Zimbabwe lifts hunting ban
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Harare - Zimbabwean wildlife authorities on Monday partially lifted restrictions on big game hunting imposed earlier this month following the outcry over the killing of Cecil the lion by a US trophy hunter.
Authorities on August 1 suspended hunting of lions, leopards and elephants in the area around Hwange National Park after the black-maned Cecil - a favourite with visitors to the park - was shot by dentist Walter Palmer with a bow and arrow.
Announcing the lifting of the ban, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) said in a statement on Monday the suspension “has been lifted with immediate effect”.
Some restrictions remain, however.
All lion, leopard and elephant hunts will require written confirmation from the head of the parks authority and park staff must accompany each hunt.
Meanwhile, individuals caught engaging in illegal hunting will be “banned from hunting for life”, Zimparks warned, saying such hunters “tarnish the image of the hunting industry and their actions border on economic sabotage”.
Palmer paid $55 000 to shoot Cecil in early July with a bow and arrow.
The killing of the lion, who was being tracked as part of an Oxford University research project, provoked outrage among animal lovers worldwide. Zimbabwe has requested that the United States extradite Palmer to face charges over the hunt.
Palmer's guide on the expedition, Theo Bronkhorst, appeared in court last week.
He was granted $1 000 bail pending his trial on September 28 on charges of organising an illegal hunt.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe added his voice to the tide of condemnation on Monday.
“Our wildlife, all our animals, belong to us. They should not be shot with a gun or with an arrow,” Mugabe told thousands of people who gathered at a shrine on the outskirts of the capital Harare to commemorate Heroes' Day.
“Even Cecil the lion is yours. He is dead but he was yours to protect and you failed to protect him,” said the 91-year-old president, who is often himself the object of condemnation over his country's human rights record.
The firebrand Mugabe, who has repeatedly locked horns with the West, accused foreigners of destroying his country's wildlife and other natural resources.
“There are vandals who come from all over. Of course some may be just ordinary visitors but others want to vandalise, to irregularly and illegally acquire part of these resources.”
Palmer received death threats over Cecil's killing, and went into hiding after demonstrations outside his dental practice in Minnesota.
He apologised for killing the big cat, blaming his guide for misleading him.
Bronkhorst, who runs a safari company, denies any wrongdoing, saying he had all the permits required to kill an elderly lion, which he claims was roaming outside the boundaries of the national park.
Since the news of Cecil's killing broke, Zimbabwean officials have named another American alleged to have taken part in an illegal lion kill in the country.
A safari organiser has been arrested in connection with that hunt, which took place in April.
Some in Zimbabwe have questioned the keen international media interest in the Cecil story, noting that few in the country had heard of the animal before he was killed and that ordinary people are often killed by lions and other wild animals - without their deaths causing a global ruckus.