Cecil was slain just in time to help Mugabe increase the government cut
(See also Killing the most famous Cecil in Zimbabwe since Rhodes of Rhodesia, part one of a series about the Cecil slaying and what it means.)
HARARE––Robert Mugabe was already hoping to extract more money from trophy hunters when alleged trophy poachers killed Cecil the lion in early July 2015. The killing gave him just the lever he needed to put on the squeeze.
Mugabe, 91, president of Zimbabwe since overthrowing the government of the former Rhodesia in 1980, has long relied on trophy hunting revenues to keep favored members of his ZANU-PF political party on his side.
Hunting revenue falling fast
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.
Global demographics show that sport hunting participation in the industrialized world peaked among the “Baby Boom” generation, born between 1946 and 1964. Even the youngest “boomers” have now passed age 50; most, at 55 and older, have reached the age at which hunting participation declines abruptly with advancing age, deteriorating health, and limited opportunities for increasing income to finance expensive hobbies.
“Canned lion” industry
There are still more than enough trophy hunters to keep the industry lucrative for years to come, but the chief opportunities for growth are in luring hunters away from one venue to another, by trolling more attractive bait, namely bigger heads and sets of horns, accessible at less effort and expense.
This favors the “canned lion” industry of South Africa, where trophy-sized lions are in gist factory-farmed before being “released” into fenced hunting habitats a week or two before being killed. Zimbabwe, more expensive for foreign hunters to reach than South Africa, appears to be at a permanent disadvantage in competing for dwindling trophy hunting market share.
But Mugabe and Mugabe regime insiders have been reluctant to give up their longtime “cash cow”––or even to admit that the economic basis of their grip on authority is doomed by demographics and will have to change, quickly, if Zimbabwe is ever to emerge from decades of decline relative to the rest of the world.
Ebola & ivory
Said Fundira, “We have been hit by the Ebola outbreak and the ivory ban. The projection is about a 20% downturn [in hunting revenue]. The impact has been quite severe.”
“In April 2014,” reminded Zimbabwe Independent writer Kudzai Kuwazathe, “the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department announced a suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. [Then] the Ebola virus broke out, killing thousands, particularly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, sparking fears that the outbreak would spread to other countries on the continent.”
The loss of hunting income, Kuwazathe elaborated, “has affected the livelihood of 800,000 families under the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources,” CAMPFIRE for short.
Kuwazathe described CAMPFIRE as “a community-based natural resource management program, in which rural district councils, on behalf of communities on communal land, are granted the authority to market access to wildlife in their district to safari operators.”
The CAMPFIRE program was engineered by Brian Child, originally from Zimbabwe, now an associate professor of geography at the University of Florida. Initially CAMPFIRE was funded by USAid in connection with a package of political trade-offs which in 1989 won the international embargo on trade in elephant ivory that the 2014 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ban on elephant trophy imports was introduced to help enforce.
Rewarded Mugabe regime insiders
From 1989 through 2004, USAid pumped more than $40 million into CAMPFIRE, essentially subsidizing trophy hunts. CAMPFIRE raised about $2.5 million per year in revenue during those years, more than 90% of it from hunting.
Mostly, though, CAMPFIRE rewarded Mugabe regime insiders for neglecting the promises to nationalize resources and redistribute land that brought them to power.
By 2000, however, many longtime Mugabe supporters had lost patience after 20 years of waiting to be given land. In response, Mugabe authorized “land invasions” of farms and privately owned nature conservancies managed by Zimbabweans of European descent.
By 2003, Child acknowledged in a 2007 paper published by the Property & Environment Research Center, of Bozeman, Montana, “The central [CAMPFIRE] institutions had all but collapsed in function and, fueled by vast amounts of donor money especially from USAid, had become bloated.”
But Child insisted that CAMPFIRE was still a success, because “Almost half the money generated from the sale of wildlife was still getting to the communities, albeit this was down from about three-quarters” eight years earlier, when Child left Zimbabwe to push the CAMPFIRE approach in Zambia and Kenya.
By 2011, seven years after USAid quit subsidizing CAMPFIRE, even some Zimbabwean sources cautiously recognized that CAMPFIRE was a boondoggle.
“Reports from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and the World Wildlife Fund clearly indicate that the country’s wildlife population continues to dwindle drastically,” wrote Chipo Masara for the Zimbabwe Standard.
The CAMPFIRE scheme to promote “sustainable utilization” of wildlife “was welcomed by many Zimbabweans,” Masara recalled.
“Unfortunately, most appear to have missed the bit about utilizing the resources in a sustainable manner.”
