It was at times quite entertaining to see how journalists from around the globe offered opinion on Cecil The Lion, which was probably the most notorious lion hunt in history. The mass hysteria that subsequently broke out on social media was even more entertaining. One thing was clear: few of the commentators had any knowledge of Africa’s wildlife, conservation or hunting. It was only later on that the voices of those with insight into conservation and hunting began to surface.
It is interesting that, according to one report, no one in Hwange National Park’s main camp had ever heard of Cecil, nor did anybody at the Parks Board’s head office. Perhaps he was named Cecil by a researcher from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit who studied lions in the area, but neither the local people nor the tourists seem to have heard of Cecil before the anti-hunting media went ballistic. The notion that Cecil was a famous, iconic tourist attraction is nonsense. Nor was he the tame, harmless pet that some of the media made him out to be – he was just another wild lion who was hunted with a valid permit.
Humans kill thousands of millions of animals, fish and birds annually for various purposes, legally and illegally, without a word being said in the formal or social media. It is noteworthy that the commercialised animals like cattle, sheep, goats and chickens are the world’s least threatened. So, what is so special about this particular lion? It seems that we are dealing with a socio-psychological phenomenon, at least in the western world, that is not fully understood, but that the anti-hunting fraternity has been able to capitalise on. We have seen the same type of thing when Nelson Mandela passed away and the media ran out of control in their praises for a man who was an atheist and a communist. One British journalist went so far as to compare him with Jesus Christ, apparently in an effort to portray him as worthy of being placed within the Holy Trinity. This extreme naive behaviour by the media can at times be quite shocking. The fact that anyone can offer views, opinions and ‘facts’ on the social media, without verifying anything, must also be contributing to some weird public beliefs. The continuous re-reporting of misinformation further compounds the problem. It would be in the hunting industry’s best interests if we learn to deal with this strange, awkward phenomenon.
The Cecil incident once again showed that animal rights activists are well skilled in using hunting incidents such as this to get publicity for their weird view of the world. They also use such incidents to attack not only trophy hunting, but the entire wildlife industry. They seem to have targeted lady hunters. In the recent past lady hunters like Corey Cogdell, Melissa Bachman and Kendall Jones had to endure extreme harassment, barrages of death threats, rape threats and threats to their families. Why the ladies are singled out for this rough treatment, whilst most of the hunters are men, remains a mystery. However, Corey Knowlton, who bought the Namibian black rhino hunt at Dallas Safari Club auction last year, was subjected to the same treatment. The hunting of Cecil the lion saw another man, Dr Palmer, being harassed and threatened to such an extent that he had to close his dental practice for some time.
An American petition to “Tell the Zimbabweans to stop issuing hunting permits to kill endangered animals” apparently attracted 1 million signatures if the anti-hunting propaganda is to be believed. Another petition calling for the death penalty for the hunter, Dr. Palmer, was also quite successful (as if mob justice has a place in civilised society!). Fact is however that lions are NOT endangered; the IUCN lists them as ‘vulnerable’ only. In South Africa there are so many lions that the country may have its lions reclassified as ‘least concern’ which means they are not threatened at all. There were also renewed calls for South Africa to ban ‘canned hunting’, but canned hunting has been illegal since 2007. In the US Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) tabled a bill to ban the importation of hunting trophies. He clumsily and opportunistically tried to use “Cecil” as an acronym: Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (“Cecil”) Animal Trophies Act.
The fact that sustainable trophy hunting usually results in increasing wildlife numbers, was conveniently overlooked by most. Some (especially on the social media) simply refused to open their minds to the overwhelming evidence to this effect, dismissing it as lies and hunting propaganda. This is another phenomenon that was highlighted during the Cecil outrage: refusal by anti-hunters to accept scientific fact, or twisting the truth by adding their own spin on reality so that statements and positions taken by recognised authorities on conservation and wildlife management (such as the IUCN) are presented as if they mean the opposite of what is actually said. One such claim, for example, would be that the IUCN is dead against hunting. `So, lying, dishonesty and refusal to open up to the scientific method seems to be acceptable behaviour as far as many, if not most, of the anti-hunters are concerned.
On the morning of 24th August Quinn Swales, an experienced professional guide, was killed in the same area by an adult male lion while leading guests on a bush walk. This incident was hardly mentioned in the media. It is believed that this lion was also collared. One has to wonder whether Quinn, as a result of the recent Cecil-outrage, hesitated to use his rifle when it was obviously necessary? One also has to wonder why the formal and social media is not interested in the death of Mr Swales, but deemed it fit to go ballistic over the shooting of Cecil? This behaviour suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong in society.
