WWF targeted over trophy hunts
Dominic Kennedy, Investigations Editor
6th July 2020

The nature charity WWF provides lobbying and practical help for the trophy hunting of wild animals, a former campaign staffer has disclosed in a book.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature has a little-known record of backing the shooting of big game for sport and has recently been involved in trying to stop legal obstacles being placed in the paths of the hunters, the book claims.

The attack on the charity is made by one of Britain’s leading animal activists: Eduardo Gonçalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, a former chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports and a former WWF campaign manager.

“WWF’s position on trophy hunting will almost certainly come as a surprise to many of its supporters, most of whom — like the vast majority of the public — are strongly opposed to the bloodsport,” Gonçalves writes.

“WWF is in danger of being vastly and potentially disastrously out of step with public opinion on the issue. Its stance could seriously contaminate WWF’s brand and hit supporter income, and possibly that of the wider conservation and charitable sector.”

The charity’s record is examined in a new chapter, “Does WWF Support Trophy Hunting?”, in the latest edition of his book Killing Game: the Extinction Industry.

Among the positions taken by WWF is that shooting polar bears for sport may help the species. Big-game hunting increases tolerance among Arctic communities of the bears’ presence and so benefits conservation, the international campaign group told the British government at a meeting about banning the import of shot trophy animals.

Michael Gove, as environment secretary in May last year, invited experts to discuss proposals for reform. Paul De Ornellas, deputy director of conservation at WWF-UK, said that trophy hunting was a key element of how indigenous Arctic communities tolerated and accepted polar bears.

“There are examples of well-managed trophy hunting that have positive outcomes for wildlife and people,” Mr De Ornellas said. He told Mr Gove that hasty policy changes and a quick switch from hunting may have “perverse and negative conservation outcomes”.

Shooting polar bears for sport has risen in popularity, with 1,583 trophies taken in 2010-18 compared with 154 in the decade to 1990. Only Canada allows foreigners to shoot the species. The known population of polar bears has fallen from 25,000 in 1993 to 19,000. “Contrary to suggestions by some supporters of trophy hunting, polar bears have rarely been killed by Inuits in Canada as part of their culture, and never for ‘sport’,” Gonçalves writes.

Many communities have strongly opposed foreigners arriving to hunt trophies. Some Inuit settlements have resisted government efforts to recruit them as guides for the industry.
Legal trophy hunting also may used to evade bans on trading in body parts, Gonçalves says. Some animals are destined for China, where they are prized as alternative remedies. Polar bear gall bladders have been imported to Hong Kong, supposedly as trophies.

Boris Johnson has committed the government to ending the trade to Britain of hunted trophy animals.

The WWF is accused in the book of siding with hunters and against animal welfare activists when an international protection agreement was updated last August. Attendance records show that 30 WWF staff and consultants observed the meeting in Geneva of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The WWF’s jointly run wildlife trade monitoring scheme, Traffic, recommended that delegates vote against stricter checks on the trade in giraffes, the saiga antelope and African elephants. Traffic also recommended supporting Namibia’s call to make trading in its white rhino easier.

Mr Gonçalves argues that the WWF initiative took the same side on these issues as the hunting organisation Safari Club International and against the positions of the Species Survival Group, a coalition of 80 organisations.

Practical help given by WWF to trophy hunting has also been discovered. Safari Club International funded the charity to produce a manual for African communities on how to count wildlife populations in 2000. The most important reason, the training material said, was to help to prepare hunting quotas. “If wildlife populations are over-hunted it will lead to a decline in number, but if they are under-used this will lead to the loss of potential income,” it said.

District Quota Setting Toolbox, a WWF manual produced in partnership with Safari Club International for use in Zimbabwe, teaches locals how to measure and calculate the size of trophies. A training exercise uses elephant tusks.

In the WWF booklet Managing Safari Hunting, readers are told: “Safari hunting is just one of the many ways in which rural district councils with appropriate authority can earn money from their wildlife. But it is the most important.”

When in 2013 David Reinke became the first American allowed to bring a dead black rhino home since the species was listed as endangered, the WWF supported his application to import the trophy from Namibia, a federal memorandum shows.

WWF was founded as the World Wildlife Fund in 1961 and has always been closely associated with the Duke of Edinburgh, who remains president emeritus. The Swiss-based organisation has a network of national groups.

A spokeswoman for WWF-UK said: “WWF-UK’s position on trophy hunting is clear. WWF-UK does not fund trophy hunting and has no involvement in trophy-hunting operations.

“We don’t understand why anyone would want to kill and glorify the death of a wild animal for a trophy. We recognise that scientific evidence has shown that trophy hunting can provide some vulnerable communities with benefits from jobs, income and bushmeat, and a more sustainable future.

“We look forward to a time when communities and wildlife can thrive without the need for people in some parts of the world to rely for their safety, livelihoods and economic prosperity on the practice of trophy hunting.”