Trophy hunters unmasked as trolls target government over clampdown
Dominic Kennedy
7th December 2020

Two prolific British trophy hunters are unmasked today as a network of trolls targets Boris Johnson’s government for threatening to clamp down on big-game hunting.

Abigail Day, a Cambridge-educated lawyer, and Asif Wattoo, a Thames Water worker, have travelled to Africa to bag animals such as lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, buffalo and zebra.

Their identities were revealed as two “dark arts” campaigns were uncovered aimed at swaying a consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on banning the import of body parts of endangered wild animals as trophies. The disclosures are made in a book by Eduardo Gonçalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. Lobbyists believe that Britain’s decision is imminent.

Ms Day, who graduated in 1987, founded the London chapter of Safari Club
International (SCI), the trophy hunting industry’s biggest lobby group. She won the club’s “Diana” title as the world’s top woman in the sport and now co-chairs the committee running the award. She has 200 prizes for killing game after hunting in 36 countries.

Ms Day declined to comment.

Mr Wattoo, from Berkshire, has posed for dozens of photographs with dead giraffe and described on social media a bullet coming out of the neck of an  impala he had shot. “If you’ve hunted in Africa you know exactly how thrilling it is,” he wrote.

Mr Wattoo was contacted for comment by the Daily Star Sunday. Thames Water told the newspaper that it did not comment on what employees did outside work.

Separately, trophy hunters are shown to be behind claims that Britains’ opposition to hunting in Africa is a new form of western colonialism.

Online campaigning against the UK is being funded by SCI, according to Trophy Leaks: Top Hunters and Industry Secrets Revealed, the book by Mr Goncalves published today.

Supporters of trophy hunting argue that the sport helps conservation by encouraging local communities to preserve wildlife populations so they can attract overseas hunters for tourism revenue.

Mr Goncalves writes: “Safari Club International has been funding not one but two “dark arts” campaigns to convince Defra . . . into believing there is widespread opposition in Africa to government plans to ban troph imports.

“Safari Club International paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to a contractor to run a major campaign during [the Defra consultation] period which claimed ordinary Africans were aghast at the proposal. The contractors, who called themselves the Inclusive Conservation Group, used artificial intelligence technology to create dozens of fake social media profiles to promote the campaign’s key messages.”

One of the pro-hunting platforms was Let Africa Live, a now-banned Facebook page with 38,000 followers. The Times asked Inclusive Conservation Group (ICG) and SCI for comment.

The Let Africa Live campaign targeted Britain during a public consultation by Defra between November 2019 and February 2020 on proposals to ban trophy hunting imports. Social media was flooded with anti-imperialist messages purporting to come from Africans.

One post was headed: “The UK is trying to colonise local Africans by controlling how they use their land.” It stated: “The foreign influence of the animal rights extremists is only doing more harm to wildlife AND people!” The message urged readers: “If you have an example of the positive benefits . . . legal and well-regulated hunting has on people and wildlife, please send the story to the consultation email address.

Mr Goncalves writes: “The messages were then “liked” and “shared” en masse by fake social media accounts.?

Let Africa Live was banned from social media in October as Facebook and Twitter became worried about fake messages in the run-up to the US presidential election. Facebook said its investigation linked ICG to fake accounts focused on Kenya, Botswana and the US concerning topics from trophy hunting to praise of President Trump. Twitter suspended the network’s accounts that were celebrating South Africa’s policy of allowing trophy hunts.

A propaganda exercise has been launched by Blood Origins, a campaign run by an American hunter, which this year announced a partnership with SCI’s non-profit conservation wing.

 Blood Origins has published videos in which stakeholders such as conservationists from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania are asked for views about Defra seeking to ban trophy-hunting imports. The questions are framed as Britain proposing to ban hunting because it believes it can manage African land better than Africans. The questioner asks: “Makes you angry, huh?”

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