The worldwide outrage over the illegal killing of Cecil, Africa’s most famous lion, by American hunter and dentist Walter Palmer earlier in July is nothing but “a huge nonsense,” according to Peter Johnstone, the hunting mogul who owns one of Zimbabwe’s leading safari companies, Rosslyn Safaris.
In an interview with the BBC Wednesday, Johnstone (pictured above) called for the public to support wildlife hunting “wholeheartedly,” and dismissed the slaying of 13-year-old Cecil as not worth the outrage it has generated because the lion was “old.”
“It is all very well being sentimental about Cecil. But he was an old lion. It surprises me that he hadn’t been killed by other male lions or hyenas,” Johnstone said, speaking to BBC Radio 4. “He happened to go onto a hunting area and got shot. People who have got businesses in that park are making a huge nonsense out of it.”
Zimbabwe, where average household income is not even $4,000 per year, was the world’s second poorest country, as of data available by 2013. The temptation of revenue from the “trophy hunting” industry is often too great to pass up, leading to a proliferation of high-priced safari companies that offer tourists such as Palmer the chance to kill a wild animal in its natural habitat for fees that run into the five figures.
Walter Palmer reportedly paid $55,000 for the opportunity to shoot Cecil with a bow and arrow.
With only an estimated 30,000 lions remaining on the African continent — not just Zimbabwe — and “trophy” hunters killing about 600 lions per year, it appears that the so-called “sport” claims about two percent of the lion population on an annual basis.
But Johnstone told the BBC that “Sport hunting doesn’t reduce the animals. Trophy hunting is not the problem.”
But those 600 lions killed annually by tourist sport hunters — about 60 percent of them Americans, who make up the largest portion of the spot hunting clientele — includes only the lions killed legally. The number killed illegally is harder to determine.
Cecil the Lion was wearing an electronic collar as part of an Oxford University study, and in that study alone, 24 collared lions, of whom Cecil was just the latest, have been illegally lured out of protected conservation areas and killed by hunters such as Palmer.
“We want to use Cecil’s legend to get moratorium on all lion hunting. Otherwise they are going to be extinct by 2050,” said Johnny Rodrigues, chair of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. “I’ve been trying to draw attention to this for the last 16 years and it’s only coming to fruition now.”
Rodrigues said that the killers of Cecil the Lion are being prosecuted only because of Cecil’s fame, while dozens of other hunters go free despite committing the same crimes.
[Images: Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Rosslyn Safaris Facebook]