But photo safari guide killed by lion in destabilized population paid the ultimate price
HARARE, Zimbabwe––Zimbabwe environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri on October 12, 2015 announced that Minneapolis dentist Walter James Palmer, 55, will not be charged for killing Cecil the lion during an early July 2015 trophy hunt.
Cecil had been perhaps the most photographed lion in the world.
“Papers were in order”
Said Muchinguri-Kashiri, “We approached the police and then the prosecutor general, and it turned out that Palmer came to Zimbabwe because all the papers were in order.”
Wrote MacDonald Dzirute of the Harare Herald, “Muchinguri-Kashiri said Palmer would be free to visit Zimbabwe as a tourist in the future, but not as a hunter. The implication was that Palmer would not be issued the permits a hunter needs.”
Responded Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force founder Johnny Rodrigues, “The fact is the law was broken. We are going to get our advocates in America to actually see what they can do to bring Palmer to justice.”
Unlikely that U.S. laws were broken
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is reportedly investigating whether Palmer broke any U.S. laws, but in all likelihood he did not. African lions are not as yet protected by the Endangered Species Act, though the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed on October 14, 2014 that they should be recognized as “threatened.”
“Threatened” status would allow U.S. sport hunters––like Palmer––to continue to import African lion heads, hides, and other trophy remains.
Rodrigues made killing known
That Cecil had been killed became known through the Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force electronic newsletter on July 10, 2015.
“A beautiful famous lion in Hwange National Park has been shot,” posted Rodrigues. “His name was Cecil and everybody wanted photos of him. A big game hunter shot him last week. He could have earned a lot of money by being alive and having photos taken.”
Elaborated Rodrigues a few hours later, “On or about the 6th July 2015, Walter James Palmer was taken to Hwange National Park by professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst. They went hunting at night with a spotlight and spotted Cecil. They tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil out of the park and they scented an area about half a kilometer from the park. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, but this shot didn’t kill him. They tracked him down and found him 40 hours later when they shot him with a gun. They found that he was fitted with a GPS collar because he was being studied by the Hwange Lion Research, funded by Oxford University, so they tried to destroy the collar, but failed because it was found.
“Cecil was skinned and beheaded,” Rodrigues continued. “We don’t know the whereabouts of the head. Walter Palmer apparently paid $50 000 U.S. for the kill. We assume Theo Bronkhorst received this money.” (See Killing the most famous Cecil in Zimbabwe since Rhodes of Rhodesia.)
Zimbabwean officials claimed head as evidence
Reported Dzirute, “Bronkhorst, a professional hunter in Zimbabwe, is charged with breaching hunting rules in connection with the hunt in which Cecil was killed. A game park owner is also charged with allowing an illegal hunt. Both have denied the charges.
“Bronkhorst is expected to appear on October 13, 2015 in a Hwange court where a magistrate will rule on a request by his lawyers that his indictment be quashed,” Dzirute continued. “Parks officials said prosecutors would bring Cecil’s head, which the hunters took as a trophy, to court as an exhibit if the trial goes ahead.”
Acknowledged Dzirute, “Wildlife hunting, which earned $45 million last year, is an important source of money for Zimbabwe.”
Whether Dzirute meant Zimbabwean dollars or U.S. dollars was unclear. Zimbabwean dollars, after years of runaway inflation, were recently declared officially worthless and are no longer used even by the Zimbabwean government.
Mugabe wanted more $$ from hunters
Robert Mugabe, ruling Zimbabwe since 1980, was already openly hoping to extract more money from trophy hunters when Palmer killed Cecil. (See How the Cecil killing helps Mugabe to squeeze more money out of trophy hunters.)
Mugabe, 91, president of Zimbabwe since overthrowing the government of the former Rhodesia, has long relied on trophy hunting revenues to keep favored members of his ZANU-PF political party on his side.
But in March 2015 Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe chairman Emmanuel Fundira warned the nation that hunting income had fallen substantially during the preceding year, with no upturn in immediate sight.
