Zimbabwe no longer pursuing justice for Cecil


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ZIMBABWE – Cecil, a black-maned lion who was among the most-famous big cats at the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, survived for two days before succumbing to his injuries.

Harare – No justice, screamed conservationists after Zimbabwe said this week that it was no longer pursuing charges against Walter Palmer for the killing of a famous Zimbabwean lion amid fears that well-connected politicians and the rich continue to pillage the lucrative trophy hunting industry.

Big game trophy hunting has taken centre stage after the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, but it continues unabated. There is growing concern that justice is not being served on those allegedly involved in illegal activities in the industry.

“There is no justice at all. The hunter and land owner and all those involved are going to get away with that. It sets a bad example and people will continue killing animals with impunity; money talks,” John Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce told Business Report on Friday.

Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said last week that the papers for Walter Palmer – who shot and killed Cecil the lion with a bow and arrow – were in order.

Zimbabwe has subsequently said it is no longer seeking extradition and prosecution for the US dentist cum hunter, while the trial of a local hunter over the same issue was postponed on Thursday to tomorrow.

International animal welfare organisation Four Paws said last week that it was disappointing that the Zimbabwean government “seems to draw almost no consequences out of the Cecil scandal”.

Thomas Pietsch, the wild animals’ expert for Four Paws said last week: “Shortly after Cecil’s death Zimbabwe announced a ban of lion hunting. Now it is unclear if anyone will be made legally responsible for the cruel killing; the trophy hunting of lions is always linked to animal cruelty no matter if it is legal or illegal.”

The Zimbabwean professional hunter in the killing of Cecil the lion told journalists in Hwange last week that the noise and legal procedures surrounding the issue had destroyed business for him.

“It’s destroyed us, it has destroyed the family, our business,” he said, adding that he was “absolutely” innocent of the charges brought against him.

Rodrigues said only a few elite, including hotels, land owners “who are politically connected” and the trophy hunters, were benefiting from the killing of Zimbabwean wild animals for trophy purposes.

Other Zimbabwean safari operators said there was little that conservation programmes were getting from the proceeds of trophy hunting, leaving the industry vulnerable to extinction.

Rodrigues said the industry was estimated to be worth about $40 million (R522bn) but he did not think so.

“Most of these hunts are done undercover and most of the money doesn’t go where it belongs. The law is not being enforced and the country has not done a stock take of the animals and those that are being killed,” Rodrigues said.

Zimbabwe’s tourism industry is in disarray, with poachers compounding the country’s wildlife woes after the discovery of 26 elephant carcasses this month after the animals drank water poisoned by cyanide, used for mining in the country. This has prompted the Zimbabwe National Parks Authority to call for tougher penalties for poachers.

Fiona Miles, another expert from Four Paws, said South Africa was the “most horrible place” for lions, with about 6 000 captive bred lions facing cruel death from trophy hunters.

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