Land invasions & greed
Steven Kasere, who directed CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe from 1999 to 2001, partially “blamed the apparent failure of CAMPFIRE on greed,” wrote Masara. “Animals are killed for financial gain without allowing them a chance to regenerate.”
But Kasere also blamed the preceding decade of land invasions and occupations of private conservancies by Mugabe supporters.
“Urbanites who were never part of CAMPFIRE suddenly became farmers,” paraphrased Masara.
Said Kasere, “Naturally, they started to cut down trees and kill animals, because they had no knowledge of viable land use options other than agriculture. In the former CAMPFIRE areas, key personnel moved to new resettlement areas, leaving CAMPFIRE institutions ineffective. So the land reform was not accompanied by the necessary institutional arrangements to save wildlife. Hence a lot of wild animals were killed while natural resource institutions collapsed.”
“Strategies are just not working”
Summarized Masara, “What is important is to admit that the wildlife management strategies that Zimbabwe has adopted are just not working, and to urgently seek to rectify the situation, if the country’s wildlife is ever to be saved.”
More carefully worded criticisms of CAMPFIRE surfaced in Zimbabwean non-government media soon after Wongai Zhangazha of the Zimbabwe Independent disclosed a proposal by Deputy Minister of Justice Obert Gutu to feed elephant meat to prisoners.
Zimbabwean prison meals “do not meet the approved dietary standards as stipulated by the law,” Gutu told Wongai Zhangazha. “In one of our meetings it was discussed extensively how the problem could be solved,” Gutu elaborated. “It was at this meeting that the ministry and the Prison Services Commission considered elephant meat as an option.”
Zimbabwean Parks & Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo told Wongai Zhangazha that she had heard nothing about the idea.
But word of it had already reached the rest of the world, further eroding the confidence of the global conservation community that the Zimbabwean government saw wildlife as anything other than a resource for exploitation.
Poaching blamed for 2013 revenue slump
Criticism of the CAMPFIRE program subsided somewhat when hunting revenue surged, temporarily, after several western nations eased restrictions on travel to Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, Fundira in October 2013 acknowledged a drop of 10% to 15% in hunting revenue that he then blamed on “rampant poaching that has resulted in the death of more than 90 elephants,” Kudzai Kuwaza of the Zimbabwe Independent reported.
Combined, the 2013 and 2014 downturns in hunting income amount to 25%-45%,
Hunting suspended in Antoinette region
The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority on August 12, 2015 announced that it had suspended hunting in the areas where Cecil the lion was poached about six weeks earlier, reiterating an order originally leaked to media by the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters & Guides Association on August 2, 2015.
The suspension of hunting was limited to “Antoinette and Antoinette Farm, Railway Farm 31, Umguza and Kusile rural district councils, pending outcome of the court processes” brought against the alleged perpetrators, said the Harare Herald.
Alleged perps charged
Gwayi Conservancy farmer Honest Trymore Ndlovu and hunting guide Theo Bronkhorst of Bushman Safaris had been charged with a variety of offenses in connection with the death of Cecil.
Minnesota dentist Walter James Palmer allegedly paid Bronkhorst $55,000 to arrange the killing. Palmer wounded Cecil after he was lured out of Hwange National Park, but Cecil escaped, badly injured. Cecil was dispatched by gunfire, beheaded, skinned, and left for vultures two days later.
Elsewhere in Zimbabwe, “The suspension of wildlife hunting has been lifted with immediate effect and on the following conditions,” the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority declared.
“Collared iconic animals”
Specifically, “All lion, leopard and elephant hunts [are to] be conducted [only] if confirmed and authorized in writing by the Director-General of the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority, and only if accompanied by parks staff whose costs will be met by the land owner.
“Bow hunting for big game including lions is stopped with immediate effect,” the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Authority continued “and no such hunting is [to be] conducted unless it has been confirmed and authorized in writing by the Director-General of the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority only up to the end of this season.”
The order concluded, “Stop hunting of collared iconic animals pending amendment of the current hunting regulations.”
The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority had already, four days earlier, said it had lifted a week-long suspension of lion, leopard, and elephant hunting, “following some useful discussions between operators and the relevant Zimbabwean authorities,” but amended the previous statement after Mugabe personally addressed the Cecil killing in his speech to the nation on Heroes’ Day, a holiday roughly equivalent to Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day in the United States.
“Our wildlife, all our animals, belong to us. They should not be shot with a gun or with an arrow,” Mugabe said, taking a position superficially contradicting his decades of economic dependence on trophy hunting.
