The 2019 Queen’s Speech, which laid out the government’s intentions, took place on 14 October that year. In the speech, the Queen relayed Boris Johnson’s plan to bring forward proposals to ban trophy hunting imports. It’s now a year to the date of that promise.
The government has since carried out a consultation that offered some potential “options” for a ban. But it hasn’t provided any firm proposals on the ban yet, or indeed released the results of its consultation. In short, the UK is hardly any closer to banning trophy hunting imports than it was a year ago.
“Get on with it”
Johnson reiterated his government’s intention to ban trophy imports in February. Responding to comments from fellow Tory Pauline Latham, in which she urged the PM to act ‘decisively’ on the ban, Johnson said:
We mean to end the import into this country of trophies hunted elsewhere.
More recently, Conservative MP Roger Gale urged the government to “get on with it “. Speaking to the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting (CBTH) in its webinar at the Conservative Party Conference, Gale said:
To ban trophy hunting, to ban the import of trophies into the United Kingdom, can almost be done at the stroke of a pen. It doesn’t require a massive bill to do it, it requires the political will, the determination and the decision. And I see absolutely no reason why this government cannot do that tomorrow.
As The Canary has previously reported, however, the debate over trophy hunting is a contentious one. It has split the conservation community, with some standing in support of it as a so-called ‘conservation tool’. Others robustly challenge this notion, arguing that it’s deeply damaging to wildlife and offers little to the communities who live alongside targeted species.
Hunting advocacy groups, meanwhile, have managed to embed themselves in global wildlife watchdogs which muddies matters further. Because that means they have the ear of the decision-makers within these bodies. There’s no doubt that such groups have also tried to get the ear of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) during the consultation on the ban. One of the industry’s major players is Safari Club International (SCI). It urged hunters, regardless of their nationality, to tell the UK government that “further restrictions are not needed”. Like SCI, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) opposed any action.
The position of these groups stands in contrast to most of the British public. As the Humane Society International’s Arthur Thomas explained at CBTH’s webinar, the public ‘overwhelmingly’ support a ban. In polling, 80% of people supported such a measure.
Another ban has been forthcoming recently. Facebook removed a network of accounts, pages, and Instagram accounts due to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on 6 October. Facebook’s probe into the behaviour was prompted by a Washington Post article on the social media activities of a group called Turning Point Action, an affiliate of the pro-Trump group Turning Point USA. A marketing company called Rally Forge was at the centre of the controversy. As the Washington Post reported, Facebook has since announced that the company will be ‘permanently banned’ from the platform.
This ban, and the removal of the network, was due to Rally Forge-linked accounts, posting commentary or content that “appeared grassroots but was in fact paid commentary”, known as astroturfing, a report from the Stanford Internet Observatory detailed. Alongside Turning Point Action, it appears that Rally Forge also counted a company called the Inclusive Conservation Group (ICG) as one of its clients and some of the now removed accounts were pumping out pro-trophy hunting propaganda on behalf of ICG.
As the Stanford Internet Observatory noted:
Freelance wildlife conservation writer Jared Kukura posted a series of articles to his site, Wild Things Initiative, documenting what he believed to be suspicious social media activity by the Inclusive Conservation Group.
In his coverage of ICG’s activity, Kukura noted that the “bulk” of its funding comes from Safari Club International Foundation (SCIF) and Shikar-Safari Club International Foundation. He also detailed a grant request that ICG made to SCIF for further funding in 2019. As Kukura pointed out, in a tagline featured in the grant request, ICG offered an idea of what its operations entail:
shape, inform, manipulate, mislead, expose, diminish, promote, deceive, coerce, deter, mobilize, convince.
Kukura attributed two Facebook pages to ICG in particular in his articles, which ICG had itself brandished as examples of its work in the 2019 grant request, Proud American Hunter and Let Africa Live. Facebook removed both of these pages in its recent enforcement action.
Speaking to The Canary, Kukura said he was “happy” Facebook has removed the accounts and that his “research helped their investigation”. But he said:
I raised these concerns with Facebook back in June and received no response. It wasn’t until the Washington Post started investigating disinformation spread by Turning Point USA that Facebook really took the initiative to do something.
Although Kukura expressed doubt that Facebook’s action would affect the trophy hunting industry’s behaviour overall, he said:
this does significantly hurt the trophy hunting industry’s credibility and I personally don’t understand how anyone would be willing to work in good faith with organizations like Safari Club International in light of these recent events.
Indeed, the industry’s credibility has taken a hit. Because it’s shown that it has to fund ‘inauthentic’ information ops in order to make it look like it has substantial public support. As the polls show, support FOR trophy hunting among the UK public is, in reality, in very short supply. But the public needs Johnson to fulfil his promise in order for a trophy hunting import ban to come into force.
Featured image via the Independent / YouTube