But there is more tragedy in the aftermath of the ‘Cecil’ saga. The anti-hunting furore over Cecil resulted in a decline in the number of international hunters visiting Zimbabwe. This meant a loss of revenue for some villagers. They then did the next logical thing in an attempt to earn some money: they turned to poaching. When we went to Zimbabwe recently on a buffalo and elephant hunt near where Cecil was hunted, we found that 22 elephant had just recently been poisoned in Hangwe National Park. The poachers poisoned a waterhole and when the elephants died, the tusks were hacked out and the carcasses were left to rot. The vultures, jackals and hyaenas that came to feed on the carcasses then also died. Many other animals that drank from the waterhole also died. What’s more, this is not an isolated incident – poaching seems to have reached new record levels and without some drastic intervention the country may well end up with no wildlife in the not too distant future. Not surprisingly, there is nothing in the media, or on social media, about the poaching crisis in Zimbabwe or anywhere else. The silence is deafening. This is a good example of how the anti-hunting community is contributing in a significant way to the extirpation of Africa’s wildlife.
The Cecil saga once again put the usual untruths spread by the anti-hunters in the limelight. Here are a few.
Untruth: No man has the right to benefit in any way from animals. Truth: Hunting is NOT against the law or the country’s constitution, nor is it prohibited by the Holy Bible or the Koran or the Tora. I have not yet met an anti-hunter who can refer me to any authority for the claim that I do not have the right to hunt.
Untruth: Lions are endangered and this is caused by hunting. Truth: The latest estimate of Africa’s lion numbers was undertaken in 2011 and came to 32000 – 35000. In 2002 the estimate was 32000 – 38000. Although lion populations have declined it is highly unlikely that they will become extinct in the foreseeable future. The IUCN Red List thus classifies the African lion as ‘vulnerable’ only, not threatened or endangered. Conservation experts agree that tourist hunting is NOT a threat as far as lions are concerned. The IUCN ranked human-livestock-lion conflict, losses of habitat and prey base, and the bushmeat industry, as the significant threats to lion. Fact is that many, many more lions die from illegal poaching, mainly by wire snares, and retaliatory killing from rural Africans, than from hunting. Range countries that offer lion hunting carefully manage the lion hunting quotas to ensure sustainable utilisation of the resource, and lions have been subjected to hunting moratoriums in the past. In fact, so few lions are legally hunted that it has no effect at species level.
Untruth: It is a lie that hunting has any conservation value. Truth: The IUCN and leading conservationists recognise hunting as an important tool in conservation of biodiversity and eco-systems. The Species Survival Commission of the IUCN in fact published a set of hunting guidelines to assists governments (primarily African governments) to ensure that the maximum conservation benefits are derived from hunting. In the USA the Fish and Wildlife Service had the following to say: “Finally, we found that, if trophy hunting of lions is part of a scientifically based management program, it could provide considerable benefits to the species, by reducing or removing incentives by locals to kill lions in retaliation for livestock losses, and by reducing the conversion of lion habitat to agriculture. Trophy hunting, if managed well and with local communities in mind, can bring in needed revenue, jobs, and a much-needed protein source to local people, demonstrating the value of lions to local communities….the amount of habitat that has been set aside by range countries specifically for trophy hunting has greatly increased the range and habitat of lions and their prey base, which is imperative given the current ongoing rate of habitat destruction occurring in Africa. The total amount of land set aside for trophy hunting throughout Africa exceeds the total area of the national parks, providing half the amount of viable lion habitat….trophy hunting is not a significant threat to the species.”
Untruth: Hunting does not benefit local communities. Truth: This accusation is usually based on a report in 2013 that was commissioned by the animal rights organisations IFAW, HSUS and Born Free Foundation. The objective of the study was NOT to assess the contribution of hunting companies to local communities. The report had major short comings and the compilers took a small piece of Tanzanian data and falsely presented it as an all-Africa conclusion about the hunting industry. In Zimbabwe almost a thousand families depend for more than 90% of their income from hunting concession payments. The Cecil incident caused the Zimbabwe government to put a hunting moratorium on the concession where the lion was hunted. The local community made it clear that they cannot do without the income, and the moratorium was almost immediately lifted again. Namibia also has a very successful model for communal conservancies and almost all the income goes to the local community. In Zambia the Wildlife Authority splits the hunting fees 50/50 with the local communities. The anti-hunting propaganda that local communities do not benefit from hunting, is thus pure nonsense.
Untruth: Photographic tourism generates far more income than hunting tourism and is thus a better land-use option. Truth: No hunting is allowed in the national parks, they all rely on photographic tourism. These parks all run at a loss and have to be subsidised by the taxpayers. In South Africa all hunting takes place on privately owned land. Hunting is the primary source of income and these businesses receives no government support; they are financially independent. In a recent article the renowned conservationist/biologist, Dr Richard Estes, illustrated the superior returns from hunting by pointing out that a 16-day guided safari in Tanzania will cost $7,000 to $10,000, plus travel to and from the country. Hunting clients on a 21-day safari, however, can easily end up paying over $100,000! There are also other downsides to photographic tourism such as the infrastructure required and the larger carbon footprint left by tourists. The South African conservation model that allows both government run parks and reserves (where there is no hunting) as well as privately owned ranches and conservancies that rely heavily on hunting income, seems to be an optimal model. Fact is we need both for wildlife and wilderness areas to flourish.