I conducted two special safaris in July. One was to Uganda and the other was a “rite of passage” hiking trip through big-game country with my twin boys. I promise to post more about these wonderful safaris soon, but you may already know that I contracted malaria. The doctors in Cape Town refused to believe me that I had malaria and insisted on proof from a blood test. The blood test for malaria is notoriously inaccurate and my results came back negative, so the doctors would not treat me for malaria. After three days I was so ill that I was admitted to hospital and I was then told that I did in fact have malaria, and by that time i also had pneumonia and an enlarged spleen.
I spent a week in hospital – much of it delirious with a fever and exploring The River Styx. I am now out of hospital and feeling pretty good, except for immense exhaustion.
Another dark safari that I must mention, because so many people have asked me about it, is the story about the killing of the Hwange lion known as Cecil. This story was all the more poignant for me because together with guests I saw and photographed this magnificent lion on the 13th May this year.
And just two weeks later with another group of safari guests we saw his cubs with their mothers, but were unable to locate him.
There has been raging debate on the subject in social media as well as the media. Quite briefly my opinion is as follows:
As much as I detest trophy hunting I acknowledge that when it is done correctly it actually makes a positive contribution to conservation, by preserving land which would otherwise be destroyed by settlement, cattle ranching or development. In this case however I am certain that unethical practices were followed. I am certain that the Professional hunters were specifically targeting this specific magnificent lion and intentionally lured him out of the National Park. If it is to be believed, the landowner on which the hunt was conducted did not even have a permit for lion. Based on reports, they also tried to destroy the tracking collar.
What this incident will hopefully highlight, is the plight of lions as a species. Because they are fairly conspicuous, the public has a false perception that their numbers are secure but this is not the case at all. Their numbers are in decline and trophy hunting has a serious negative impact on their numbers (because of the infanticide that follows the loss of a dominant male) as well as their social structure. Because large trophy males are targeted this also inevitably has an impact on the gene pool.
I think that hunting wild lions should be stopped completely. This is not the first time I have heard of hunting outfitters intentionally luring lions from National Parks and as long as the financial incentive is present, this will continue.
So I welcome the massive public outcry, because in this instance it brings into stark focus the vulnerability of the remaining african lion population as well as the ongoing unethical hunting that is destroying african wildlife assets as well as ruining the reputation of the hunting industry.
As a footnote, some people highlight the financial benefits that hunting brings to the rural poor of Zimbabwe but in my opinion these supposed benefits have hardly ever trickled down to the poor in the way that was envisaged by the CAMPFIRE programme and in in an instance such as this one I doubt there was any benefit except to the apparently corrupt land-owner and safari outfitter and employment for a tracker and skinners. In contrast Cecil was a major drawcard for all the lodges in the Ngweshla area. Count the staff employed by Makololo, Little Mak, Somaliso, The Hide and other operators in the area. . . And count the on-going financial contribution made through bed-nights paid by non-consumptive tourists and compare this with the once-off amount paid to kill this beautiful animal. Hunting certainly benefits conservation and communities in some instances, but definitely not in this instance.
I promise less dark stories in my next newsletter!