A vehicle carries visitors arriving at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park on August 2, 2015. File picture: Philimon Bulawayo
A vehicle carries visitors arriving at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park on August 2, 2015. File picture: Philimon Bulawayo

‘I want to clear my name’

By Peta Thornycroft Time of article published Aug 5, 2015

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Harare - Theo Bronkhorst, 52, is due to appear in the Hwange Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday accused of organising an “illegal” hunt for an American dentist, Walter Palmer, who shot a lion known as Cecil last month.

Bronkhorst, released on R12 000 bail last week, says he is not guilty. The case is likely to be remanded for some weeks.

The death of the lion, which had become popular with tourists visiting the Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe, has changed Bronkhorst’s life and may change hunting practices in Zimbabwe and around the region.

Bronkhorst’s world has collapsed for a second time.

In 2000, he was one of the first white farmers to be invaded in President Robert Mugabe’s “land reform” programme. He lost his small, but important farm which stocked game and bred champion cattle in central Zimbabwe. He walked away with nothing, and like nearly all others evicted at that time, received no compensation for the land or the capital goods on the farm.

That was why he went into hunting, he says.

Now, he and his staff will not be able to earn money because his bail conditions demand that he reports to the police in Bulawayo three times a week. That gives him no time to travel distances for hunts which often take place in remote parts of the country.

And he learned this week his clients have cancelled all booked hunts until year end.

“I don’t know how I will survive this,” he said on Tuesday from Victoria Falls, where he was consulting his lawyer ahead of the hearing.

He was accused, along with Honest Ndlovu, who occupies a farm in the Gwayi area, near Hwange National Park, which was taken from another white farmer in 2000.

Ndlovu has not yet been charged and he indicated last week he may become a state witness in the trial.

Cecil the lion died on the land which Ndlovu occupies, adjoining Hwange National Park. It is public record that he did not have a permit for a lion to be shot, although he is permitted to sell hunts for other animals.

So Cecil was hunted with a permit from a rural council which had a quota of one lion per year which it could sell to hunters.

Wildlife analysts predict that the question of permits and the transfer of them from district to district, with approval from the government’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, may be a key piece of evidence in the trial when it goes ahead.

A ban on transferring quotas of wildlife for hunting is a key reform which will almost certainly be part of a whole set of new regulations which will amend Zimbabwe’s wildlife legislation.

That was under discussion in Harare on Tuesday when about 100 people involved in various tourism and wildlife organisations gathered at the Parks authority, to strategise a way out of the storm created by Cecil’s death on July 2.

Professor David Cumming, Zimbabwe’s senior ecologist, who is lecturing masters students at the University of Cape Town next week, said the government had banned all hunting around the Hwange National Park for the moment. A working group emerged from the emergency meeting which will concentrate on finding consensus among interested parties for new regulations to govern hunting.

Ironically, many of the new regulations likely to emerge, were agreed at a workshop in Harare for hunters and the Parks authority during the week that Cecil was killed.

“It was encouraging that the meeting was called and that so many attended and that a transparent statement will emerge which will have input from all sectors and would be available by end of August,” Cumming said.

Now those proposed reforms, and some new ones, have to be agreed and then urgently translated into law by consent across all sectors, he added.

Bronkhorst said he had heard some of what had been discussed in Harare earlier in the day. “It sounds great. I will be pleased if there are reforms.”

He says he is looking forward to clearing his name at the trial. “It was almost accidental that this famous lion was shot. I had only gone to that farm at the last minute because the previous one I had booked with another hunting company, and paid for was, inexplicably, cancelled,” he said.

Cecil was wounded on the first night of Palmer’s hunt and he and Bronkhorst returned early the next day and shot it dead. “I did not know that this lion was famous with tourists, nor that it had a collar as it was part of a research project. The lion was shot at night. Both I and my client were devastated when we saw the next day that the lion had a collar.”

He said he wished, now, that he had taken the collar and handed it in to the Parks authority when he reported the incident to them the day after Cecil died.


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