To anyone considering doing some big game hunting in Africa, don't even think about bringing a souvenir back to England.
Calling it a "morally indefensible act," Britain is ushering in the strictest trophy hunting rules on the planet. The new law, announced this week, will prohibit endangered animal parts — including those found in furs and rugs — from entering the country.
It's being hailed as a potential lifesaver for countless endangered species.
"The fight against trophy hunting of endangered animals matters," animal welfare minister Zac Goldsmith told The Telegraph. "It is clear that it is morally indefensible and that is why I am delighted that the Conservative Government will consult on a ban on the import of these trophies. By placing a higher value on animals alive rather than dead, we will begin to turn back the tide of extinction."
Goldsmith has been campaigning to crack down on trophy hunting — or at least, hauling its spoils back to Britain — for years. Last May, in a speech to the House of Commons, he declared, "We are exhausting the planet, and we need radical and immediate action to reverse that.
"I will not claim today that tackling trophy hunting will reverse this mass extinction — far from it — but I put the debate in that context to remind us all of what is at stake and the situation we find ourselves in."
Turning the tide of opinion
Trophy hunting, which involves shooting large animals such as elephants, rhinos, lions and bears, has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, particularly in the aftermath of high-profile deaths like Cecil the Lion and a rare large-tusked elephant in Zimbabwe.
Not only are governments taking action to slow the decline of canned hunting expeditions, but it seems the animals themselves are making their own physiological adjustments.
Elephants, for example, may be growing smaller tusks or none at all in response to the removal of many big-tusked elephants from the gene pool at the hands of poachers and hunters.
Similarly, bighorn sheep, a popular target due to their namesake horns, may actually be growing smaller horns.
At the same time, the hunts are legal in many African countries, where animals are farmed strictly for gun-toting tourists to kill. In fact, among the 63 countries that sanction pleasure hunting, more than a third are in Africa.
Trophy hunting proponents point out that indigenous communities rely on these tourist dollars. In addition, funds from killing one animal are reinvested in the conservation of many more endangered species — an oft-cited argument among hunters that doesn't sit well with animal welfare groups.
As Azzedine Downes, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, writes in the Huffington Post, "How can we possibly imagine a world in which wild animals are forced to give up their lives to fund their species' survival? Or made to live within boundaries of private game reserves rather than within their natural habitat?"
The new U.K. legislation is expected to pass through parliament shortly after Conservative Party Conference, which is being held this week. By strictly banning any endangered animal parts from import or export, it aims to discourage the practice by depriving trophy hunters of their "trophy" — a keepsake of their kill.