A series of tear-jerker articles in British newspapers concerning the taking of a lion at the beginning of this month on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park has unleashed an astonishing tizzy of violent emotionalism and anti-hunting bigotry on the part of the international media’s ill-informed and urban-based mass audience.
Dr. Walter Palmer, a Bloomington, Minnesota dentist who is also a long-time and spectacularly accomplished big game hunter, has been pilloried for effectuating the demise of a mature, 13-year-old male lion, referred to by the Press as “Cecil.” (Wikipedia notes that, typically, “Lions live for 10â€“14 years in the wild.”) Lions, of course, do not have names.
All the heart-string-tugging malarkey about poor “Cecil” was apparently started by the head of one of those Timothy Treadwell-style, self-appointed, one-man “Save the Charismatic Wildlife By Giving Me Money!” Conservation Charities. Johnny Rodrigues, a Madeira-born former Rhodesian farmer and operator of a failed trucking company, founder and Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, seems to be the original source of Cecil’s biography and all the complaints.
The story, as told to the BBC, went:
A hunter paid a $55,000 (Â£35,000) bribe to wildlife guides to kill an “iconic” lion in Zimbabwe, a conservationist has told the BBC.
Allegations that a Spaniard was behind the killing were being investigated, Johnny Rodrigues said.
The lion, named Cecil, was shot with a crossbow and rifle, before being beheaded and skinned, he added.
The 13-year-old lion was a major tourist attraction at Zimbabwe’s famous Hwange National Park.
Zimbabwe, like many African countries, is battling to curb illegal hunting and poaching which threatens to make some of its wildlife extinct.
Mr Rodrigues, the head of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said the use of a bow and arrow heralded a new trend aimed at avoiding arrest.
“It’s more silent. If you want to do anything illegal, that’s the way to do it,” he told BBC’s Newsday programme.
However, the lion, which had a distinctive black mane, did not die immediately and was followed for more than 40 hours before it was shot with rifle, Mr Rodrigues said.
The animal had a GPS collar for a research project by UK-based Oxford University, allowing authorities to track its movements.
Mr Rodrigues said Cecil’s killing was tragic.
“He never bothered anybody. He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at.”
The lion had been “baited” out of the park, a tactic which hunters used to portray their action as legal, Mr Rodrigues said.
Two guides had been arrested and if it was confirmed that the hunter was a Spaniard, “we will expose him for what he is”, he added.
The six cubs of Cecil will now be killed, as a new male lion in the pride will not allow them to live in order to encourage the lionesses to mate with him.
“That’s how it works… it’s in the wild; it’s nature taking its course,” Mr Rodrigues said.
Mr. Rodrigues was clearly in error on a variety of details.
The hunter was not Spanish, and was actually the American Dr. Palmer. The lion was undoubtedly shot with a longbow, not a crossbow. Dr. Palmer obviously did not bribe anybody. He would have been paying, as is typically required for non-citizens hunting in African countries, per diem for the safari guiding services of a professional hunting company, which would have run something on the order of $1800-2200 a day. (Example: CMS Safaris) He would additionally have paid a $10,000-15,000 trophy fee to the government of Zimbabwe for the privilege of taking a lion.
It is by no means impossible that Mr. Rodrigues is correct as to the total amount of hunting and trophy fees contributed by Dr. Palmer to the Zimbabwean economy and in support of wildlife conservation in that country. Trophy big game hunting is expensive and represents the principal source of revenue in African countries used to protect wildlife and to prevent poaching.
If one looks at the situation correctly, Dr. Palmer was harvesting an aged, trophy lion in exchange for a massive infusion of cash. The ability of African countries to collect those kinds of trophy fees and the ability of sport hunting to provide African employment and to bring that kind of money into the local economy constitutes the best possible kind of motivation for African governments to take a serious interest in the protection, preservation, and survival of big game species. When one lion can bring Zimbabwe $55,000 in cold hard cash, you can bet that lions will not be permitted to be exterminated in Zimbabwe.
The British press stories, based on Mr. Rodrigues’ accusations, claim that the lion was lured outside the park intentionally by baiting, but the later accounts all make clear that “Cecil” wandered out of the park and was shot when found going after bait which had been placed legally to attract leopard. Nobody baits lions, but leopards (absent any other practical method) are typically shot over bait.
Further accusations express outrage that Dr. Palmer shot a collared lion, but “Cecil” was a handsome specimen with a large and very full mane. Looking at two photographs of him, I certainly cannot see a collar. It is obviously unfair to blame the hunter for not seeing a collar buried deep in a lion’s mane.
And, apparently, the harvesting of a collared lion inadvertently by a sport hunter is not unusual. (Telegraph)
The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University has tracked the Hwange lions since 1999 to measure the impact of sport hunting beyond the park on the lion population within the park, using radar and direct observation.
According to figures published by National Geographic, 34 of their 62 tagged lions died during the study period â€“ 24 were shot by sport hunters.
The Press piled on inflammatory details obviously intended to stir readers’ emotions. The newspaper accounts all note that the lion was initially wounded, and then subsequently followed up and killed by gunshot. And then! the poor lion’s remains were outraged and violated. He was skinned and decapitated, the newsprint screams. Urban readers are clearly intended to regard Dr. Palmer and his professional hunter as barbarians on a par with ISIS, running around decapitating lions. Of course, a trophy game animal is commonly skinned and its skull taken and preserved, so that they can be mounted by a taxidermist.
Zimbabwe, of course, is an incompetent and corrupt left-wing kleptocracy run by primitive natives, so all this international brouhaha is provoking exactly the kind of pompous official response one might expect. Dr. Palmer’s lion trophy has been confiscated, and the professional hunting firm is being charged with taking the lion illegally. Zimbabwean authorities now contend that the lion was taken on a farm whose owner had not been allocated any permit allowing a lion to be harvested. If that story is correct, of course, the violation would not be the fault of the American dentist. The visiting hunter pays that $1800-2200 per diem to the professional hunting company precisely so that his White Hunters will guide him to locations where the trophies he is after can be legally hunted and see to it that all of the necessary licenses and permits are in order.
Poor Dr. Palmer, as the result, of all of this has become the object of literally thousands and thousands of pieces of hate postings, many of them explicitly yearning for him to die a painful death, and he has been forced to close his office and go into hiding.
How well do you suppose the safari industry in Zimbabwe will be making out next year? What do you suppose Zimbabwean game license fees funding that country’s conservation revenues are going to be like? As we sit here, you can count on it, letters cancelling next year’s safaris are being written. And it follows inevitably that game protection funding will be down to zip, and poaching and illegal lion taking in the general vicinity of Hwange National Park will be flourishing on an unprecedented scale for many years to come, all thanks to Mr. Rodrigues and all the animal lovers writing news reports for British newspapers.