PETER FROST is incensed by policies that allow – in some African countries – the hunting of lions at the time when their populations are in long-term decline and require support
The death of Cecil the lion (below), a legendary tourist attraction in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is an outrage.
It would be bad enough if this magnificent creature, an alpha male that had fathered numerous cubs in prides across the park, had had his life snuffed out by a poacher — but in this case it was a rich US citizen, Walter Palmer, a cosmetic dentist from Minnesota who shoots big and rare animals strictly for fun.
Sadly, the game authorities in Zimbabwe were complicit in the slaughter. Despite the number of wild lions across Africa plummeting in recent years, hunters are still allowed to kill them in Zimbabwe.
In some other African countries it remains legal to hunt and kill these big cats despite lack of reliable scientific data on their current populations.
In fact wild lions in Africa may now number as few as 25,000 — down from 80,000 in 1980 — and it is entirely possible that they will disappear completely from a significant number of their current habitats.
Palmer paid £35,000 to shoot the famed lion with a hightech bow and arrow.
Cecil wasn’t just a well known attraction in the park but also part of Oxford University research and was fitted with a GPS tracking collar as part of the project.
Palmer and his local guides went hunting at night with a spotlight and came across Cecil. Shooting lions in the national park is totally illegal so they tied a dead and bleeding goat to their vehicle to deliberately lure the lion out of the park.
Once outside the perimeter Cecil was badly injured with arrows shot from Palmer’s powerful bow.
The fatally wounded and terrified animal dragged himself away and only after 40 hours of painful suffering was he finally finished off with a gun.
However, the indignity and cruelty were not over. The body of the 13-year-old animal was beheaded and skinned for trophies and his bones taken to be sold into the dubious Asian quack medicine trade.
“The lion never bothered anybody,” said Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbwabe Conservation Task Force.
“He was one of the most magnificent and beautiful animals in the whole park.”
One of Palmer’s professional guides and hunters, Theo Bronkhorst, (pictured above with Walter Palmer and Zane Bronkhorst) contacted authorities the day after the lion was killed to say a mistake had been made. He and the owner of the land bordering the park have been arrested. The farm where Cecil perished had no licence to kill lions at all.
Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said that Bronkhorst and the farmer will appear in court and face poaching charges. Palmer quickly left the country and is now back in his multi-million-pound Minnesota home.
This wasn’t Palmer’s first lion and certainly not his first kill of a rare and exotic animal. On many hunting sites on the internet Palmer has boasted of all the animals he has killed for pleasure. He has posted many pictures posing proudly with the corpses of the animals he has slaughtered.
He has killed every large game species in the US bar one. These home-grown kills include an elk and a Nevada bighorn sheep (below) — both incredibly rare animals.
In 2008, Palmer faced prison and eventually was placed on probation after admitting to making a false statement to a federal agent in connection with his hunt of a black bear in Wisconsin.
He had shot a black bear 40 miles outside the area where he was licensed to hunt, and then lied about it to a US Fish and Wildlife agent.
He was ordered to pay £2,000 in restitution and was placed on probation for one year.
Before shooting Cecil, Palmer killed another African lion in 2008. He also killed a 175lb leopard in Zimbabwe in 2010.
Another gloating website picture shows him with a dead rhinoceros.
Hunting with a bow and arrow is only permitted in private hunting game parks in Zimbabwe‚ never in national parks.
Rodrigues said on Tuesday that the head of Cecil had been located in Zimbabwe and impounded as evidence in the investigation.
Local conservation charity Lion Aid explains that it is legal to bait lions in Zimbabwe, to shoot them with a bow and arrow from a hide, to kill them outside a national park in a private hunting area and to kill collared lions.
Palmer claims that he had all the proper legal permits. He didn’t.
Cecil was shot in an area not assigned a lion quota. His excuse is the bait was set for a leopard and when Cecil came along, Palmer claims Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter, told him to shoot the lion — a totally illegal act.
The hunters then attempted to destroy the radio collar to hide the evidence.
Palmer has said that he acted legally and put the blame firmly on the local hunters and guides but there is no doubt he should be brought to justice for this outrage.
Already demonstrators demanding justice are outside his Minnesota home and their actions have shut down his dental practice. His various websites and social media are full of angry and abusive messages telling him what the public in general think about his killing the Cecil. An on-line petition to extradite Palmer to Africa reached nearly 200,000 signatures in just one day and continues to grow.
Africa’s big game animals have enough problems with home-grown poachers. Surely it is time we banned the kind of tourism that involves visiting lovely parts of the world, spotting the lovely creatures that live there — and killing them.
This article (under a slightly more polite headline) appeared in the Morning Star 31 July 2015