Don’t let the sun go down on me….
For those who might have been on vacation, Cecil was a lion shot by a hunter in Zimbabwe. Cecil was a pride male living in Hwange National Park with his females and cubs and was then allegedly baited out of the protected area to be hunted.
Cecil was a radiocollared lion involved in a research programme in Hwange run by Oxford University started in 1999. Cecil was not the first male lion enticed out of the park to be shot by trophy hunters. In fact, the research programme indicates that over the years, 74% of the male lions on the border of the National Park have been shot by hunters.
This pattern has also been seen by researchers in Zambia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Tanzania. Why are lions lured out of nationally protected areas? Most likely because the hunting concessions are now completely devoid of trophy male lions after years of unsustainable trophy hunting. The only way to satisfy a lion trophy hunting client is to resort to gaining trophies from the supposedly protected populations?
But let’s get back to Cecil.
This dead lion is now all over the media. All asking about how this could have happened. Sadly Cecil is not the first lion to have been lured out of a national park. He might not even be the one hundred and first….
Accusations are swirling, but let’s tease these complicated strands apart.
1. It is completely legal to bait lions in Zimbabwe – it is standard practice. Cecil was shot with a bow and arrow from a blind. That is also legal. Cecil was shot badly and was only put out of his misery 40 hours later. That is what happens regularly in trophy hunting.
2. Cecil was shot outside a national park in a private hunting concession. That is also legal. It is not illegal to kill radiocollared lions.
3. But Cecil was shot in an area not assigned a lion quota. Supposedly the bait was set for a leopard and then Cecil came along. The professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst told his client to shoot the lion, and then the hunt became illegal.
4. The professional hunter then allegedly attempted to destroy the radiocollar to hide the evidence. Allegedly the client was “furious” when he found that the lion was radiocollared. Allegedly, when a professional hunter engages a client in an area without lion quota, the lion will be listed as hunted in an area that does have quota. This could have been standard practice, but unfortunately Cecil was a well-known lion.
5. The professional hunter and the concession owner are now being investigated. Both were allegedly arrested and released on bail. Bronkhorst has been suspended from the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association. He will likely abscond rather than face trial unless he is confident of the possible bribes he has paid to an entirely corrupt judiciary. The concession owner is allegedly related to the Zimbabwe Minister of Transport and will therefore be immune from prosecution.
6. There seems now to be a desire to find the “client” who shot Cecil. Some say he is Spanish, some say he is American. Whatever his nationality, this man cannot really be prosecuted. A client does what his professional hunter tells him. A client usually has no idea about the laws and regulations of the country he is hunting in – he just buys a safari and then places himself in the hands of his professional hunter guide. Finding the client could be interesting to let him tell his side of the story, but in terms of legal prosecution this person is hardly important.
7. The hunt is also on to find what remains of Cecil. That is strange, as a hunting trophy should be immediately identifiable?
8. There are calls to prevent the import of Cecil’s trophy into the EU. That will be difficult unless the name of the client gets known. Also, it is almost impossible to distinguish a single lion trophy from all the others yearly imported into the EU from Zimbabwe.
Given this furore about Cecil, likely lion number 101 hunted out of a protected area, we would propose the following:
1. A total moratorium on all lion trophy hunting imports into the EU from any African country unless and until verifiable independent lion population counts are undertaken.
2. A call to all African countries to revise immediately their land-use plans whereby hunting concessions border directly onto nationally protected areas. There are no buffer zones and the nationally protected areas are not fenced.
3. A call to all African countries to disallow any baiting of lions, hunting from blinds, hunting with bow and arrow, etc. Let the hunting clients work for their trophy rather than sitting in their vehicles and in their blinds to hunt a lion delivered to their doorstep like a takeaway pizza. What is needed is “fair chase” – supposedly a concept that all hunting organizations espouse as it gives the animal a chance to evade the hunter….
So – let’s have Cecil become a real wakeup call to remind everyone about the nonsense that has permitted lion trophy hunting for far too long, and then to take a cold hard look at the entire concept of trophy hunting, sport hunting, and hunting for entertainment.
Photo credit: Brian Orford