HomeOpinion & AnalysisCome down hard on poachers

Come down hard on poachers

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The killing of one of the country’s iconic and most-studied lions, Cecil, has stoked international debate over a growing trend in trophy hunting of threatened animal species.

Rightly so given the ghastly killing is a sad development for Zimbabwe’s tourism industry which is anchored by the wildlife industry. It is an undeniable fact that African lions are probably the single greatest wildlife drawcard in Zimbabwe.

Our tourism has always used the best shot. Nowhere is this more true than in the way the industry presents its most iconic wildlife.

Indeed, lions, elephants, rhinos and leopards provide the easiest of shorthand when the tourism industry wants to promote trips for foreign visitors. The sector has used the awe the endangered species inspire to sell various destinations in Zimbabwe — through websites, brochures, photographs or articles — for decades.

Unfortunately, with the killing of the iconic Cecil among many other rare species, our pin-ups have been driven to the brink of extinction. We understand Cecil was shot with a bow, stalked for 40 hours, and gunned down by American trophy hunter, dentist Walter James Palmer.

The collared 13-year-old lion was killed early this month at Antoinette Farm near Hwange National Park. The grisly killing of Cecil disregarded the iconic stature of the key species.

The reason the world is distraught and rattled by this development is that a lot of people travelled long distances to Zimbabwe to enjoy the country’s wildlife. So the killing of Cecil is a disaster for the tourism sector and the country’s international image. Yesterday, the suspect who appeared in court was accused of having lured the lion off the protected sanctuary to a private farm after reportedly receiving an estimated $55 000 bribe.

The suspect — professional hunter Theo Bronchrost is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but must do some explanation as to the extent of his involvement. If indeed he getsconvicted, it is important that he does time in jail, pay a hefty fine and his licence revoked.

Although Zimbabwe’s lion species is not endangered, it must be understood that the African lion everywhere on the continent is rare giving the country leverage to make the most out of its abundance.This particular hunt was in actual fact illegal hence justice must prevail and the culprits sent to jail to send a clear message to like-minded individuals that poaching is costly.

It is important to state that the big cat was skinned and had its head removed. The lion had been studied by scientists from Oxford University as part of a project that has run since 1999.

According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), exports of lion bones from Southern Africa rose 250% between 2009 and 2010 and over 1 400 lion and leopard trophies were exported from the region over the same period.

It is regrettable that the illegal trade in animal parts is now such big business that Global Financial Integrity estimates its annual profits at roughly $10 billion, fifth in value behind illegal traffic in drugs, humans, oil and counterfeit.

It is clear under the circumstances that authorities must stamp out poaching of all rare animal species in this country for the benefit of future generations. We hope that there won’t be any cover-ups in this matter and that justice will prevail.

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