Ban would be effective from 2017 if industry and the African countries involved don’t improve practices, says environment minister.
The UK will ban imports of lion trophies by 2017 unless the hunting industry cleans up its act, environment minister Rory Stewart has said.
The killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by a US dentist sparked an international outcry over trophy hunting this summer, leading to calls by politicians and conservationists for a ban on their import to the EU and US.
Last week, France became the first European country to ban the import of trophies such as lion paws and skins, which campaigners said would put pressure on the UK to follow suit.
On Tuesday, Stewart told an audience at Westminster Hall that: “Unless there is a significant improvement in the performance of the hunting industry and of those countries, this government will move to ban lion trophies,” referring to African countries which are home to remaining lion populations.
“I’m looking at something in the order of setting a timeframe in two years,” he said, in response to questioning by Conservative MP David Jones.
In a statement issued later, the environment department said: “We will examine the UK’s existing hunting trophy criteria and processes, as part of the EU, including whether and how these might be strengthened.”
The UK saw just two lion trophy imports to date this year. France, by comparison,received more than 100 lion trophy imports between 2010 and 2013.
Lionaid, a UK-based conservation charity, said it welcomed the UK’s move but a ban should come into force earlier than two years’ time, and added that it would be meeting Stewart next week to discuss the issue.
Will Travers, the founder and president of the NGO Born Free, questioned whether the UK’s ban would be enough to stem lion population declines, which have been attributed to a loss of habitat and prey, as well as pressure from hunting.
Scientists warned recently that lion numbers are set to halve in the next two decades, in central and western Africa.
Tom Quinn, campaigns director for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Trophy hunting is cruel, and done simply for human gratification. But without the ability to import their trophies the hunters will have much less of an incentive to kill.”
On Friday the Royal Geographical Society in London will play host to the premier of Blood Lions, a new documentary on canned hunting, the practice of rearing lions in private reserves for hunters to kill which takes place largely in South Africa.