where there is a huge demand.  

However, lions are trophies in every sense – they carry with them 100 years of anthropomorphic, Disneyesque sentimentality that is easily dragooned into selling films, books, greenwash or political imagery to anyone who doesn’t know much about lions.

In reality, lions are very nasty, violent creatures, Lord A.

After describing all lion farming as “barbarism” Lord A goes straight on to explain that in 1980 there were 80,000 wild lions in the whole of Africa, but only about 20,000 now, 3,000 of which are in South Africa.

Hang on a mo’…. Did you spot the trick? Lion farming now becoming part of lion extinction? Lion farming has absolutely NO connection with lion disappearance. None. There is a ton of scientific evidence. Lions are disappearing outside the National Parks and Hunting Reserves because they are lions. As the quality of life and population of Africa expand, habitat shrinks and lions meet people and cattle. They bite people, and cattle are Africans’ bank accounts, making lions bank robbers. So, kaput lions.  

Lest you dismiss this fact too lightly, I put it to you, Dear Reader, that if I let a truckload of lions loose in the Upper House of the Westminster Asylum, the Right Honourable Spiritual and Temporal Members nodding off in God’s waiting room there, draped in their dead stoats, would awake from their comfy somnambulation, and evacuate the chamber with a remarkable degree of geriatric ESP (excrement, speed and profanity). Then, eventually, plod would arrive and (after a lengthy health and safety assessment, a PR press conference plus agreed overtime with dangerment payments) they would shoot the poor lions to bits. Suddenly, lions are not so majestic. Apparently, they’re only majestic when they are biting the crap out of someone else. Someone foreign. Someone poor. Someone differently pigmented.

Lord A then expanded on the 10,000-odd captive-bred farmed lions in South Africa:

Cubs are born in cages. They are taken from their mothers when days old and used to lure naïve tourists into paying to cuddle and pet them in zoos and safari parks”.  

Yes, they are born in enclosures (for good reason – see the House of Lords scenario above). A few might be used or hired out for petting. But not that many. I hate to suggest that it’s no worse than UK chickens, veal calves or Britain’s pugs bred to self-destruct.  

Lion farms are working farms. They are not lion residential homes – there are good and bad, and grotty lion farms are no different to grotty farms anywhere. Alas, every animal industry has them. Lord A could fix the welfare standards in the lion industry with a single cheque. How? By means of welfare checks and DNA testing (as in captive Peregrines in the UK). Don’t forget, too, that over half of all “happy” lion cubs born in the wild die in horrible ways before their first birthday, so farmed cubs are actually better off. South Africa has about 10,000 lions in farms (75%), 2000 in National Parks (15%) and about 1500 on private land (10%). This is about 50% of all of Africa’s lions, and you want to get rid of the lion farms, my Lord? 

Having wrongly attached lion farming to extinction in the wild, Lord A then associated it with the next eco-boogey man, canned hunting: 

A charade in which people pay thousands of dollars to gun down an animal in a confined space from which it cannot escape — or slaughtered at an abattoir.” 

Yes, a few hundred lions are sold by lion farmers to hunting companies who release them to be hunted as ferals in fenced enclosures (refer to House of Lords scenario above for justification for the fencing). However, there are strict laws and the minimum enclosure size is 2000 acres in most provinces, so, although fenced, they’re not actually very “confined” then. They can escape the hunter but not the property. Of course, you can always find criminals who will help you break the law and shoot lions in smaller enclosures if you have ££££ to spend “undercover”, but then you are a criminal accessory, not a trophy hunter. And talking of money, it costs a lot to raise a lion big enough to hunt, and high value hunting tourism (trophy hunting) includes everything from greeting at the airport to bye-bye back to the airport, with transport, accommodation and the private services of a whole bespoke team of professional people in between, plus enough permits and paperwork to give a DHSS wonk an orgasm. It is all very controlled. Very expensive. And creates significant local employment. 

And – did you notice the “or slaughtered in an abattoir” tacked on the end? If a farmer raises lions for the bone trade, he sends them to an abattoir, like any other farm stock. No hunters of any kind involved. What has this got to do with trophy hunting? Nothing. Nada. Naughty smoke and mirrors, Dear Reader. At the abattoir, lions are shot in their transport crates (would you let them out???), then skinned and stewed. It’s a knacker’s yard, not a poetry class. And, when slaughtered for bones, there is also a beautiful skin worth a lot of money, plus a valuable skull, claws and teeth, all farming profits. Should they all be thrown away? Anyway, it all has absolutely nothing to do with hunting – it’s farming lions for bone medicines and by-products. Ban it at lions’ peril.

