By Isaac Jonas
On July 1, Zimbabwe’s revered lion, Cecil, was shot dead by a hunter at Antoinette Farm, in the Gwayi Conservancy area of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. The unfortunate event has sparked public outcry and debate from all corners of the world.
Whatever the motives were, and as much as people are entitled to their own respective opinions, most of the comments have been driven by plain emotional. Which is understandable, big game hunting, like sexual rights is a very heated, contentious, and borderline divisive subject, always.
Zimbabwe is a country that is located in Southern Africa, and is richly endowed with mineral and wildlife resources. The tourism sector is one of the main contributors of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, the total value of goods and services produced within a country. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates the total contribution of the tourism sector to be US$1,444.3 million. This amounted to 10.4% of Zimbabwean GDP in 2014. The predictions for 2015 are expected to be in the band of plus or minus 2 percent with an estimated 2 % addition to new jobs for the year 2015.
Zimbabwe has a variety of tourist attraction centres ranging from the spectacularly mountainous Eastern Highlands that include the Vumba Mountains and, Inyangani Mountains, the game reserves like GonareZhou, the Hwange National park from which Cecil the lion was killed from and the Victoria Falls, which is one of the five wonders of the world. The animals that are common in most game reserves include giraffes, elephants, zebras and lions.
According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES), there are approximately 35 000 lions in Africa with the 12000 of them located in Southern Africa. The approximate number of lions that are killed through lions trophies for export from Africa are 665 as of 2013. Of these lion trophies, 49 were exported from Zimbabwe alone.
Pertinently, the real question remains, what should be done to avoid these ruthless slaughters of innocent lions and other wildlife?
Cecil the lion was a source of pride and income for many families in Zimbabwe through tourism earnings. Secondly, Cecil’s remaining pride faces a very dark and bleak period which will most likely spell death and doom. The death of the King of the Savannah implies that the remaining pride adjust to the new ‘Ceciless’ ecosystem. An adjustment that may simply be too much.
This could result from the perturbation effect, which is a process that ensues after a male lion dies. The lion `society` could witness more deaths of male lions as the`weakened`pride would be overthrown by the incoming new coalition of males. The impact of Cecil’s death could be catastrophic, and the body count could yet rise.
Many tourists from across the world visit Zimbabwe to experience the sunshine weather and also seeing the variety of wildlife. There is need for the government and all relevant stakeholders like the National Parks and Wildlife need to do to avoid many of the country’s tourist treasures like the favorite lions from being senselessly killed.
Whatever the reason, the lion was killed for, it is becoming increasingly clear from the sources online that there were dubious exchanges of money to have the lion killed hideously. This is a very bad case of corruption and a red flag on the country’s efforts to promote tourism.
The lion was under surveillance from the Recanati-Kaplan Centre at Oxford to aid in the science research of lions from various parts of Africa with the view to improve the animals conservation. The research involves use of latest scientific tools to understand the threats to the lions with the view to develop solutions to those threats. This involves satellite tracking and collaboration with all relevant stakeholders to the wildlife like the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to gather intelligence information about the lions.
No doubt as a Zimbabwean citizen, I am saddened by this event like any other global citizens as evidenced by the debate on online media. The question that still lingers on is what could be done to avoid this sad event happening again. I opine that the government should stamp out corruption on the game reserves. There should also be clear property rights coupled with more investment on the wildlife in Zimbabwe. The quota permits for Lion trophies should be re-evaluated and debated upon to gather people’s views in that regards. The government through the relevant ministry should push for a law to further curb these illegal hunting expeditions. Tourism is no doubt one of the cash cows to the national fiscus as shown above. As such, the sector should be taken seriously.
The trophy hunting should be regulated effectively to avoid similar cases like the one that resulted in the death of one of Zimbabwe’s treasured lions, Cecil. The persons who break the law should face the full wrath of law without fear or favor because the nation cannot just afford to lose such wildlife treasure in such a selfish and stupid way.
There should also be more education about the importance of wildlife. Surely if international tourists travel all the way to Zimbabwe to see this wildlife, the locals should equally know about the importance of these wildlife. As a Zimbabwean, from my interaction with fellow citizens, the majority of the young people do not have the exposure and knowledge about the value and existence of these animals yet the country boasts of a variety of wildlife. This should be a source of pride and heritage over and above the financial gains that come from tourism.
In conclusion, key to dealing with the issue of poaching and illegal hunting is to enforce the law effectively. Surely, the law should take its full course to serve as a signal for would be offenders. Whether the offender lured the animal to a permissible hunting zone in order to kill the predator, or not, the fact of the matter remains that the animal was classified as endangered and should not have been killed. Personally, I find it strange to have trophies for destroying lives, whether human or lion. This was not the case in this point. These should be re-evaluated with the view to stop the practice. There could be exceptional cases of course where animals could be killed when they exceed the carrying capacity. The country and community around the game parks should not allow this kind of impunity to go on. It would not only preserve the country’s resources but also undoubtedly tourism is a source of livelihood for many Zimbabweans. The bequest value for these animals and game resources should equally be cherished. The next generation deserves the same if not more exposure to these wildlife resources as we are currently enjoying.
Isaac Jonas is a Masters of Food and Resources Economics student at the University of British Columbia, Canada. He is a Lead Consultant for SEED Evaluation Consultants. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be conducted on firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is http://isaac-jonas.com/