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The Cecil Factor

Monday 27th July 2015


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

Posted by Chris Macsween at 16:15

Barry Groulx
28th July 2015 at 13:49

Not 100% correct. The hunter was an American, a Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, USA. Which means that if the hunt was illegal in terms of Zimbabwe law if he tries to import the trophy into the States it will be in contravention of the Lacey Act.

Where it gets interesting is that Palmer was convicted of a very similar offence in the US state of Wisconsin involving a black bear in 2008. Google him.

One of the problems with the "information" is getting confirmation. Some say Cecil was shot with a bow. Some say a crossbow. One writer on an American forum following Palmer's conviction there said that he used a crossbow on the bear, which was apparently illegal.

The sad thing is, this man is a dentist - a qualified medical professional - the type of person you'd expect to obey the law. And I'm sure, no matter how little idea he has about the laws of the country, he would know whether or not he had a lion on licence because he would have paid for it.

Chris Macsween
28th July 2015 at 14:06

Well said Barry!

It is still only alleged that Walter Palmer shot Cecil. As you say, the Lacey Act will prevent Walter from importing his lion trophy. In addition to what you say about possible Zimbabwe legislation, Walter was hunting on "seized" land now "belonging" to Honest Mpofu - related to the Minister of Transport of Zimbabwe.

The USFWS will not allow any US hunter to collect trophies on seized land. It is Walter's bad luck if he indeed spent huge sums of money to hunt in Zimbabwe to allegedly shoot Cecil and subsequently never will be able to import his trophy.

We can only hope that American clients will be very leery to engage with any professional hunter in Zimbabwe in the future and that lessons are learned.

Chris Macsween
28th July 2015 at 14:08


The USFWS was asked in 2011 to list lions on the US Endangered Species Act. To date, we are still waiting for their final decision. Hopefully incidents like this will convince the USFWS to speed their decision.

Alison Libby
28th July 2015 at 18:50

We can only hope that the economic benefits from tourists, who come to see wildlife in Zimbabwe, will help keep bring Palmer and men like him to justice. I know it is naive to think justice will happen only on the basis of wildlife protection. If Zimbabwean laws are viewed as weak on protecting wildlife, tourists are not likely to take their dollars there. A hit to the wallet, might push Zimbabwean officials to bring Palmer in for questioning, trial and hopefully sentencing.

Wruff truff Fruff
28th July 2015 at 21:03

Lion Aid should also propose that professional hunters' licenses make hunters liable for crimes committed within the expedition as well as the guides. Spreading such responsibility benefits everybody. It evens the power balance not only during contract negotiations but also with obligations of performance. The guides will be less susceptible to corruption and more keen to stick to the letter of the law and hunters will be choosier about their guides and more keen to stick to the letter of the law as well. Plus, while on the hunt and with the spread of legal responsibility shared by all parties, calmer heads ought to prevail and prevent crappy decisions all around such as this despicable Walter Palmer hunt.

Kathleen Andersen
28th July 2015 at 21:28

I think Zimbabwe is as much responsible for allowing trophy hunting. There needs to be a ban on the organizations and companies who promote this. This is truly disgusting and personally is a black eye for the country who allows this.

Massie C
30th July 2015 at 03:08

Hello Everyone,

I have a question that maybe someone could shed some light on as I'm not familiar with how the research programs work. Cecil was wearing a GPS collar when he was lured out. Why did it take the people at Hwange National Park 40 + hours to find him? Doesn't some alarm go off when one of their lions goes out of the protected park letting them which lion got out, or is near the boarder were many times they are lured out?

Sue Thompson
31st July 2015 at 08:23

Is there anything we can do to rescue Cecil's 12 cubs and get them to a good rescue in Africa or Europe?

I know there are so many lions that need help, but I would be happy to fundraise for this, to prevent such a disgusting story becoming worse, and so some part of Cecil lives on.

Nick Senior
31st July 2015 at 15:06

There should be no tolerance for the trophy hunting and killing of any (in particular large and endangered) animals. There should be no licenses for tourist hunters, it should all be banned as it's simply wrong, cruel and uncivilised. People and society should stop compromising and set out to protect what is important. Send the Walter palmers of this world to see therapists to work out why they feel they need to shoot a beautiful large animal in a one sided attack, and then pose bare-chested holding the dead animal up for a photo. What a loser. We need to get a grip and countries need to sort themselves out to defy these scum (insecure, power tripping men) and stopping them from flying in first class, acting like idiots, throwing money around, shooting dead animals (which most of us spen time and money trying to conserve and protect), cutting off their heads and then showing off to their dick head mates. I'm furious. I'm particularly annoyed that his apology was because Cecil was tagged and well known. He wouldn't have apologised if it was a fully untouched wild lion. This is where the world is effed up and needs a shake up

Nick Senior
31st July 2015 at 15:12

Going on safari is about seeing these creatures in their environment and experiencing being near them and seeing them. Not going in and shooting them. These countries should be bold, draw a big line and say we are looking after our wildlife, come and see it, we have no tolerance towards trophy hunting and we protect our wildlife. I can't see the problem, just do that. In the UK, it's illegal to kill a swan. They are protected, simple as that. Protect the animals, incentivise the communities to have the best looked after wildlife, generate positive publicity and more healthy tourism.

Chris Macsween
5th August 2015 at 20:02

Massie C : The hunters shot the lion. All that the researchers could receive was his location. That location via the radio collar was not available to the hunters who most likely had to follow tracks and a blood trail.
The researchers would not have been alerted as they cannot track every single lion 24 hours a day.

Sue Thompson: It seems that Cecil's cubs are safe as Jericho was Cecil's coalition partner and is likely to have sired some of the cubs. As an existing pride male, he will protect the cubs. Since most if not all of the remaining large males have already been killed by trophy hunters (a second lion was killed in the same area on July 3rd), there are likely no other mature males to challenge Jericho or kill the cubs.

Kathleen Andersen
6th August 2015 at 00:40

Of course we cannot send the Walter Palmers out or especially our beauty pagant contender hunter. I mean do you think these cowards are anything without their weapons? No. They are merely hiding behind a fire arm pretending to be "big". I think this sounds like gang mentality. Maybe they would like to go into the streets of America and do a little pistol shooting in Harlem or Los Angeles? Better yet. Iraq or Afghanistan. Oh I think they would be reduced to cowering and spineless no nothing.

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