Trophy hunter shoots massive male elephant, perhaps largest in 30 years, and 40 other elephants poisoned, as hunting debate rages.
By Vicki Croke
This photo shows an unnamed German hunter with his guide as they pose with the magnificent elephant who has just been killed in Zimbabwe.
Well, so far this massive bull elephant doesn’t have a name, but his killing in Zimbabwe may cause just as much outrage as that of Cecil the lion. Social media is on fire this morning with condemnation.
Yesterday, a British newspaper reported that a German trophy hunter legally killed one of the biggest bull elephants in Africa in perhaps 30 years in a private hunting concession bordering the Gonarezhou National Park in southern Zimbabwe.
The Telegraph of London posted a photograph of a white hunter with a guide proudly standing next to the dead and crumpled body of a magnificent bull elephant.
It’s the latest in a number of elephant killings over the last weeks in Zimbabwe. Just before this, we learned that in more than one incident, a total of at least 40 elephants were poisoned with cyanide and dismembered by poachers.
The Telegraph story reports:
Mystery surrounded the identity of the elephant, which was estimated to have been between 40 and 60 years old, but had never been seen before in Zimbabwe’s southern Gonarezhou National Park.
But its tusks, which almost touch the ground in a photograph taken moments after its shooting, confirmed its exceptional nature, weighing a combined 120lb.
It was shot on October 8 in a private hunting concession bordering Gonarezhou by a hunter who paid $60,000 (£39,000) for a permit to land a large bull elephant and was accompanied by a local, experienced professional hunter celebrated by the hunting community for finding his clients large elephants.
The German national, who the hunt’s organisers have refused to name, had travelled to Zimbabwe to conduct a 21-day game hunt including the Big Five of elephants, leopards, lions, buffalo and rhinoceros.
Twitter and Facebook are full of outrage, with posts calling the hunter a coward and worse. According to The Evening Standard, comedian and animal activist Ricky Gervais Tweeted: “German Hunter pays 40K to kill Africa’s biggest elephant. Can I pay 40K to knock Germany’s biggest tw*t’s teeth out?”
“We should all mourn the triumph of greed over nature,” Tweeted David Shepherd of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Scientists have shown that older bulls play an important role in elephant society, among other things, disciplining younger males and teaching them manners.
As of this morning, the identity of the elephant is still being investigated, though there had been speculation that he was a known older bull who would have traveled up to Zimbabwe from Kruger National Park in South Africa.
But Louis Muller, chairman of the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters & Guides Association, disagreed, telling the Telegraph that the identity of the elephant is not known:
“We checked everywhere and this elephant has never been seen before, not in Zimbabwe nor Kruger. We would have known it because its tusks are huge. There have been five or six giant tuskers shot in the last year or so, and we knew all of them, but none as big as this one.”
Hunters and hunting organizations say that trophy hunting helps local people and their economy. The Telegraph says:
The man who helped arrange the hunt, who did not want to be named, defended his client. “This was a legal hunt and the client did nothing wrong,” he said. “We hunters have thick skins and we know what the greenies will say. This elephant was probably 60 years old and had spread its seed many many times over.”
He said his organisation paid as much as 70 per cent of its hunting fees back to the local community and observed quotas for animals. “This is good for Zimbabwe and good for local people,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for hunters to spend $100,000 (£64,551) each trip.”
But just this week, CBS News presented a damning report from Debora Patta questioning such claims and asking whether the money from trophy hunting reaches local communities in Zimbabwe:
Emmaual Fundira heads the Safari operators in Zimbabwe. He says Americans like Palmer [the American dentist Walter Palmer who killed Cecil the lion] make up the majority of Zimbabwe’s trophy hunters, and part of the huge hunting fees they pay is supposed to go to conservation and community projects.
Fundira told CBS News it rarely does, blaming corrupt government officials.
“How much money does the government give to the parks?” Patta asked him.
“Nothing. Zero,” Fundira said. “In most cases, you find that the bureaucratic nature of organizations, most of that money may be consumed to a large extent through administration costs and does not necessarily filter directly to conservation.”
Patta visited a rural Zimbabwe village and spoke to the residents. According to CBS News:
But the villagers we spoke to, like Edward Ngwenya, who has not had a job for decades and does not have one dollar to his name, said they haven’t received a cent from the council.
Many conservationists agree. “Hunters claim it helps conservation. But alive, an elephant is worth 1.6 million to tourism over life,” Tweeted the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust this morning. This is the renowned Kenya-based organization that—among other things—saves orphaned baby elephants.
Michael E. Miller, writing for the Washington Post, interviewed Caroline Washaya-Moyo, a spokeswoman for Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, about the cyanide killings.
She said that favorite watering holes and salt licks for the elephants had been poisoned with blocks of industrial-grade cyanide. The Post reported:
Although 26 elephants died in the most recent bout of poisoning, poachers only made off with seven of the precious tusks, Washaya-Moyo told The Post via telephone from Hwange National Park. The bandits, likely startled by a patrol plane, left behind 14 tusks. Meanwhile, several of the dead elephants were too young to have tusks.
The surge in elephant slaughter is startling but not unprecedented. In 2013, as many as 300 elephants were killed in Hwange after poachers laced salt licks with cyanide.
Washaya-Moyo wasn’t clear why poaching had returned in such force all of a sudden.
But Zimbabwe’s environment minister blames the United States, according to Farai Mutsaka of the Associated Press:
On Monday, environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri blamed a ban on Zimbabwean elephant sport hunting by the United States for increased poaching.
“All this poaching is because of American policies, they are banning sport hunting. An elephant would cost $120,000 in sport hunting but a tourist pays only $10 to view the same elephant,” she said, adding money from sport hunting is crucial in conservation efforts.
And of the American lion hunter whose name keeps coming up in relation to this incident?
According to Robyn Kriel at CNN:
This week, Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot Cecil the lion, had all the charges against him dropped. His paperwork, according to Zimbabwe’s National Parks, was all in order. The professional hunter who was escorting Palmer is now facing only minor charges, which will likely result in fines. Those fines, because Zimbabwe’s hunting laws are so antiquated, are still listed in Zimbabwe dollars. No one has used Zimbabwe dollars since 2009 and the Zim dollar officially does not exist anymore.
Gonarezhou means “place of many elephants,” according to the park’s website. But if illegal poaching and legal hunts in the area continue, that name may become a sad irony.