This Gosport man is backed by Ricky Gervais, Ralph Fiennes and Leonardo Di Caprio in fight to outlaw trophy hunting

As a child growing up in Portugal, Eduardo Goncalves was horrified when he first saw a bull slaughtered to thunderous applause.

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 3:46 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 1:43 pm
Eduardo Goncalves, a Gosport resident, is spearheading the national Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Just eight years old, he first saw a bull killed for sport on national television, an event that was celebrated by the media and neighbours alike.

It was this sight that has led to him dedicating his life to battling animal cruelty, working for a slew of organisations and picking up support from celebrities and world leaders along the way.

A 51-year-old father, Mr Goncalves moved to Gosport more than a decade ago, settling down with his wife Siobhan and twins Luis and Joe.

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In 2000 he set up SOS Lynx – a campaign so save the Iberian Lynx, native to Portugal and Spain and the world’s most endangered feline species.

In 2013 he donated one of his kidneys to his son Luis, who was just nine years old at the time, saving his son's life in the process.

Spearheading campaign to ban trophy hunting

Philip Dixie (left), a professional hunter from Blaauwkrantz hunting reserve points out a trophy to man during a hunting Safari. Picture: Gianluigi Guercia / AFP / Getty Images

Now Mr Goncalves, who spearheads the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, is on the cusp of defeating trophy hunting in the UK by outlawing the import of trophies, and hopes to eventually ban the barbaric practice worldwide.

Trophy hunting is the act of hunting down big game – typically lions, rhinos or elephants – with the trophy being the head or skin of the animal, which can then be taken home.

Mr Goncalves, a former Liberal Democrat council candidate in Gosport, is researching a new book and warns prolific killers started out abusing animals.

Picture: Shutterstock

He said: ‘People like Ian Brady, Jon Venables and even the kids behind the Columbine Massacre were all known for their animal cruelty, so I wonder if it’s something that escalates that way for trophy hunters too.

‘Growing up in Portugal I was exposed to the sport of bullfighting at a very young age.

Barbaric killing shocked campaigner

‘I was horrified to see it unfold – it was so barbaric. Fortunately, my family agreed with me.

Eduardo Goncalves, a Gosport resident, is spearheading the national Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘Since then, I’ve worked for the WWF and been the chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports – but now working on the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, things are progressing at a hell of a pace.’

At the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora meeting in Geneva, Mr Goncalves’ campaign led to regulations being put in place against the hunting of giraffes.

He said the damage being done by trophy hunters to African wildlife is permanently changing wildlife, and could lead them to extinction as it alters the gene pool.

‘African elephants are a prime example of how trophy hunting is destroying wildlife,’ he said.

‘Because of this barbaric activity, elephants have evolved to grow shorter tusks, since hunters only want ones with big tusks on their living room wall.

‘But this also means they can't search as far into the ground for water when there's a drought.’

Picture: Shutterstock

Worldwide support from celebrities

Since starting the campaign, Mr Goncalves has seen considerable worldwide support, from Oscar-winning actor Leonardo di Caprio to musician Ed Sheeran and comedian Ricky Gervais.

Di Caprio produced a video in support of the campaign, while Sheeran and Gervais are listed on the campaign’s website as official supporters.

Now, an early day motion to ban trophy hunting imports has 178 signatures from MPs across all eight political parties in the House of Commons.

Last month, the Labour Party adopted the policy of banning trophies from entering Britain, with campaigners expecting the Conservatives to do the same.

It is hoped that this support, followed by parliament passing a bill to outlaw these imports, could set a precedent for the EU and UN to eventually follow suit.

Mr Goncalves said it was ‘wonderful’ to see such widespread support for the ban in the UK.

But what actually motivates people to hunt an animal and take its head home as a prize? 

Mr Goncalves has been studying the motivations of trophy hunters while he works on a new book, and believes it's a mixture of escaping the rat race and enjoying the thrill of a hunt.

He said: ‘For some, it’s almost like regressing to a caveman-like status, getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The main difference is that cavemen didn’t kill animals in caged enclosures.

‘For others, it’s a symbol of social status – these hunts are very expensive and the head of their kill takes a proud place above their fireplace.

‘But worryingly, when you ask trophy hunters they simply say they enjoy it.’

Breakthrough in campaign is coming 

As the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting goes from strength to strength, Mr Goncalves and his swathes of supporters are optimistic of a breakthrough in the next few years.

He said: ‘I believe it’s a question of when, rather than if – but international law-making moves rather slowly.

‘If we can get something done in Europe, it would get more countries engaged with the process and hopefully bring about an international treaty.

‘We’re likely looking at another decade to get this all through, but the reality is that these animals cannot wait that long.

‘Every day, three lions are shot in African enclosures, so time is of the essence.’

But further afield, discussions have arisen about whether trophy hunting could actually be beneficial to conservation.

Campaigner quashes conservation claim

In African countries the industry is booming, although the exact GDP contribution is heavily disputed by both sides of the trophy hunting argument.

In an open letter signed by 133 scientists, including Dr Amy Dickman from Oxford University, it has been suggested that trophy hunting helps to pay for improved conservation, providing income for ‘marginalised and impoverished rural communities’.

Dr Dickman said: ‘Trophy hunting protects vast areas of land – most of that land is fairly marginal and would not be economically viable for photo-tourism.

‘If revenue is lost from those areas then they are very likely to be converted to human-dominated uses such as agriculture and human settlement – the amount of snaring, poisoning and habitat loss would dramatically increase.’

But Mr Goncalves has rubbished this claim, saying the amount of money seen by these governments is not as high as others may think.

Drop in number of African elephants

According to the Great Elephant Census published in 2016, the population of African elephants dropped by 144,000 between 2007 and 2014 – a decrease of 30 per cent.

Mr Goncalves said: ‘The populations of animals hunted as trophies is plummeting, so if this is for conservation then it's clearly not working.

‘What’s more, the money generated from trophy hunting stays in the industry, for the most part. Very little, if any, ends up going towards conservation.

‘Put it this way; photo-tourism – going on safari to observe these animals in their natural habitat – raises millions of dollars every year; meanwhile, the trophy fee for Cecil the lion was just £15,000.’

Conservationists have written an open letter arguing that imposing trophy hunting bans without viable alternatives will imperil biodiversity. Picture: Ruaha Carnivore Project/PA Wire
Picture: Shutterstock