Cecil lion slaying: Public rage 'embarrassing,' says Manitoba hunting group

The story of the American dentist who killed a prized African lion has made headlines all over the world but the head of a Manitoba hunting association calls the outrage "embarrassing."

Hunter allegedly injured Cecil with bow then tracked animal for 40 hours and finished him with gun

Paul Turenne (Leif Larsen/CBC)

The story of the American dentist who killed a prized African lion has made headlines all over the world but the head of a Manitoba hunting association calls the outrage "embarrassing."

"We're all patting ourselves on the back right now for having ruined this guy's life, all passing judgement on him, without really knowing what occurred," said Paul Turenne, the executive director of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association (MLOA), which represents the province's fishing, hunting and outdoor tourism operators.

A trophy shot of dentist/bow hunter Walter Palmer from his now closed Facebook page. (CBC)
For days, people have been lighting up Twitter and Facebook, raging against Palmer and sport hunting.

"To be honest, I think the public reaction is kind of embarrassing and a little bit scary," said Turenne. "I actually saw that someone tweeted his home address and his home phone number which is a bit fanatical, a bit radical.

"As far as I know, this guy bought a license and, you know, thought he was hunting legally. It's entirely possible that he bribed the guides or whatever and knew what he was doing and shot a collared animal knowingly [but] it's also entirely possible that he didn't.

"I mean, lion hunting is very common in Africa. The fact that someone shot a lion isn't news — it happens in many African countries every day."

The 13-year-old lion, known as Cecil, was a local favourite among tourists and guides in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.

Authorities allege Walter Palmer paid two people $50,000 (US) to guide him on a lion hunt earlier this month. According to Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the men tied an animal carcass to their car to lure Cecil out of the protected area of the park during a nighttime hunt.

Cecil was drawn into a kill zone and denied "a chance of a fair chase," Rodrigues said.

Tourists regularly spotted Cecil and his characteristic mane over the past 13 years, according to the conservation group Lion Aid.
Palmer is alleged to have injured Cecil with his bow before tracking the animal for 40 hours and finishing him off with a gun. The lion's skinned and headless body was found along with a tracking collar Cecil wore as part of a long-running Oxford University study.

The hunters allegedly tried to destroy the device but it continued to transmit, which helped authorities find Cecil's body.

Walter has since gone into hiding and temporarily closed his dental practice in the face of protests at the clinic.

He issued a statement Tuesday saying he regretted that his hunt led to Cecil's death, but that to the best of his knowledge everything about his trip was legal.

Defending the hunt

In the face of all the condemnation, some hunters are defending the hunt as a way to preserve the lion population and as an economic benefit for villages in Africa.

John Martins, owner of the Florida-based Discount African Hunts, a hunting broker company that specializes in African safaris, said lions pose a threat to the villagers and their precious cattle livestock.

Villagers who perceive the animals as a threat to their children, animals or income will go out and kill them, perhaps all of them.

By having hunters come in and pay anywhere from $40,000 to $70,000 US, the threat is dealt with but the villagers also receive much needed money.

And there's more control and conservation associated with the hunt because a portion of the money goes to the government for those efforts, as well as anti-poaching patrols, Martins said, noting quotas are set up by the government based on scientific research on sustainable usage. 

He suggested much of the opposition comes from people who haven't been to Africa, haven't spent time in these remote villages and who don't understand the dynamics of the human/lion interactions.

Trophy hunts in Canada

Similarly, hundreds of wolves and bears are trophy hunted every year in Manitoba, as are cougars in British Columbia, said Turenne.

"A lot of it is just predator management to keep these animals way from livestock, to manage the numbers. Not a lot of people eat black bears — you can, but the main reason we have it is so these bears don't get hit by cars and don't break into cottages," he said.

"In Ontario they banned the black bear hunt in the spring 15-20 years ago, and they actually brought it back last year because there are too many problem bears in Ontario."

Turenne echoed Martins comments, saying a lot of people don't necessarily understand the Zimbabwean lion-hunting regulations or the  purpose of the hunt.

"Obviously the people of Zimbabwe, the government of Zimbabwe and all these other African countries have decided that for one reason or another, a licensed regulated lion hunt is something that they want to have there," he said.

"A week ago, I can almost guarantee you, that nobody knew who Cecil the lion was, other than people in Zimbabwe."


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