Tomorrow we celebrate World Lion Day which is a day that organizations and individuals, help bring awareness to the importance of the Lion and Lion conservation around the world. With the death of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe still fresh in the minds of many including my own, it seems that this could be a turning point not only for Lions but for wildlife in general. When the news broke of Cecil’s death I expected that there would be backlash, but what I couldn’t have predicted was the flood of world-wide rage that was unleashed. The storm was fast and furious, like I have never seen and the last few weeks have been a roller coaster ride especially in the media. I have found myself suffering from Cecil burnout and not because I was tired of hearing about him, but because I am tired of hearing about the killing of wildlife.
Social media has definitely helped educate a whole new generation of people about trophy hunting, canned hunting and how close Lions are to becoming extinct in the wild, however the story of Cecil seems to have really brought people together from all over and in a way, his death may be the wake up call the world needs. What many haven’t realized is what happened to Cecil is happening to other Lions in Africa and the senseless and cruel slaughter of wildlife for sport is a major contributor to Lion mortality along with habitat loss, poaching, human wildlife conflict, canned hunting, the Lion bone trade, and prey loss.
On July 1, 2015 an American Dentist from Minnesota, Walter Palmer, paid approximately $55,000.00 US to kill Cecil a star tourist attraction and the subject of an 8 year study Oxford University scientific study by WILDCRU. Cecil was intentionally lured from the protected areas of Hwange National Park, baited with an animal carcass, shot and wounded with a bow and arrow on private land, and tracked for 40 hours before being shot and killed. Bow and Arrow hunting is extremely brutal and cruel, Cecil would have suffered greatly before he died.
Cecil was then skinned, beheaded and the GPS collar worn by him destroyed in an attempt to cover up the killing. Walter Palmer had gone through all the “legal” channels procuring professional guides who had secured all the proper permits and, to his knowledge believed the hunt was “legal”. The term legal gets thrown around a lot and lets remember just because something is considered legal it doesn’t make it right or ethical or acceptable.
Following the discovery of Cecil’s death two Zimbabwean men hired by Walter Palmer Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris and owner of the land that borders the park, Honest Trymore Ndlovu were arrested. The Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Authority stated: “Both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.” The men face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, however it is unlikely they will serve this time. Bronkhorst, as does Palmer, maintain he did nothing wrong and was unaware Cecil was part of a study, crying that the case against him is frivolous.
Cecil in his glory is captured by tourists on safari and appears relaxed around the vehicle. Viewing this make me think he was accustomed to people and therefore must have been an easy target
Palmer who was previously charged for making false claims to authorities regarding hunting black bear he killed, may not face any charges depending on the circumstances. According to UK-based charity Lion Aid “it is legal to bait lions in Zimbabwe, and even to kill them using a bow and arrow outside of national parks during private hunting trips. Whether or not they’re wearing a radiocollar — Cecil was — also doesn’t matter.”
Many petitions circulating want justice for Cecil and call for Palmer to be extradited to Zimbabwe to stand trial. The White House is currently reviewing a petition which has been signed by more than 160,000 people. Since the US has an extradition treaty with Zimbabwe, there is a chance Palmer could be sent back to face criminal charges. If he will or not remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
“Trophy hunters in Zimbabwe killed around 800 lions in the 10 years to 2009, out of a population in the country of up to 1,680. But it’s not just lions. Cecil, is just one of many animals sold for hunts. A 14-day elephant hunt in Zimbabwe is currently being sold online for $31,000 and includes the killing of one elephant. Buffalo’s meanwhile go for $14,600 on the same site.” – The Dodo
Walter Palmer, a big game hunter, wrote a letter to his patients explaining his passion for hunting and his apparent regret for killing Cecil the Lion. His apology for the most part fell of deaf ears as scores of protestors showed up at his dental practice and social media became the weapon of choice for the angry masses. #CeciltheLion #JusticforCecil #NoMoreCecils and #WalterPalmer began trending immediately along with photos of Palmer and his previous hunts. I don’t think the backlash was this strong when Melissa Bachman posed smiling over a dead Lion, but this time it was as if something clicked and the world was finally seeing trophy hunting for what it was.
Guests on a game drive with African Bush Camps – Authentic Safaris were treated with a sighting of Cecil’s cubs who are alive and well with the females of the pride.
Following Cecil’s death another male Lion Jericho, whom he shared a coalition and the pride with, was thrust into the spotlight when rumors of his death spread not long after Cecil’s. The media spit out stories so fast that it was hard to determine what was true, and already being in a very emotionally charged state over Cecil’s death people were in shock and disbelief that it could happen again. The rumors proved false, Jericho was alive and doing well. He was also taking care of the pride along with the cubs, who may have been sired by both himself and Cecil. The fears that another male Lion would kill the cubs, as often happens when new male Lions come in and take over a pride, were put to rest. The five cubs are safe for now and, as there seems to be a lack of adult male Lions in the area due to trophy hunting, Jericho may not face any new rivals anytime soon.