In reality, farming lions makes a lot of sense. Protected from each other (half of all wild lions are killed by other lions), they breed like mice, and provided stud books and DNA registers are kept, they are likely to be better off than wild-born lions who are subject to a horrendous life, a limited gene pool, a disappearing habitat, angry locals, diseases like TB and, these days, the maladies of domestic cats and dogs, often eaten by lions as food. Like all cats, lions turn feral as soon as released, if there are food animals. The only place you can’t release farmed lions is where there are resident lions, who, being tougher, would kill them immediately. 

Meanwhile there is a demand for lion bones. A big demand. It won’t go away if lion farming for bones is made illegal – all that will happen is that the 10,000 farmed lions in South Africa will get the chop, (the reserves all have enough lions), farmers will raise something else, and criminals will be handed another monopoly. The demand will then fall upon the 3500 wild lions presently safe-ish in South Africa’s private and national parks. Their value will suddenly shoot up, triggering poaching. Lion farmers sell 800 sets of bones every year and say there’s a demand for 1500. If the farming is banned, that possible 1500 annual demand will fall on the 3500 wild lions. Scary. You do the maths.

Lord A continued:

In 2019, the Conservative Party manifesto promised: ‘We will bring the ivory ban into force, extend it to cover other ivory-bearing species, and ban imports from trophy hunting of endangered animals….  This pledge — which would cover captive-bred and wild lions — became the Animals Abroad Bill, a proposed piece of legislation that has, sadly, slipped down the Government’s agenda over the past two years”.

Dear Reader, note again how we have now suddenly gone from evil lion farming to ivory to endangerment to hunting trophies. More sleight of hand. Unkindly, Lord A then added:

Graham Boynton appears to suggest that a responsible hunting industry — and by extension the ability of hunters to bring trophies into the UK legally — can create employment opportunities in Africa”.  

Appears?”, Lord A???? Here’s the skinny – in South Africa alone, there are forty million acres of privately owned reserves (previously cattle farms, now rewilded) on which well over a million animals are shot for meat, trophies and by-products every year – 25,000 a week. Trillions of other non-hunted creatures and plants also find a home on these forty million acres (the hunting conservation argument). This huge consumptive wildlife industry employs 100,000 people (17,000 in trophy hunting alone) and produces 50,000 tons of low carbon, low water, organic meat annually. But up to three million animals are born annually (in peace and quiet – those lion predators are kept enclosed separately) so the numbers keep going UP not down. Within that industry, 300,000 local (meat) hunters and about 6,000 visiting (trophy) hunters hunt annually on the privately owned reserves and concessions, and the rest of the harvesting (for that is what it is) is done by meat contractors. The meat hunters and contractors ARE NOT trophy hunters, although many keep a trophy or two anyway. They want the meat, not trophies. All of the 6000 trophy hunters walk-and-stalk hunt, accompanied by professionals (by law), just like deer stalking in Scotland.  

Lion trophies add up to a few hundred. Very, very few are wild-born lions (about ten per year in SA – like Cecil, wild-born lions are closely protected, expensive and rare trophies, usually management culls). Meanwhile, actual trophy numbers (other animals) in South Africa are enormous: American hunters alone take back 6,000 impala trophies, 5,000 wildebeest, 5,000 kudu and so on, every year. I repeat, all of them, including the lions, are walk and stalk hunted. On foot. Not “canned”, as Lord A suggests. The kind of hunting he claims to condone. Yes, criminals insert themselves into the lion bone trade and sell illegal canned lion shooting to half-wits rather than legally at knacker’s yards, but that DOESN’T add to lion extinction, it is NOT lion farming, does NOT represent the 20,000 “big” walk and stalk animal trophies taken annually and finally IGNORES that they are all a small part of the industry’s 1.3 million annual harvest of meat animals. Lord A is commercially cunning, perhaps, but not stupid, with a finger on more pulses than the NHS, so he knows the real facts. Africans ask, “Can’t we raise and sustainably sell our own wild animals in order to survive?” 

All of these animals are eaten or used, trophy animals included. Not one of these animals is “endangered” in the extinction sense. Not one. 1.3 million meat or trophy animals are shot (plus many thousands more – typically agricultural pest species like hyraxes, springhares, baboons and monkeys). They furnish over a million by-product skins and a mountain of horns. Are we going to ban the valuable by-products of this vast meat industry and farming pest control??? Less than 2% of these artefacts are hunting trophies. They are, if kept, taxidermy.   

People collect taxidermy. It is a skilled craft and fascinating. Hunters admire their mementoes. Lord A calls it “disgusting”, but both beauty and a sty are in the eye of the beholder. If you cut the cynicism and propaganda out, a hunting trophy becomes a skilled craft item and a memento to be admired for generations, too, just like some people collect Victoria Cross medals.

That is the UK government’s dilemma. Game farms in Africa have lots of wild animals and very few cows. A ban on hunting trophies won’t save a single animal, because raising wild animals in natural bush on marginal land is low carbon, low water and more profitable than “exotic” cattle – if you include live sales, meat, trophy and by-product income. But if you ban trophies and by-products, cattle become more valuable, so all the wildlife will be removed, un-wilding the habitat again. You’ll end up with lots of cows and few large wild animals. And a bigger carbon footprint and less water. Like the Amazon. Like the UK. Killed off because of a UK ban designed to save them. That’s what happens when you vote with your (emotional) heart rather than your (realistic) head, Lord A. If you are not prepared to help clean up the bottom of the lion farming cage, then why not put some of your many pennies into proper Lion Conservation – the kind based on science, facts, reality, helping Africans and actual lion conflict rather political idealism.   

Mr Boynton politely tried to explain all of this, but Lord A soiled Mr B with dark suggestions about funding, writing:

Although he didn’t mention it in his article, I am aware that he is a board member of the Resource Africa group, which supports rural communities in nine Southern African countries in a bid to boost employment. Resource Africa also condones responsible hunting.” 

Resource Africa also “condones” eco-tourism, conservation and the sustainable collection and sale of resources like indigenous plants, protection of intellectual property, education and so on to help poor, remote communities, Lord A. And if you thought the South Africa figures above were impressive, now we are talking about nine countries (eight of whom don’t farm lions) and over a million sq. kms of habitat supported by trophy hunting. Most important of all, Resource Africa is the voice and hope not of hunters, but of millions of poor Africans who are studiously ignored by Lord A and his fellow animal-waving, trophy-doom mongers – as Lord A says, “Why shouldn’t people overseas have a say”. Mainly because they are emotional, ignorant, racist, shysters or they lie to suit some private agenda, Lord A, not that I am suggesting you are any of these.  

Undaunted as always, Lord A then beat Resource Africa over the head with a poison dwarf:

It may well be true to claim that trophy hunting can provide an income for marginalised and impoverished people but, as the economist and wildlife supporter Dr Ross Harvey has asked, surely the key question is whether it should provide that income”. 

Key question? “May? Should? provide that income”??? What should Africans do – starve to suit animal rights folly and a deceptive UK political campaign? Are animals more important than the rural black people who live with them? Apart from the blatant paternalism (some might say racism) in Dr Ross’s statement, he is actually an ex-coal industry rent-a-gob for the Humane Society of the United States, itself a global scammer that lifts $$$$ millions a year off the gullible public but saves very few animals, although it does apparently have plenty of free cash to salt away in the Caribbean and “commission” Dr Harvey’s eco-flatulence posing as “research”. Dr Harvey’s advice is a case of the parasitic animal rights nerd who purred absurd words to cover nonsensical arguments. He also turned up in London, supporting that shyster Eduardo Gonçalves, alongside Lord Zac Goldsmith. Ask Gonçalves about secretive funding!

Dr Harvey at CBTH meeting in London

Lord A then offers further “African” evidence from Barbara Creesy, Honourable Minister of Environment (and tourism) in South Africa. She got the job because she is a lifelong comrade (Viva! Viva!) of the deadbeat, kleptocratic ANC, a politician (yep, another politics degree) who is swayed by animal rights threats to boycott South African tourism but wouldn’t know a tsessebe from a tadpole. 

No, Dear Reader, Lord Ashcroft is entitled to his emotional opinion, but he misleads and unfairly puts the UK government on the spot. The public believe in arrant propaganda and it is short-cut popular but science and facts, like the Africans affected by it, show the Truth otherwise. Lord A’s the one with the HUGE piggy bank and his hand operates the limelight. He could change the course of many things and Truth matters to him. Let Truth count here. (And while we are on the subject, if his Lordship wouldn’t mind, there is a court case coming up which as a true conservative, both capital C and small c, would benefit massively from his wise and generous patronage. All the best, sir).

John Nash grew up in West Cornwall and was a £10 pom to Johannesburg in the early 1960’s. He started well in construction project management, mainly high rise buildings but it wasn’t really Africa, so he went bush, prospecting and trading around the murkier bits of the bottom half of the continent. Now retired back in Cornwall among all the other evil old pirates. His interests are still sustainable resources, wildlife management and the utilitarian needs of rural Africa.