Zimbabwe partially lifts ban on big game hunting around Cecil’s park

World Today

A lion named Tommy is seen Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015 in the Hwange National Park where Cecil the Lion was killed about 700 kilometres south west of Harare, Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwe has partially lifted a ban on big-game hunting around Hwange National Park that was imposed after an international outcry over the killing of Cecil, the country’s most prized lion, by an American dentist last month.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority said in a statement on Tuesday that the ban remained in place for two private game parks and rural communities near the park. In the areas where it has been rescinded, all lion, leopard and elephant hunts must be supervised by park staff, Reuters reported.

Cecil, a rare black-maned lion, was killed on one of the farms adjacent to the park where the ban on big game hunts, first imposed on Aug. 1, remains in force.

Authorities in Zimbabwe imposed the indefinite ban after it emerged that American hunter Walter Palmer had killed Cecil with a bow and arrow after, they say, his guides used bait to lure the big cat out of the park’s protective embrace.

“Individuals involved in illegal hunting activities are banned from hunting for life as they tarnish the image of the hunting industry … Their actions border on economic sabotage,” the parks agency said in its statement.

A Zimbabwean court last week postponed until Sept. 28 the trial of local hunter Theo Bronkhorst.

He is accused of failing to prevent Palmer from illegally killing Cecil, a 13-year-old lion which had been fitted with a GPS collar as part of an Oxford University study, and was a favorite with tourists visiting Hwange park.

Zimbabwe also wants Palmer, 55, extradited from the United States to face trial over Cecil’s death.

Trade in South African lion bones is surging

Conservationists are warning of a new potential threat to Africa’s wild lion population: The increasing use of lion bones to replace tiger bones in traditional medicine in parts of Asia.

The lion bone trade, which has surged since around 2008, is mostly based on the legal hunting of captive-bred lions in South Africa, with negligible impact on the country’s wild lion population, according to a study released last month, the Associated Press reported.

More research is needed to determine whether the “harvesting” of lion bones may be occurring elsewhere in Africa, said Dr. Vivienne Williams, a researcher at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and the main author of the lion bone study.

Lions are designated as vulnerable on an international “red list” of species facing threats. The International Union for Conservation of Nature noted successful lion conservation in southern Africa, but said lions in West Africa are critically endangered and rapid population declines were recorded in East Africa.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford were also involved in the lion bone report. The university research group had been monitoring Cecil, a lion whose allegedly illegal killing by an American hunter in Zimbabwe prompted an international uproar.

There are more than 9,100 lions in South Africa, two-thirds bred in captivity, according to the report. Estimates of the continent’s wild lion population vary. Some experts cite 20,000 or so, a sharp drop from past decades.

The lion bone report said demand in China and Southeast Asia followed stronger conservation measures aimed at protecting tigers and other Asian big cats, possibly prompting dealers to turn to African lions as a substitute.

Legal exports of South African lion skeletons increased from about 50 skeletons in 2008 to 573 in 2011, the report said

Reports by Reuters and Associated Press.