In a triumph for wild animals and the people who advocate for their protection, Belgium’s Parliament voted unanimously to prohibit the importation of hunting trophies from many endangered species into the country. This means that trophy hunters who pay top dollar to travel abroad to shoot endangered animals to death will no longer be able to bring home animal body parts to hang on their walls.
Such a legal obstacle not only removes a motivation for trophy hunting, but also reflects the shifting tides of what we human beings deem acceptable treatment of endangered animals in our era of unprecedented biodiversity loss.
The passage of the bill also shows the force of public opinion: 91% of Belgians stand against trophy hunting, and 88% supported a ban on the importation of any hunting trophy, according to a 2020 Ipsos survey commissioned by Humane Society International/Europe. While we expected this outcome, it’s always a thrill when the world takes a concrete step toward a more humane world for animals.
Before the ban, Belgium imported trophies of species vulnerable to extinction such as hippopotamuses, cheetahs and polar bears. The new law will stop the import of hunting trophies from many species currently at risk of extinction due to trade or that could be threatened unless trade is limited, including jaguars, cheetahs, leopards, some brown bears, Cape mountain zebra, chimpanzees, African elephants, African lions, southern white rhinos, hippos and argali sheep.
Many people now understand trophy hunting of endangered species as nothing less than an existential threat to their survival. Trophy hunters prefer to kill the largest, most physically impressive animals, whose loss can cause steep declines in populations. Added to other threats, trophy hunting glorifies the killing of rare animals for little more than bragging rights and a trophy decoration.
I am so proud of our HSI/Europe colleagues who for years have championed this cause, working closely with Belgian lawmakers to garner parliamentary support. Our team’s work led to a unanimously supported parliamentary resolution in 2022 that became a legislative proposal approved by the federal government’s Council of Ministers in July 2023. Now that the bill has become law, its implementation will require royal sanction and promulgation, which we expect to be completed soon.
The European Union is the second-largest importer of hunting trophies in the world, after the U.S., according to an HSI/Europe report, and Belgium is the 13th-largest hunting trophy importer of internationally protected species in Europe. The ban in Belgium sends a positive signal in support of the adoption of a similar ban in neighboring France, where a cross-party Assembly bill proposal to ban the import of hunting trophies of protected species is currently being pursued by lawmakers.
We will keep fighting for more and more countries to crack down on trophy hunting imports. Our colleagues in Europe will be pushing for an EU-wide ban on the import of hunting trophies from endangered and protected species, while across the Atlantic, our HSUS team urges stricter regulation of trophy imports.
Our work in protecting these imperiled species is far from over, and there’s no time to waste. One need look no further than some social media circles: Photos of hunters posing with their freshly bagged endangered animals continue to be celebrated, without a thought for the message these images will convey to future generations. We’re working to make sure those future generations don’t one day view these images as testament to the callous indifference that led to a world in which those species cease to exist.