For most families, a holiday involves a child-friendly resort, a good book and plenty of activities to keep the kids busy.
But a Center Parcs-style break wouldn’t do for one retired businessman from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Instead of taking his nine-year-old son to instructor-led archery classes in the woods, he took him to Africa — to shoot wild animals.
‘He had a great time,’ the father boasted to me. ‘He earned himself a nickname, ‘the sniper’.’ Dad and son shot antelopes, warthogs and monkeys, even bringing back animal heads and skins as trophies.
This is not unique. It is not even unusual. Scores of British hunters travel overseas to slaughter exotic animals, both in the wild and in captivity, and many of them take their children.
This is all perfectly legal and there are some who make sincere arguments for hunting in the wild. They say that, done responsibly, it can be an important factor in conservation, encouraging good management of habitats by the local population. And there is no doubt it provides employment and tourist income to some of the most deprived areas of the world.
Scores of British hunters travel overseas to slaughter exotic animals, both in the wild and in captivity, and many of them take their children
However, I, a long-time campaigner against this bloodthirsty pastime, will never believe it is beneficial to kill an animal when it could be photographed instead and left alive for the next party of tourists to enjoy. This month, there is a parliamentary vote on banning the import of hunting ‘trophies’ — the pelt of an impala to use as a rug, for instance, or a taxidermied lion head to hang on the wall.
To focus the minds of MPs, I am taking the exceptional step of naming (and hopefully shaming) 100 British hunters in a forthcoming book, some of whom I have featured here. There is no suggestion that any of these individuals have acted illegally, and no doubt they subscribe to the arguments that hunting can be beneficial if done responsibly.
Many people imagine trophy hunting is an American obsession. They remember Cecil the lion, killed in Zimbabwe in 2015 by a dentist from Minnesota called Walter Palmer.
They don’t know of the Scottish dairy farmer who hunts elephants and describes Africa as his ‘drug’. They haven’t heard of the Sussex gunmaker who compares hunting to ‘mainlining on heroin’, or a property developer, also a Scot, who calls the African savannah his ‘sweetie shop’. Adrian Cawte is a Ministry of Defence dog handler from Somerset who has written gory accounts of his kills online, talking of ‘the satisfying thwack of the round hitting home’ and of tracking a wounded animal by the trail of ‘bright red blood with pieces of tissue mixed in’.
There is no suggestion that any of these individuals have acted illegally, and no doubt they subscribe to the arguments that hunting can be beneficial if done responsibly
Many of these people were not hard to find. They brag about their kills on hunting forums and social media
London lawyer Abigail Day has been voted the world’s top female trophy hunter. Gloucestershire businessman Malcolm King has killed more than 650 animals, winning an award for shooting specimens of 125 different species.
Pest controller Ricky Clark has around 50 trophies at his home in New Malden, South-West London, including body parts of lions, buffalo, leopards, hippos and zebras.
Many of these people were not hard to find. They brag about their kills on hunting forums and social media. Asif Wattoo, a customer services manager for Thames Water, had a Facebook page until recently on which he displayed 20 photos of him posing with dead animals. I tracked down others by phoning hunting companies in Africa to inquire about their services. These people sent me price lists like restaurant menus, detailing how much or how little I would pay for each species. When I asked for testimonials, they were only too happy to put me in touch with other clients — who in turn were eager to boast of their kills.
A similar ploy lured the safari companies to expose their own dirty tricks. I claimed to be interested in going into business with them and pretended to have wealthy backers. Reckless with greed, they told me how South Africa has become the hub of the trophy-hunting industry.
To call it an ‘industry’ is no exaggeration. Big cats are factory-farmed for the tourists to kill. South Africa has more lions in captivity than in the wild. There are 10,000 lions, tigers and leopards in cages, waiting for hunters to come and shoot them in enclosures.
To kill a lion in the wild, like Cecil, costs at least £50,000 in fees and accommodation. To kill a tame lioness during a trip to a ‘canned hunting’ facility is far cheaper, costing as little as £3,000.
This month, there is a parliamentary vote on banning the import of hunting ‘trophies’ — the pelt of an impala to use as a rug, for instance, or a taxidermied lion head to hang on the wall
These animals are usually hand-reared, having been separated from their mothers when they are only a few weeks old. Tourists then have the option of selling the skeleton back to the breeder, who in turn will sell it to one of the country’s many bone dealers.
They buy up lion and tiger bones for the Chinese market, where, in powdered form, they are valued as high-status medicine — a scientific nonsense. A bottle of ‘tiger wine’ with a sprinkling of bone is supposed to be an aphrodisiac and costs hundreds of pounds.
With other campaigners and investigators, I visited some of these cub farms. It wasn’t our intention to save individual animals: there were so many, it seemed futile. But while we were secretly filming, we saw one tiger that was in imminent danger of being killed. Her name was Sally.
On impulse, we suggested the breeders should hand her over — as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ for our imaginary backers. As we negotiated, the dealer became agitated. He threatened to go into Sally’s cage and kill her on the spot with a 9mm pistol. Eventually, we were able to get the tiger to safety. She is now in a sanctuary at a secret location, and gives her name to my book, Saving Sally: Trophy Hunters’ Secrets And Lies.
With slaughter on such a wide scale, stopping it might seem impossible. But if the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill is passed on March 17, that will be a huge step
Many people imagine trophy hunting is an American obsession. They remember Cecil the lion, killed in Zimbabwe in 2015 by a dentist from Minnesota called Walter Palmer
With slaughter on such a wide scale, stopping it might seem impossible. But if the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill is passed on March 17, that will be a huge step. It will not outlaw hunting abroad, but it will stop one of the chief reasons these people do it — to boast to other hunters by bringing home their prized trophies. (It is not clear whether those pictured here have taken trophies home with them.)
Most MPs back the Bill. But there’s a real danger it could fail on a technicality if too few MPs are present at the vote, which is being held on a day sandwiched between two days of train strikes, and on a Friday, when most would normally be back in their constituencies.
That means there’s one really powerful thing that Daily Mail readers can do to make a difference: write to your MP and urge them to be there to vote. Show you care. Don’t let the slaughter continue.