Australians big on hunting trophies

Australians who like to kill exotic species imported more than 1000 hunting trophies in the space of eight years, including those of hippos, giraffes, zebras, polar bears and lions.

Official wildlife trade data, collated in a new report by the Australian chapter of the Humane Society International, shows Aussies have an enduring appetite for big-game hunting.

It shows Australia was the world's 10th largest importer of hunting trophies in the five years to 2018.

In that time 827 trophies, from whole animals to skins, skulls and hooves, were legally brought into the country under permit.

They included 184 American black bears, 78 zebras, 69 brown bears, 41 cougars, 19 hippopotamuses, 11 polar bears, and 29 lions before lion trophy imports were banned in 2015.

Other species included baboons, monkeys, wild cats and grey wolves.

A further 196 wildlife trophies were brought in from 2019 to 2021, including eight giraffes - a species that previously escaped reporting requirements under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Australia is a party to that convention, which manages the trade of listed animals including their parts, and as such the federal government is responsible for issuing import permits.

The number of those permits being issued in Australia "shows an increasing trend over the last 20 years", the report says.

"Public pressure has already seen prohibitions on trophy imports into Australia for African lions, southern white rhinoceros, and African elephants.

"However, many mammal species are still commonly imported as trophies. It is time to expand the current Australian prohibitions on trophy imports to other wildlife species at risk from hunting."

Dr Megan Kessler, from HSI Australia, says many harms flow from trophy hunting, especially when it involves imperilled species like the Hartmann's mountain zebra.

The zebra is listed as a vulnerable species on the red list of threatened species, compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Even so, 78 of them were imported to Australia as trophies in the five years to 2018.

"There's been a lot of research that shows that trophy hunting is unsustainable. The activity often results in killing the strongest individuals and that in turn changes population structures, and can reduce population viability."

She says that in some species, the removal of a dominant male will result in another one moving in and then killing the offspring of its predecessor.

The United Kingdom and Italian parliaments are currently considering legislation to ban the import of hunting trophies.

And Belgium's parliament has passed a resolution demanding the government immediately stop authorising trophy import permits of species protected under certain international trade regulations.

Dr Kessler says its time for Australia to follow suit.

"For Australia it's mechanically simple thing for us to do. Our national environmental legislation - the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act - is the thing that manages our CITES obligations.

"It allows us to create permits - or not - to import CITES listed species."

She says the current review of that Act makes now the perfect time for change.

"We'd like to see a total ban on the issuing of permits for trophy hunting imports."

Despite Australia ranking 10th for hunting trophy imports in the five years to 2018, its 827 imports accounted for just one per cent of the global total of 97,102 in that time.

The United States was by far the largest importer, accounting for 75 per cent, followed by Germany on four per cent.