The Cecil killing gave Mugabe just the lever he needed to put on the squeeze, by temporarily suspending hunting, much to the frustration of hunting concessionaires and their foreign clients.
The October 12, 2015 announcement that Palmer would not be charged with any offense appeared to signal that the Zimbabwean trophy hunting industry will now return to business as usual.
Palmer was “agitated”
Palmer returned to his dental clinic on September 8, 2015, expressing “agitation at the animosity directed at those close to him” by people critical of the Cecil killing, reported Brian Bakst of Associated Press.
In an interview the preceding day, Bakst wrote, “conducted jointly by the Associated Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune that advisers said would be the only one granted, Palmer said that he believes he acted legally and that he was stunned to find out his hunting party had killed one of Zimbabwe’s treasured animals.”
Palmer “disputed conservationist accounts that the wounded lion wandered for 40 hours and was finished off with a gun,” Bakst added, “saying he was tracked down the next day and killed with an arrow. Palmer shut off several lines of inquiry about the hunt, including how much he paid for it or others he has undertaken. No videotaping or photographing of the interview was allowed. During the 25-minute interview, Palmer gazed intensely at his questioners, often fiddling with his hands and turning occasionally to an adviser, Joe Friedberg, to field questions about the fallout and his legal situation.
Killing Cecil essentially to boost his status as a “sportsman,” Walter Palmer had overnight become the second most recognized Palmer in sports. The subject of more than 2.5 million Google hits, Walter Palmer trailed only Arnold Palmer, a professional golfer from 1953 to 2006, who generated 6.5 million hits. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, whose career ran from 1965 through 1984, was a distant third with 432,000 hits.
On August 24, 2015, meanwhile, another lion residing in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe fatally mauled a 40-year-old photo safari guide, according to a Facebook post from Camp Hwange.
Unclear was whether the incident was related to territorial instability among the surviving Hwange lions, after more than two dozen radio-collared male lions, including Cecil, were shot for trophies during the preceding two years.
But the South African online magazine SAPeople mentioned in reporting the death that “Less than a week ago, safari company Camp Hwange was celebrating the ‘cat bonanza’ they had been enjoying lately,” with more lions than usual moving about and easily photographed by visitors.
“It is with deep regret and great sadness,” the statement said, “that we are able to confirm the death of Quinn Swales, a Camp Hwange professional guide, who was fatally mauled by a male lion whilst out on a walking safari this morning. We can confirm that Quinn did everything he could to successfully protect his guests and ensure their safety, and that no guests were injured in the incident.”
Elaborated Camp Hwange later in the day, “Quinn and his group of six clients had come across the tracks of a pride of lions while walking down the edge of an open savannah ‘vlei line’ and soon thereafter came across the pride lying down some distance from them.
“At this point the adult male rose and began walking purposefully towards the group. As he had done numerous times in his career, Quinn immediately briefed his guests on what to expect and instructed them to get behind him and not move.
“At this stage the lion did not charge the group, but unusually kept walking purposefully towards them. Once it had breached a certain point, both Quinn and his party of guests began shouting at the lion in an attempt to intimidate it.
“This had the desired affect and the lion stopped to watch them, allowing Quinn the opportunity to set off a ‘bear banger’ (very loud firecracker) to further dissuade it. This caused the lion to move off obliquely, away from the group, in a manner which suggested it would return to the pride, but it suddenly turned and instantaneously charged and attacked Quinn, who had continued to place himself between his guests and the animal.
“Quinn bore the full brunt of the charge and, unable to fire his rifle due to the speed of the attack, literally stopped the attack of the lion on his group by placing himself directly in harm’s way.
“Having been thrown to the ground, bitten in the shoulder and neck, Quinn sadly died at the scene, the shouting of his guests driving the lion away from his body and allowing, ultimately unsuccessfully, emergency first aid to be performed.”
Reported News24 of Johannesburg, South Africa, “Swales’ Facebook page said he was from Trelawney in northern Zimbabwe. Tragically the last photo he posted on August 10 was of Cecil, whose death caused global outrage, reviving questions about big-game hunting and its sustainability in Africa.”
(See also “Cecil died for your sins!”)