In German imaginations, the word big game hunter is often associated with tropical helmets, Bermuda shorts and killed lions, elephants or rhinos, thus conveying a much stronger association with colonial British hunting customs than the facts justify.

Johannes Leithäuser

Political correspondent for the United Kingdom and Ireland.

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In the list of countries introducing hunting trophies of endangered species, the United Kingdom ranks 18th, far behind the United States, Spain or Germany. Nevertheless, the British House of Commons decided on Friday to ban the import of trophies such as leopard skins, elephant feet and other successful stalking evidence, for an initial period of five years.

All parties, the ruling Conservatives as well as the opposition Labour Party, had promised such an import ban in their election manifestos. They took into account the emotion into which the lion Cecil had previously placed the British public. Cecil, a majestic figure, lived in a national park in Zimbabwe and had been extensively followed by researchers from Oxford University for years before being wounded with a bow and arrow by an American trophy hunter outside the park in 2015 and later shot. Oxford naturalists found that of the 62 lions whose fate they followed for a decade in that national park, more than a third were killed by recreational hunters.

The great indignation in Great Britain for this hunting zeal stems not only from widespread love of animals or from the fact that many homes of these endangered species, from the Canadian Arctic Circle to southern Africa, were once part of the colonial stock of the Empire. There is also an old class antagonism that equates hunting with domination and which was last fought in British politics two decades ago in a tough political battle to ban fox hunting.

Ed Sheeran and Ricky Gervais supported the campaign

In the current case, this resulted in considerable double pressure on members of the House of Commons. The campaign for an import ban on animal trophies gathered animal rights activists and social critics and relied on well-known comrades-in-arms such as singer Ed Sheeran and actor Ricky Gervais. On the other side were not only hunting associations, but also representatives of several African countries.

Half a dozen ambassadors from countries such as Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Namibia and Angola wrote letters to members of the House of Commons, arguing that if there were no future revenues from big game hunting in their countries, endangered species would not be better protected there, but worse protected because of a lack of resources to maintain reserves and control poaching. And Maxi Pia Luis, representative of an organisation that strengthens local communities in nine African countries, accused British lawmakers of staging "an act of neo-colonialism" with their import ban. The Africans would not be asked. If there is no longer a material incentive to preserve the wild habitats of large animals, more and more land will be sacrificed for agriculture.

The accusation of neo-colonialism set a thorn in the London legislative process and contributed to the fact that the import ban, which was unanimously decided on Friday, remains initially limited to five years. In addition, a panel of experts is to be formed in which European conservationists and African representatives will judge the effect of the ban. British Nature Conservation Secretary Trudy Harrison ended the House of Commons debate by asserting that "Cecil did not die in vain".