Organisations opposed a UK bill seeking to bar trophy imports are shooting into the dark, according to a new study
As the UK’s House of Lords considers a bill proposing to ban the importation of hunting trophies, the propaganda machine of the global industry that supports it has gone into overdrive.
Its carefully scripted narrative goes something like this: we all hate the idea of African wildlife being killed, dismembered and reassembled into a trophy to hang on someone’s wall. But we must live with this necessary evil because trophy hunting is killing wild animals to conserve them.
An example of this narrative can be found in a letter to the Financial Times by Amy Dickman, who claims trophy hunting ultimately saves more animals than it kills. Prof Dickman has been a leading voice among UK academics who oppose the impending ban on imports, unanimously passed in the House of Commons. With Dilys Roe, she also aired a video lecture that explains why all of us should be slower to condemn trophy hunting.
It can all be very confusing — and it’s meant to be. The latest broadside from the propaganda machine is that anyone opposed to trophy hunting is not only “virtue signalling”, but also an unwitting perpetrator of neocolonial attitudes towards African people, telling them how to run their countries. Those who associate trophy hunting with men in white hats and big rifles who kill animals, so the narrative goes, are the real neocolonialists. This is standard gaslighting.
As the frenzy mounts, Sian Sullivan of Bath Spa University has cut through to what’s really going on. In her recently published article, “Hunting Africa: how international trophy hunting may constitute neocolonial green extractivism”, published in the Journal of Political Ecology, she shows how the trophy hunting industry has become adept at employing subversive narratives to greenwash its activities. The basic strategy, she says, is as follows:
- Attack is the best form of defence. Attack your opponents as leftist greenies who don’t understand that in the real world trophy hunting is a necessary evil. When they object, tell them to stop being emotional. Attack the people who question you rather than their arguments.
- Play the victim by twisting the narrative. Tell the world that trophy hunting is actually doing poor Africans and conservation a favour and dismiss any opposition to that view as “neocolonial”.
Back in 1996, Prof Sullivan writes, Safari Club International’s (SCI’s) African chapter was designed, among other things, to sensitise new provincial and national governments to “wildlife as an economic development and rural development and management tool”. It sought to expand opportunities for hunting into “tribal lands … linked to rural development”. The argument has taken root.
On the back of this SCI strategy, Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) initiatives were established in which “sustainable use” of wildlife was promoted as a pragmatic approach to conversation. Whether this is equitable, meaningful or sustainable hardly ever gets debated. As Prof Sullivan notes, anyone who points out how “sustainable use” advances elite interests is blocked as “errant”.