While the death of a protected lion in Zimbabwe has caused outrage in the United States – much of it centered on the Minnesota dentist who killed the animal – most in Zimbabwe expressed a degree of bafflement over the concern.
The discovery that Cecil, the star of Zimbabwe national park had been lured out and killed by American bow hunter Walter James Palmer has resulted in online anger and protests at his dental clinic.
Outside Zimbabwe’s environmental and activist circles, however, the reaction been muted.
“It’s so cruel, but I don’t understand the whole fuss, there are so many pressing issues in Zimbabwe – we have water shortages, no electricity and no jobs – yet people are making noise about a lion?” said Eunice Vhunise, a Harare resident. “I saw Cecil once when I visited the game park. I will probably miss him. But honestly the attention is just too much.”
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An economic meltdown over the last few years has closed many companies and left two thirds of the population working in the informal economy while battling acute water and electricity shortages.
Most people questioned in downtown Harare hadn’t actually heard about the lion and said they were too busy trying to earn a living to care about it.
One resident, however, noted that the lions were needed to bring in tourism and Palmer should be fined with the money going toward animal conservation.
“It’s very sad that the American chose to travel all the way to kill our animals,” said Clinton Manyuchi.
Palmer is believed to have shot the lion with a bow and then the wounded cat was tracked for 40 hours before he killed it with a gun.
Zimbabwe authorities, however, have not announced any charges against Palmer, only saying they want to speak with him and the U.S. embassy was not aware of any extradition requests.
Prosecutors have charged the hunter who supervised Palmer’s outing, Theo Bronkhorst, for killing a lion not authorized to be hunted. The country’s safari organization also said the way in which he was lured out of a national park was unethical and possibly illegal.
If convicted, Bronkhorst faces up to 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors have yet to charge a second suspect, farm owner Honest Ndlovu, who had been named as an accomplice and appeared in court Wednesday.
“We are still waiting for the state to charge him as no formal charges have yet to be laid against my client,” his lawyer Tonderai Mukuku told Associated Press. “The Hwange office said it is liaising with the Harare office together with the police to come up with an appropriate charge. Maybe next week.”
Another killing? A lion researcher in Zimbabwe who tracked the lion called Cecil is casting doubt on a report that Jericho, a male lion who was Cecil’s companion, was fatally shot. Researcher Brent Stapelkamp told The Associated Press by telephone Saturday that the satellite collar on Jericho had been sending normal signals, indicating the lion was alive and moving around.
Hunts suspended: Zimbabwe has suspended the hunting of lions, leopards and elephants in an area where a lion popular with tourists was killed. In addition, bow and arrow hunts have been suspended unless they are approved by the head of the director of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the organization said.
At a glance
Lion numbers: There are 27 countries with lions in the wild. Estimates for the numbers remaining in Africa range between 15,000 and 39,000, with 40 percent in Tanzania. The highest proportion of lions are hunted in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
Africa’s lion population in total has shrunk by 82% over the last century.
Lions in Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe is estimated to have between 500 and 1,680 lions, some 80 percent of which live in protected areas.
Between 1999 and 2009, 800 lions were killed in hunts in Zimbabwe, with the average killed per year rising to 87 during the past five years. The quota in 2011 was 101 lions, with just 47 trophies reported, though the number is believed to be higher.
Revenue: Zimbabwe makes an estimated $20 million a year on trophy hunting, which represents 3.2 percent of its tourism revenue. The vast majority of trophy hunters are foreigners and across Africa, 25-30 percent of trophies go to Europe and 65 percent to the U.S.