‘To shoot an elephant is an awesome thing to do’ says trophy hunter, as Michael Gove admits he is 'cautious' over banning imported animal parts

Dominic Nicholls
White rhinos in the Royal Hlane National Park, Swaziland, Africa. - Robert Harding World Imagery

The Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said indigenous communities should be “respected and not patronised” admitting the UK currently has no plans to ban trophy hunting imports.

Mr Gove says it is a “delicate political balancing act”.

Speaking to ex-cricketer Kevin Pietersen on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Gove said that he had been advised by charities to "be cautious" in following other countries and outlawing the controversial practice of importing animal parts resulting from the hunts of rare, often endangered, animals.

Former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen has left his batting career behind to pursue a new passion for conservation and has vowed to try to get the British government to change its stance on allowing trophy hunters to import goods.

Mr Pietersen was talking to the Minister for his new BBC Radio 5 Live podcast Beast of Man, in which he looks at the hunting of endangered species, especially the rhino, in his native South Africa.

Born in South Africa, the former England cricketer recently filmed a documentary about trophy hunting after Cecil the lion was killed in Zimbabwe in 2015.

In the interview, he asks Mr Gove why the UK has not followed other countries including Australia, France and the Netherlands and enforced a ban on trophies.

Mr Gove responds that he has been advised by conservationists and charities to proceed with caution. He says:  "Don't come in, you know, with your clod-hopping boots from the UK and necessarily tell people in each of these countries exactly how they should regulate their own wildlife," he said.

"On an emotional level and on a personal level, I find difficult to understand. But you know I also recognise that I've got to respect if there is expertise, which says that being done in a managed way can help wildlife overall, then let's just test that."

Currently, if a trophy hunter wanted to bring a souvenir from their hunt back into the UK, they could do so, with a special permit.

A cross-party Early Day Motion, signed by more than 159 MPs, has also called on the UK government to stop trophy hunting imports of endangered species.

Mr Gove said: "I think that there is growing momentum for the law to change. But what I don't want to do is to get ahead."

"I don't want to be in a position where am I running so far in advance of what other charities and other leaders want, that we risk the good relationship that's been built up over time.

"Like so many areas of campaigning, it's partly a process of education and it's partly a process of dialogue.

He said he was aware that some communities had got used to an income from trophy hunting: "We've got to make sure that there is a clear alternative that they know that their livelihoods and their lifestyle are going to be respected and not patronised before they will feel comfortable about moving."

In the podcast, one trophy hunter told Mr Pietersen that the sport is thrilling and helped conservation: "To shoot an elephant is an awesome thing to do, it is a stunningly, stunningly awesome thing to do, which is why I did it.

"I want to try and preserve those wild places in Africa. But the only way they get preserved is if there's money. If it doesn't pay it doesn't stay. It's as simple as that."

Clients, mainly from Europe or the US, pay often thousands of pounds to take part in a hunt, and keep a 'trophy' - usually the head or skin, or another body part.  

In 2018, more than 50 celebrities - including singers Ed Sheeran and Liam Gallagher - signed an open letter in support of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, urging the Government to ban trophy hunters from importing body parts into Britain.

 

You can listen to the BBC 5 Live podcast Kevin Pietersen: Beast of Man on BBC Sounds from midnight on Monday May 8.