Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Return of the great white hunter

Wealthy Britons are paying tens of thousands of dollars to slaughter threatened species in trophy hunts that recreate images of a colonial era

By Antony Barnett  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

It is an image of a bygone era: the colonial hunter sitting atop an elephant in the Indian jungle preparing to shoot a tiger or any other large creature that happens to wander into his gun-sights.

But an investigation into the growing trade of trophy hunting reveals that record numbers of wealthy British hunters are paying US$17,000 or more for the privilege of slaughtering big game in Africa, North America and Eastern Europe.

Leopards, cheetahs, elephants, hippos and polar bears are being killed in unprecedented numbers. Many of them are among the most threatened species on the planet, yet there has been a four-fold increase in hunting trophies being imported into the UK since 1998.

Conservationists and animal rights groups fear that the increase is pushing some species close to extinction.

One reason for the growth in popularity of trophy hunting trips is that they are increasingly easy to arrange over the Internet. A reporter from the London-based Observer newspaper posing as a customer contacted several hunting outfits and was offered the chance to kill lions in Tanzania, elephants in Botswana, cheetahs in Zimbabwe, polar bears in Canada and grizzly bears in Russia.

The largest organizer in the UK is Holland and Holland, the royal gunsmith based in Mayfair, central London, and best known for supplying guns to the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales. It has also supplied shotguns to celebrities such as Madonna and her husband, Guy Ritchie.

Piers Vaux, director of Holland and Holland's sporting department, offered the reporter a 14-day hunt in Zimbabwe at its "luxurious camps" on the banks of the Zambezi, where he would be able to shoot elephants and cheetahs. The cost would be US$24,250, which included the cost of one elephant trophy at US$10,000.

Vaux assured the reporter that the political turmoil in Zimbabwe was no problem, but did recommend that Botswana was the best place for killing elephants.

"Last year we had the second best area for elephants in the country and this year we are due to be the first," he said. "Botswana is producing the largest elephants in Africa. These statistics point us in the direction of being one of the best areas in the continent for elephants."

Vaux quoted a price of US$47,200 for a two-week hunt in the Okavango delta in Botswana. He confirmed that he was sending more "English" hunters than ever out to Africa and believed it was because people are becoming "more adventurous." He described how once the animals are killed they are sent to a taxidermist in South Africa, where they are first stuffed, mounted and then sent home to Britain.

Hendry Ramsay & Waters, a Scottish operator, told the reporter he could arrange for a lion or leopard hunt to be held in Tanzania for US$17,000.

British operators say they act strictly within the law and take part only in hunts approved by international authorities. They argue that their hunts pose no threat to endangered animal populations and aid the environment by bringing much-needed revenue into impoverished communities.

Yet a recent report by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University, England, warned that the number of African lions being shot must be radically cut if the species is to survive.

Others also believe that the large amounts of foreign money pouring into trophy hunting leaves the system of licensed kills open to abuse.

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