An investigation is underway into an illegally hunted Lion that occurred on July 3rd (just after Cecil) which was thought to be the cause of the mix up and confusion over Jericho. Hopefully the case of the nameless Lion will also get support as it should be a reminder that there are many Lions suffering the same fate as Cecil. Then everyone got another surprise. Another Lion was reported illegally killed back in April confirmed to be in the same area as Cecil, by Pittsburgh Doctor Jan Seski.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority quickly issued a statement saying that all hunting (including bow hunting) of lions, leopards and elephants has been suspended in the Hwange National Park area, this ban includes places around the park but does not include the entire country.
So is there any good news? It seems that at least one hunter came forward after hearing about Cecil and has had a change of heart. He says that he is hanging up his rifle.
In the US four Democratic senators announced a bill called Cecils law or The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act. This would “extend current US import and export restrictions on animal trophies to include species that have been proposed for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.” The US Fish and Wildlife Service already proposed listing the African Lion as threatened but many have called for an endangered listing and complete ban on all import of Lion trophies into the US. The agency has yet to finalize the designation.
A Facebook community called Dentists for Lions based in Scotland has formed in support of Lions and is raising awareness and money for the charity Lion Aid.
The UN has called on countries to step up efforts to tackle illicit poaching and trafficking in wildlife amid global uproar over the unlawful killing of Cecil.
A petition calling on the US and EU to ban the import of trophies as well as to list Lions as endangered is going strong and can be signed here.
Most major Airlines with routes to Africa, are no longer accepting any trophies such as lions, elephants and rhinos from Africa. Although animals can still be sent by ship, or couriers, the bans will make it a little harder for hunters to get their trophies home.
Having been on safari in Africa, I cannot even begin to determine what makes a person want to kill wildlife. I often wonder if any of these trophy hunters had truly spent any time, as you do on photographic safari’s, to just watch, admire and appreciate Lions or wildlife in general? What sort of disconnected, self-absorbed, sick, shallow personality propels someone to want to torture and kill an animal and then have the nerve to turn around and try to convince others that killing is for the good of the species? I will never understand how they stand over, or on, an animal they have killed smiling with a twisted type of satisfaction. I am going to guess that the killing makes them feel good? I smile to…when I look at the photo’s I have taken on my trips and guess what, none of the animals had to die in order for me to feel good or happy. I also know that the next person will get to experience that same feeling, and the next person after them.
Now, there are opposing views on this topic and, if you are following Cecil’s story you cannot avoid it. It’s the ‘Be careful what you wish for’ argument. This is based on the idea that banning trophy hunting is not the answer and it will do more harm than good. Brent Stapelkamp, field researcher with Oxford University’s WILDCRU, who has been following Cecil for nine years tells BBC News that he doesn’t want to see lion hunting ever again because of the way lions react to it, but he doesn’t want it banned. Brent tells the BBC that “Hunting can be a valuable component to conservation. If a property has a hunting quota and that money comes back from hunting into the management of the land, it’s not going to be at risk.” They say the greater threat lies in poaching, on a commercial level and at a local level by people who set snares to catch wildlife to eat.
Can trophy hunting really be sustainable and can it benefit local communities while preserving the species? Dr. Peter Kat of Lion Aid tells Europe Newsweek that many organizations do not really know how many lions there are in Africa in the first place “We estimate there are around 15,000 lions left in the wild, but I think there are far fewer…and until there can be independent surveys of lion populations in these countries where hunts are taking place. You cannot judge if something is sustainable if you don’t have the source numbers, and we know some countries will exaggerate lion populations, because lots of people in those countries are making money from these hunts.”
It is said that trophy hunting contributes large sums of money to conservation in Africa and local communities, estimated at $200 million annually, but Research “finds that hunting companies contribute only 3% of their revenue to communities living in hunting areas. The vast majority of their expenditure does not accrue to local people and businesses, but to firms, government agencies and individuals located internationally or in national capitals…expenditure accruing to government agencies rarely reaches local communities due to corruption and other spending requirements.”
Surely the value and benefit of live wildlife out ways the value of dead wildlife. How many tourists would have flocked to see Cecil, Zimbabwe’s star Lion and how much money would have provided a continued stream of income? While there are clear challenges and complexities involved like poaching that need to be addressed, why not work on solving them. After all, if trophy hunters truly want to conserve why not donate time and money directly to local communities and the parks to help wildlife?
Despite the odds everything that is happening should give us cause and hope to find solutions to end killing for sport, and in the meantime maybe the Walter Palmer’s of the world should be made to pay financial restitution to the local communities robbed of their wildlife and potential future earnings. Considering that Lion numbers have and continue to decline even with trophy hunting, perhaps it’s time to admit their way of doing things isn’t working either.
Expressing our anger and disgust at Walter Palmer and those like him is OK, because what they are doing is inexcusable on every level, but it won’t bring Cecil or any other Lion back. How we use this momentum will be key to helping Lions, all big cats and wildlife in general going forward. By all accounts it’s not going to be easy and there is a lot do so lets hope people, countries and organizations can find common ground and not squander Cecil’s gift.
Finally, the response to the Cecil controversy varies and some think it will simply fade, Corey Kristoff, a hunter from Alberta tells the Calgary Herald that the public outcry will pass before long and “It’s just a bunch of people with loudmouths, and that will go away in a little bit…This will blow past, just like a fart in the wind.” I actually beg to differ, I think the only thing that is blowing ‘in the wind’ is change.