New developments have come to light in the story of the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, including the identities of the main actors in the incident.
All good hunters – that is, “good” in the sense of being legal and ethical hunters (which would also be the overwhelming majority of hunters) – despise those who flout game laws out of selfishness or ego.
Those kinds of illegal and unethical actions of course include poaching, or the illegal taking of game animals in violation of state, federal or international law.
The man accused of the recent illegal harvest of a lion in Zimbabwe is Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. That’s the lede you’ll read all day, but what if we waited, collected some more information, and then made a decision? Imagine that…
Until today here’s what we knew: The animal was reportedly lured from its territory in the Zimbabwe Hwange National Park to be shot by a foreigner who paid a reported $55,000 to kill the animal, has hunters, conservationists, and non-hunters alike voicing their displeasure.
The lion, dubbed Cecil, was an iconic figure for the park, until it was killed.
Again, until Tuesday morning, all that had been reported on the incident was that a wealthy foreign individual, identified as a “Spaniard” in the news reports, along with accomplices in Zimbabwe that may or may not have included certain Hwange Park rangers, a safari company and/or some locals, had lured the collared lion from the park.
The lion was shot with either a bow and arrow or crossbow, and was wounded. The “Spaniard” and/or his party supposedly tracked it for some 40 hours, dispatched it with a rifle, and then skinned and beheaded the lion, the remains of which were found by park personnel via the GPS tracking collar.
Read yesterday’s initial story, along with commentary critiquing the inflammatory language used by various reporting agencies, that conflates legal, ethical hunters with illegal, unethical poaching.
While certain details of the story are still fuzzy, today CNN reported the names of three of the alleged primary actors in the incident. Authorities have arrested and identified two Zimbabweans, Honest Trymore Ndlovu and Theo Bronchorst, as assisting Palmer in the killing of the lion.
Bronchorst, a professional hunter and guide, is alleged to have put Palmer onto the lion by luring the big cat from the park to landowner Ndlovu’s property with a dead animal as bait.
Bronchorst and Ndlovu are due in court on Wednesday. Palmer is thought to be at his residence or dental practice in Minnesota, where he issued a statement dated today (July 28) after allegedly learning that the lion he had killed on safari was the famed Cecil.
In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bowhunting trip for big game. I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.
I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.
I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.
Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.
In spite of Palmer’s declarations of ignorance concerning the identity of the lion, the story of the hunt along with the release of Palmer’s name has re-ignited the raging rabble of anti-hunters with renewed vigor.
Rather than waiting for more information to be uncovered and released, either corroborating or disproving Palmer’s account, social media is exploding with pre-judgement, opinions and accusations.
The usual suspects in the media are adding fuel to the fire by referring to the lion with language normally reserved for human beings and not wild animals, either ignorantly or intentionally attempting to anthropomorphize the animal into a Disneyesque caricature.
They have referred to the lion as being “murdered” and as being “survived by about six lionesses with whom he mated regularly and approximately 24 cubs.”
One can practically picture devoted husband and father Cecil, coming home from a long day’s work on the sunbaked plains, being greeted by his six loving lioness wives before donning a smoking jacket and retiring to his favorite chair, while his giggling 24 cubs playfully frolic about his padded feet.
This is the kind of manipulation of reality that hunters are up against.
This, or any similar incident of poaching or unethical hunting behavior, is of course no laughing matter. Hunters and conservationists take these issues very seriously. After all, we in the hunting community are the ones who are primarily responsible for maintaining and ensuring that wildlife conservation works.
Hunters do most of the heavy lifting on the issue. The funds, energies and efforts from hunters are the primary resources that keep the conservation machine running here in America and to a large extent overseas in areas like Africa.
But we are up against more than the goofy online anti-hunting community, who appear unable or unwilling to distinguish between legal, ethical hunting and illegal, unethical poaching. We’re up against a significant portion of the media who often appear either ignorant of wildlife and nature (witness the aforementioned language they use) or are clearly of the same mind as the virulent anti-hunting community.
At this point we don’t know if Palmer was simply a trusting and ignorant hunter who contracted a safari outfitter and shot a lion on good faith, or if his involvement was more insidious and intentional. Like most volatile stories that the media sets a match to, wisdom would dictate a wait-and-see approach.
If Palmer was indeed a knowing and active participant in the poaching of this lion, then he deserves whatever condemnation and penalties come his way. If, however, the story is more complicated than that, it seems unfairly premature to condemn the man before his day in court, so to speak.
But of course the anti-hunting crowd have never cared about fairness, evidence or reality when it comes to their agenda. They are having a field day with their usual slash and burn barrage of hate-filled and nonsensical commentary. They are literally – quite literally – calling for Palmer’s head.
I have had several interactions with anti-hunting zealots today on this topic. Thoughtfulness, reasoned dialogue and common sense are foreign to most of these people. Their currency is the language of threats of violence and even death, irrelevant associations, lynchmob-like prejudgement and fury, base emotional ad hominem and utter illogic.
We cannot be swayed or influenced by the rantings of the foolish or the enraged. We must continue to take the high road as best we can – a sometimes extremely challenging task, I admit – and continue to do what we can to improve our sport, our stewardship of the land and wildlife we have assumed responsibility for.
So, my advice on this current lion killing social media frenzy: Get familiar with the story by reading several sources; speak out on this issue where you can, and set the record straight that poaching and poachers are not the same as hunting and hunters; do your best to ignore the crazies and be as polite as you can force yourself to be.
Don’t sink to their level, but also don’t be shy about calling “Foul!” every now and then.