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?
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This may be the most level headed post on this subject that I’ve seen. I have hunted Africa many times and book over 100 clients into Africa each year, so am familiar with the way things work there. There are two things I want to discuss, but first want to say that, like everyone who was not there, I have no idea what actually went down and these are just discussion points.
Before touching on these things I want it known that I had nothing to do with this hunt regarding arranging it and have no inside knowledge of what actually happened. These are just opinions based on what I’ve seen seen over the past 10 years working in the industry.
First thing I want to point out is that his PH switched areas last minute. That’s a red flag to me that the PH didn’t have quota, so switched to an area that “had” it. Apparently they didn’t have it, and this fiasco ensued. Given it’s close proximity to the Matesti units and the fact that Bronkhorst moved his hunt last minute, I would assume that he was scheduled to hunt there but due to them dropping quota this year (they cut Matetsi lion quota in half from 6 to 3) they likely were unable to secure him a tag. This is all speculation at this point, but I believe that is what happened and (very) likely without Dr. Palmers knowledge. The area is known for big maned cats and rarely, if ever, would you be able to move that hunt to another adjacent area last minute. Again, I believe Palmer had no knowledge of this and likely didn’t know which area he was in due to trust in the PH.
The second point I want to touch on is the length of the safari. It’s not common to shoot a cat in such a short time, but it DOES happen. Asking if he could shoot an elephant over 63 lbs was likely Palmer asking Bronkhorst if he could hunt beat his personal best elephant, when Bronkhorst declined he left for home. The length of time may be suspicious to some, but look at it from the “Time is Money” point of view. Anyone who can afford a lion hunt knows that the more time they spend in the office, the more money they can make. The lion was the main goal, he accomplished that goal early and left to go home and make more money. Again, this is my opinion but I deal with high income clients all the time and this is the norm for these guys. They finish the hunt and go home early so they can make more money to do another hunt. End of story.
The truth will come out, and if it’s not the “truth” the anti’s want it to be it will never get the kind of exposure that this current “trial by internet” has gotten.
I do see positives in this whole fiasco, though. Yes, the media is reporting that all hunters are the spawn of Satan, but at the same time with this being the biggest news story in the world right now everyone on social media is watching and for once actually reading what we have to say. I posted an article about trophy hunting vs. poaching last Thursday and it was shared over 1700 times on Facebook. Had I posted that 3 weeks ago (and I did on another forum), it may have been shared 17 times at most. Use this exposure to your advantage, folks. It’s a golden opportunity to spread the truth.
Greg, well said sir
Been a long time since I have posted on your site. When I first saw the story of Cecil the Lion and Palmer shooting it with a crossbow and finishing it off after a 40 hour track it really made me feel a bit uneasy. After learning more about this story and the fact this Lion was a celebrity of sorts in the Park and basically was somewhat used to people I started to feel even more uneasy. I really think this Palmer is basically a chest pounding POS. I’m a very avid deer hunter and I’ve traveled to destinations into Canada several times and I’ve always done my research and have used ethical outfitters and they employ ethical guides. Palmer is the kind of killer that we as ethical hunters need to rid of, he gives us all a bad name. Some people (killers) have never gotten away from the fact there is more to a hunt than just the kill. Palmer reminds me of the same type of killer that hunts inside a 20 acre pen and kills a record buck and brags about it. Palmer was fined for illegal taking of a Black Bear in Wisconsin, so he’s not a legit hunter, he take chances and only cares about the kill!
Regardless of what happened, legal or not, we hunters have received a black eye due to this story. Now, today I see they are on some woman’s case for posting trophy African animals on her face book. She is next to a dead giraffe she shot in the picture, that could blacken our other eye. Hope this stuff fades away soon.
Hey Mike. Long time since I chimed in but on the blog.
I think we need to wait and see what the story truly is with the hunt. Lots of rumors so far.
I wonder how easy it would be to see a collar on a mature lion with a heavy mane. It would seem to be very difficult even at archery ranges.
Also, the rumor that Palmer or the PH tried to destroy the collar after the kill makes things look pretty shady.
But honestly, everything we’re hearing/reading is coming from the mainstream media. How in the heck can we believe any of what they say/write?
The only thing I know so far is that I do not like Jimmy Kimmel as much as I thought I did. Yikes!
good to hear from you Doug!
I have hunted in Africa more than once and I have shot a lion, in Tanzania’s Selous Reserve over bait. I have never hunted in “Mad” Bob Mugabe’s Zimbabwe but know many hunters whom have some killed lions.
When you make these hunts you do indeed do your homework prior to signing a contract for several thousand dollars with someone you do not know. But after that you’re pretty much in their hands. It is the industry standard for the safari company to have all the permits lined up prior to your arrival and in most countries in Africa a government agent is in camp with you during the duration of your safari to see that laws are obeyed…though I have been told those “game scouts” as their known are more than happy to let things slide for a reasonable bribe.
I do not know enough to comment on the Cecil issue other than to say Palmer was within archery range of Cecil and I must assume he saw the collarS prior to shooting. And yes once an animal leaves the reserve he is a legal animal to kill…i.e. 90% of all elephants shot by sport hunters are done so after finding tracks leaving a reserve crossing a sand road then following them up. BD
a couple of people have brought up that Palmer left the county in just 3 days, after spending probably close to 75 grand total to get there and shoot the lion. while I said that he left after the guide told him he could not find a big elephant, and I still do believe that helps to confirm he thought he did nothing wrong, I can see it how him leaving so early is bothersome to some people–was it because he saw the collar and got to feeling weird and that there might be repercussions and as Steve said above “s–t was about to hit fan” ? probably so, there was some of that. Also Steve, no it would not surprise me that he left so fast without enjoying the experience…many hunters do that these days, esp. the big money guys, many of whom just want to shoot something and hit the road, sadly it’s not about the experience anymore to a lot of people.
I have nothing against killing a lion in Africa. However, the facts and speculation leave a lot to be answered. I believe your blog is the only intelligent assessment I have read so far. The thing that bothers me most was the speed of the hunt and the speed with which the guy left Africa. Although I never want to kill a lion or leopard, or an elephant for that matter, the African plain’s antelope and cape buffalo haunt me. I’ve never been there and now it’s way above my pay grade and my age. I’ll just stick with the whitetail and the occasional hog. Keep up the good work. I’ve been with you a long time now!
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I am glad you posted about this. I have not seen any other outdoor sites touch this. I have only been on one US guided hunt, so my knowledge of this type of thing is limted to mainly what I read. I have no problem with people hunting lions. If I had paid 55 grand, I would assume the PH had the lion permit-I would not have asked to see it. I read different accounts of how the hunt went down – some stating they drove a carcass inside the preseve to draw the lion out….Regardless, my thoughts are that is primarily on the PH – but agree the client has some responsibility. The one point that makes me wonder though – he apparently shot the lion the first day of the hunt, recovered it the second, left for home the third day (because no elephant….). My understanding is lion hunts generally run 20 days. He did not want to stay one extra day and enjoy the scenery, food, drink generally relax, etc? Makes me think he knew sh$t was going to hit the fan and if he wanted to keep the lion head – he had best get it out of the country ASAP. I still think the PH carries most of the responsibility for this fiasco. Just my thoughts for now – facts on the actual hunt seem scare right now. Enjoyed the post Mike – Thanks
Great article I believe your words are so true and this whole thing has gotten way out of control