CHARLESTON, W.Va. — I have been reluctant to write this piece. I’ve reserved comment on the furor which has followed the death of “Cecil the Lion.” Across social media and in the mainstream press, Dr. Walter Palmer has been scorched with hatred and rage. He’s the Minnesota dentist who killed the lion which is now revered as a martyr for anti-hunting causes.
Experience has taught me a couple of things in these situations. First, don’t react with emotion, react with facts. Second, never write a column when you’re angry, it never ends well. But, we now know a little more about this story and a rational consideration is possible.
For starters, it has been reported Palmer killed the lion which turned out to be the subject of a research project in a Zimbabwe national park. Reports indicated Palmer’s hunting guides lured this particular lion out of the national park by dragging bait into an area where hunting was legal. While I’m not a big fan of baiting, in the area the lion was actually killed it’s a legal practice. The violation was starting the bait trail in the national park. The other fact is Palmer did in fact kill a lion which turned out to be an illegal kill.
Certainly the biggest share of the blame here lies with the guides, professional hunters, and organizers of the hunt. Indications are they will be dealt with appropriately. Zimbabwe authorities have charged the professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst, with poaching and not having a proper hunting permit; the concession owner, Honest Ndlovu, is charged for allowing an illegal hunt.
As for Palmer, it remains to be seen what legal fate awaits him. Zimbabwe has called for his extradition, but here in the United States the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t charged him because the lion wasn’t brought back into the country. He’s reportedly under investigation for allegations of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. Palmer, as a client, placed his faith in his guides and hunt providers he was hunting legally. Hunters in this situation have to rely on their guide in another land to insure they are acting within the law. Ultimately it’s your personal responsibility, but most would anticipate any reputable outfitter would follow all laws to the letter in an industry so heavily regulated. So Palmer’s fate in the legal arena is unsettled, but it’s abundantly clear he’s already paid a hefty price.
The reporting of the story and in many cases the reaction has been over the top. The mainstream template for reporting on various angles in this story has been from the perspective hunting, particularly “trophy” hunting, is a horrible thing. I’m skeptical of whether the reporting has been honest and fair. This is typical from those who don’t hunt and don’t understand wildlife management. Many well meaning folks become blinded by rage which is fueled by misinformation.
Soon after the story became the top headline nationally, the protests mounted outside Palmer’s dental practice and his name was vilified across social media. . He was forced to shutdown. Guided African hunts were beguiled and those participating publicly attacked. There have been calls to end all trophy hunting in the name of wildlife protection. To those who advocate the position, be very careful of what you wish for.
Consider the impact of those hunts. Well healed Americans pay thousands of dollars to take trophy hunting trips. The money is a staple of the economy in many African nations. The hunts provide a source of income and jobs as well as a source of meat to many African tribes who languish in poverty.
Alexander N. Songorwa is director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. He recently wrote about the subject in an op-ed for the New York Times.
“ODD as it may sound, American trophy hunters play a critical role in protecting wildlife in Tanzania.” wrote Songorwa. “The millions of dollars that hunters spend to go on safari here each year help finance the game reserves, wildlife management areas and conservation efforts in our rapidly growing country.”
Songorwa reinforced his point when comparing the money spent by regular tourists who simply want to see African wildlife and snap pictures to those who want to hunt them.
“Of all the species found here, lions are particularly important because they draw visitors from throughout the world — visitors who support our tourism industry and economy.” Songorwa wrote. “Many of these visitors only take pictures. But others pay thousands of dollars to pursue lions with rifles and take home trophies from what is often a once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Those hunters spend 10 to 25 times more than regular tourists and travel to (and spend money in) remote areas rarely visited by photographic tourists”
Rosie Cooney, chairwoman of the International Union for Conservation and Nature’s group on species survival and sustainable use, offered similar remarks in a commentary in the wake of the Palmer case. Cooney said banning trophy hunting would not only be a dagger to the economy of many African nations, it would also be brutal for the very animals it sought to protect.
“Bans on trophy hunting in Tanzania (1973-78), Kenya (1977) and Zambia (2000-03) accelerated a rapid loss of wildlife due to the removal of incentives for conservation,” wrote Cooney.
One of the most under reported facts worldwide is the contribution made by hunters to conservation through the purchase of license, permits, and taxes. Those dollars fund research on animal numbers, pay the salaries of those who make management decisions and set bag limits and season dates, and pay for the enforcement of game laws. Without those contributions animal populations lose value and wither away.