Cecil, We Hardly Knew Ye....

Aug 3, 2015
Over the weekend, the hue and cry over U.S. hunter Dr. Walter Palmer's killing of Cecil, a black maned lion in Zimbabwe turned ugly as that country's wildlife authorities called for the extradition of Dr. Palmer, who they accused of "fleeing the country".

Yesterday, I was sent news from overseas that Zimbabwean officials are now investigating a second possible illegal killing of a lion. They're not calling for the mane, tail and both ears of this allegedly American hunter as they are Dr. Palmer, but they've already arrested a Zimbabwean landowner named Headman Sibanda. Now, he's "assisting" with the investigation -most likely doing his imitation of some African songbird as he attempts to shift work a better deal in this case.

Zimbabwe, in the meantime, has suspended the hunting of all lions, leopards and elephants in the Hwange area, and tightened restrictions on bowhunting to the point that any legal bow hunting must be approved by the head director of the wildlife authority.

Meanwhile, other parts of the African continent are quickly reviewing their policies on lion hunting. And the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) has told its members there will be a review of their policy on lion hunting, saying the "current position (on lion hunting) is no longer tenable."

The problem is the matter of predator breeders. It seems more than 95 percent of the lions killed by trophy hunters in South Africa are not wild, but "produced" specifically for hunting. Some 6000 are thought to be currently held in captivity in as many as 200 breeding facilities, mostly in the North West Province and the Free State. The animals hunted in these canned hunts are sometimes released only three to four days prior to being hunted.

The PHASA has traditionally supported the industry, but a growing number of PH have expressed disapproval. And now Hermann Meyeridricks, PHASA president, says there's been little progress to "clean up" the controversial program and it's time for the captive-bred lion hunting industry "to improve its standards and conditions to a generally acceptable level."

The controversy in South Africa is thought to have been given new life due to a "hard-hitting documentary" called "Blood Lions" which premiered last week at the Durban (South Africa) Film Festival. Meyeridricks also says that the opposition to the hunts has been contained to a "small, if vociferous group of animal-rights activists" but "the tide of public opinion is turning- strongly- against this form of 'captive-bred' or 'canned hunting.'"

Meanwhile, back in this country, the pitchforks are out, torches are lit and it seems the internet's lynch mobs are out - in force- after Dr. Palmer. His practice is shuttered, and he wrote his patients last week to tell them the hunting controversy "has disrupted our business and our ability to see patients."

"For that disruption, I apologize profoundly for this inconvenience and promise you we will do our best to resume normal operations as soon as possible," the letter, obtained by Minneapolis news organizations, reads. Meanwhile, the door to his River Bluff dental practice is closed - and stacks of stuffed animals are piled up outside in a macabre memorial of sorts to "Cecil" the lion whose killing has launched an international controversy- and veiled threat to Dr. Palmer.

There are decidedly different versions of the story of the killing of the lion by Dr. Palmer. According to Zimbabwean authorities early accounts, Cecil was "lured from inside the national park" where he was "killed, skinned and beheaded" by Palmer who then "fled the country."

Correspondence The Outdoor Wire has received from Africa takes pretty serious issue with that report. According to our sources, the lion, despite being collared, was not protected under that country's hunting laws. Professional hunters have told us that lions are protected inside the national parks but those same lions, if outside park boundaries are, for lack of a better term, fair game.

It went on to take issue with the "hunting over bait" allegation, responding that while the lion had been killed over an animal, it was a carcass of an elephant that had been dead for some time- not a gut pile placed there for the specific purpose of luring the lion from the park- as was initially alleged by wildlife officials.

Further, the correspondence takes issue with a report that the hunter, landowner and professional hunter tried to destroy the tracking collar. In fact, it says the collar was returned to authorities as is the standard practice when collared animals are taken by hunters . If that's the case, it wouldn't seem that anyone involved in the hunt thought they'd broken any game laws.

USFWS's Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement wasn't the only USFWS official to reach out to Dr. Palmer. This is a tweet from Dan Ashe, Director of the USFWS on Thursday. OWDN Screen Shot.
But there is definitely a controversy surrounding the hunt- and Dr. Palmer. On Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was attempting to investigate the incident, but had been unable to reach Palmer. In fact, USFWS deputy chief of law enforcement Edward Grace said "At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful. We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately."

And the torches being lit for Dr. Palmer's bonfire aren't confined to Africa. Germany's ambassador to the United Nations told reporters his country was "outraged at what happened to this poor lion" -just minutes before the United Nations passed a resolution calling on all countries to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking and poaching.

It is only fair to note, however, that this vote was scheduled and really had nothing to do with the "Cecil controversy."

In Palmer's hometown of Eden Prairie, police issued a statement that "because of the increased traffic in the neighborhood of Walter Palmer's residence, the Eden Prairie Police Department is monitoring the neighborhood to assure the safety and security of the residents and their property."

"The Eden Prairie police department," it concluded, "is not providing personal protection for Mr. Palmer."

Neither apparently, is Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who called Palmer's alleged luring of the lion out of the preserve "appalling." And the White House, after receiving nearly 170,000 requests via it's "We the People" website, says it will "respond" to Zimbabwean requests for Palmer's extradition.

If Palmer is found to have knowingly poached the lion, there's no one in the outdoor industry who will leap to his defense.

Safari Club International has suspended the memberships of Palmer and the PH guiding him -and the Dallas Safari Club has come out in support of the laws to prevent wildlife poaching- including the appropriate punishments of those found in violation of game laws- worldwide.

What seems to have been forgotten by everyone from the general public to the White House in the whole matter is that Walter Palmer, a human being, is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

--Jim Shepherd