“Even Cecil the lion is yours”
“Even Cecil the lion is yours. He is dead. He was yours to protect and he [was] there to protect you,” Mugabe continued, blaming the killing on “vandals who come from all over. Of course some may be just ordinary visitors,” Mugabe said, apparently distinguishing tourists from trophy hunters, “but others want to vandalize, to irregularly and illegally acquire part of these resources.”
Cecil was reportedly the fourth or fifth radio-collared lion in Hwange National Park to be poached during the first seven months of 2015.
Explained News24 television, of Johannesburg, South Africa, “Hunting is generally banned in all of Zimbabwe’s state-owned parks, although it has been allowed in the case of so-called ‘ration hunting,’ when game was killed to feed rangers and other government workers or for national events. Sources say the authorities may now have banned this practice. Zimbabwean hunting officials were not available for comment.”
Economic loss to the nation
Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority director general Edison Chidziya and Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe president Emmanuel Fundira “said ongoing investigations to date suggested that the killing of the lion was illegal,” even if Cecil had not been lured out of a national park, “since the land owner had not been allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015,” wrote Abigail Mawonde of the Harare Herald.
But the aspect of the Cecil killing emphasized by Zimbabwean officials and the Harare Herald, a quasi-state newspaper closely aligned with ZANU-PF, was the economic loss to the nation.
“Bryan Orford, a professional wildlife guide who has worked in Hwange and filmed Cecil many times, told National Geographic that the lion was the park’s ‘biggest tourist attraction, Mawonde continued. “Orford calculates that with tourists from just one nearby lodge collectively paying 8,000 euros per day, Zimbabwe would have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken” than from having him shot as a trophy.
Agreed Fundira, “Cecil was our main tourist attraction with a market value pegged at over $100,000.”
Observers familiar with the 1973 film classic The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, would recognize in the Zimbabwean governmental maneuvering the tactic Redford as confidence artist Henry Gondorff called “The Shutout.”
The idea behind “The Shutout” is to persuade the greedy that they are losing money by not throwing more money into a scheme from which they believe they are being excluded.
The script was signaled two weeks before Cecil was killed. All Mugabe needed was a pretext, real or invented, to oblige the trophy hunting industry to increase their ante to gain renewed access to wildlife.
“Now hear this.”
Headlined the Harare Herald on June 22, 2015, “Govt Not Happy With Safari Operators – President.”
In Zimbabwe that means, “Now hear this. Orders from the top.”
“President Mugabe says the government is unhappy with the state of affairs in private safaris and conservancies,” reported Harare Herald writer Takunda Maodza, “where owners who are largely of European origin make secret arrangements with visitors who kill wild animals without the knowledge and consent of the state.
“What they pocket from the killings has also remained a mystery.”
“The Americans are there”
Raged Mugabe, “They have what they call safaris and we do not know what is happening in the safaris because they make arrangements with visitors from outside to come and shoot this animal, that animal, but the animal shot must be listed and approved by us. We do not know what payments that they are given. We therefore are unhappy about the safaris.”
“We have kept the forests, quite a number of good forests with a lot of animals, and it is in these forests that we have these safaris. The Americans are there, although they have sanctions on us,” Mugabe fumed on.
“Should follow Botswana”
Assessed Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “Zimbabwe is a country long plagued by terrible leadership in the post-colonial era, and it is a nation deeply corrupted, autocratic, and ruthless when it comes to the treatment of wildlife. Walter Palmer went there because there are too many officials there ready and willing to sell off wildlife to the highest bidder.
“Zimbabwe is even allowing wealthy foreigners to slay elephants for trophies,” Pacelle continued. “That program is so badly managed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspended imports of elephant trophies from that country in 2014 and again in 2015.
“If Zimbabwe is serious about taking action, it should follow in the footsteps of Botswana and ban all trophy hunting,” Pacelle advised. “It should turn the pages of the history books and step into the era of wildlife watching and appreciation.”
But the likelihood of Mugabe doing anything in emulation of Botswana would appear to be slim after Mugabe took a series of shots at Botswanian president Ian Khama on August 17, 2015 while surrendering to Khama the gavel as chair of the Southern African Development Community.
Summarized eNCA, News Channel Africa, “Relations between Mugabe and Khama have been strained by the latter’s occasional criticism of developments in the neighboring country. Khama was the only SADC leader to question the credibility of Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections which Mugabe and his ZANU-PF won outright, ending a four-year-old dysfunctional unity government between Zanu PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change parties.”
Next installment: Responding to the Cecil killing––and exploiting it.
Please donate to support our work: