I have never hunted Africa, but I have hunted in many remote locations in North America with many outfitters and guides over the past 30 years, and so here are some thoughts I have on the alleged actions and behavior of Walter Palmer, the dentist from Minnesota, and his guide, Theo Bronkhorst, as they hunted lions in Zimbabwe in July.
The hunt was ill-fated from the start. Bronkhorst said that due to travel delays, he had to divert from the area he intended to hunt, and was forced to shift the hunt onto another property nearer the park. I assume that Bronkhorst had the necessary permits and paperwork set up to hunt the original area, and had the hunt gone off then and there, most of the world would never had heard of Walter Palmer. He might or might not have killed a lion with his bow on a perfectly legal and ethical hunt that contributed a lot of cash to the local economy. Case closed.
But when the hunt was changed to the new area at the last minute, the problems started. Were the proper authorities contacted, and the paperwork secured? I assume there was a good faith effort to do so, but who knows, these things take time. And then big money like Palmer spends talks. We do not know the details, but the fact remains that this change of venue led to this disastrous hunt, and the ensuing global outrage.
Did Palmer know that the hunt area had shifted? Should he have cared or questioned it? Or, as he said in a statement, he depended on the expertise of his guides to make sure everything was legal and proper? I have been in similar positions in faraway places. Most of the time you have little choice but to follow your guide’s lead and go with it; you hope you did your homework and research on this guy, and that he is legit. It almost always works out, but there is always a bit of doubt in the back of your mind. Are we supposed to be here? Do we have the proper permission…?
There have been a few occasions over the years when a hunt just didn’t feel right, and I called the guides on it. Twice I canceled hunts on the spot and got the hell out of there. You cannot take one chance of doing something that might be illegal, or at the very least a gray area.
Should Palmer, an experienced international trophy hunter, have questioned Bronkhorst, who has been accused in Zimbabwe court of failing to “prevent an unlawful hunt,” more? Maybe. And maybe he did. There is no way to know.
Was Palmer duped into hunting the wrong area with no quota or paperwork? I am not making excuses for him if that happened, but I can see how it could happen.
Now to the hunt. Again, I have never hunted Zimbabwe (or anywhere in Africa) but I understand that while lions are obviously protected inside of national parks, those same lions are fair game if they roam outside the park boundaries.
Would I like to hunt adjacent to a park and shoot a lion that steps outside the boundary, even if it is legal? No, and in fact I have no desire to shoot a lion anywhere under any circumstances.
But in my 30 years of promoting and defending hunting around the world, I have always pointed to this: I never judge any person who chooses to hunt any species anywhere in the world so long as it is legal, and he and his party follow the game laws to the letter.
You and I might not want to go to Africa and spend 55 grand to shoot a lion, but if Palmer chose to do it, that is his right, so long as it was legal.
A few more things…
I am confident that Palmer and the guide had no idea they were hunting, for lack of a better term, a “celebrity” lion. Regardless of all the crazed mainstream media stories about this hunt, not to mention the hysteria on Twitter, nobody in his right mind would target a beloved tourist attraction like Cecil, especially a successful professional like Palmer.
High-income trophy hunters who spend big money to travel to Africa and around the globe are easy targets for the anti-hunting zealots. I am a deer hunter, and I cannot always relate to these people, but they are easy marks.
This has been under-reported and I think it is important: Bronkhorst said that after shooting the lion, Palmer asked him to look for a giant elephant that they could hunt. When the guide said he could not find such a big elephant in the area, Palmer left the country. To me, this helps to confirm that Palmer felt he had done nothing wrong by shooting Cecil. Would the dentist want to hang around for another week or longer and keep hunting if he thought he had just done something illegal?
This whole fiasco has dragged the image of hunters thought the mud once again, but we’ll get through it. This story is already dying out, and will be stale news in another week or so.
One thing you and I need to take away from this is that whether we are hunting lion in Africa or deer near home, we must always think about what we are doing–is it all legal and ethical…are we on the right land…are we hunting with good, like-minded people? We can never be reminded of that enough.
What do you think of this whole Cecil the lion mess?