Ladies and gentlemen I make this statement with great sadness following the loss of an iconic attraction Cecil, the lion which we had successfully managed to look after both in terms of conservation and protection from a cub to a fully grown lion of 13 years. This is a lion we have been using for the purposes of research to monitor its movement patterns within the range of Hwange National Park and its surrounding areas.
The Government of Zimbabwe through the Parks and Wildlife Act Chapter 20:14 is mandated to manage and conserve wildlife in the country. This function is exercised through the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, whose main mandate is to conserve Zimbabwe’s wildlife heritage by ensuring that there is sustainable utilization of the natural resources. The Authority is charged with the responsibility to administer and regulate hunting, carry out antipoaching operations, carry out outreach programmes, manage human-wildlife conflicts, undertake research and to monitor programmes.
Trophy hunting in Zimbabwe can be conducted in safari areas, private land and CAMPFIRE areas and is regulated through the Parks and Wildlife Act Chapter 20:14. Hunting quotas are therefore allocated on a sustainable basis using scientifically proven methodologies on the wildlife populations available. Area specific hunting quotas and permits are issued out to land owners on an annual basis. Each hunting permit specifies the species, numbers and sexes of animals to be hunted in specific hunting areas. Trophy hunting is done and supervised by qualified professional hunters whose licenses are issued by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and can be withdrawn in the event of breaching any hunting laws and regulations.
There are two forms of wildlife utilization, i.e. consumptive and non-consumptive. Consumptive utilization is done in specific hunting areas for example safari areas such as Chewore, Chete and Matetsi. Non-consumptive utilization is done in strictly non-hunting areas for example national parks such as Hwange National Park, which was home to Cecil and his pride.
Ladies and gentlemen, on the 7th of July 2015 after receiving a tip-off, our law enforcement officers immediately started investigating the matter and discovered that on the 1st of July 2015, this lion was illegally killed by Dr Walter Palmer, a United States of America national and Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris on Antoinette farm in Gwayi River Conservancy. The lion had a fitted GPS satellite collar as part of current research efforts being done in Hwange National Park and its surrounding areas. The lion was well known and regularly sighted by tourists.
Mr Honest Trymore Ndlovu owner of Antoinette farm was issued with a hunting quota for 2015 which excluded lions. Antoinette Farm is located in Gwayi River Conservancy in the Hwange Rural District and is adjacent to Hwange National Park. The professional hunter is alleged to have connived with the Antoinette land owner to kill the lion. The incident came to the attention of the Authority on the 7th of July 2015 through an informer. This was followed by an investigation which clearly demonstrated that the illegal killing was deliberate. Firstly the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015. Secondly, the use of a bow and an arrow was meant to conceal the illegal hunt by using a means that would not alert the rangers on patrol.
Execution of the illegal hunt violated a number of provisions of the Parks and Wildlife Act.
· The professional hunter violated Section 66 of the Act which regulates the manner in which trophy hunts are conducted.
· Both the client, Dr Palmer and the professional hunter violated Section 123 of the Act which controls the use of bow and arrow for hunting.
· The client also violated the Act through financing an illegal hunt.
· The land owner violated Section 59 of the Act which controls hunting on private land in that he allowed a hunt to be conduct without quota and necessary permit.
From investigations carried out so far it shows that the whole poaching event was properly orchestrated and well financed to make sure that it succeeds. The professional hunter, client and land owner were therefore all engaged in poaching of the lion.
As we frantically try to protect our wildlife from organized gangs such as this one, there are people who command respect in the society such as Dr Walter James Palmer, a well known dentist and Theo Bronkhorst, an experienced licensed professional hunter who can connive to undermine Zimbabwean laws, international laws and CITES regulations. One can conclude with confidence that Dr Palmer being an American citizen had a well orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA. This must be condemned in the strongest possible terms by all genuine animal loving conservationists who believe in sustainable utilization of natural resources.
I take this opportunity, therefore to appeal to all conservationists, animal lovers and all institutions interested in the protection of wildlife biodiversity to come forward and assist the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority with resources to undertake its mandate effectively in areas such as game water management, antipoaching, road and fire guard maintenance, and transport. It is important that we all ensure that the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is adequately resourced to conserve and protect our biodiversity from organized international poaching as happened in this case. Failure to adequately resource the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority can easily subject our antipoaching units to temptation from those offering huge financial rewards for illegal activities.
Lastly let me thank our law enforcement agencies who upon receiving information of the illegal hunt acted swiftly and apprehended the locally based poachers who are now facing the wrath of law but unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin. We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable for his illegal actions.
I thank you.