Cape Town - An American hunter Walter Palmer, with a reported hunting felony history in the US, stands accused of illegally killing a protected lion in Zimbabwe.
The 13-year-old lion, known as Cecil, was literally a superstar of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe as part of a research programme.
In a statement made on Tuesday, Palmer indirectly laid the blame at the feet of the professional hunting company he enlisted, saying he thought everything about his trip was legal and that he wasn't aware of the animal's status "until the end of the hunt".
READ: Professional hunter loses licence as Cecil the lion's head confiscated
'Walter Palmer' is currently trending world wide on Twitter with his dentist practice reportedly closed for business and his Facebook account is being inundated with damning posts about the kill. A 'Walter Palmer awareness account' has even been created, while a tribute instagram account has been created for Cecil.
'The industry needs to clean up its act'
WildAid executive director Peter Knights has said in response to Cecil's killing, he has seen a series of ethical problems in Africa's hunting industry over the last few years.
"The industry needs to clean up its act, and it needs to be the first to condemn this action," said Knights.
“Hunting can have benefits to conservation. It can generate revenue to conserve habitat, and it can help local communities. But it must be done ethically, and it must be done legally. And it seems that in this case those rules have been broken.”
Canned hunting has been heavily scrutinized of late as a controversial documentary Blood Lions has drummed up awareness of the sordid conditions with in which these Lions are bread in order to feed SA's lucrative hunting industry - said to be one of the few places in the world where they are bread for the sole purpose of being hunted.
READ: 'Blood Lions' filmmaker Ian Michler speaks out on canned hunting and trophies
An estimated 6 000 lions are currently confined in about 150 breeding facilities across South Africa.
Adding to the wave of controversy is the decision by South African Airways Cargo to re-start its transportation of legal hunting trophies, including lions and rhino. The airline initially imposed the embargo three months ago in April 2015 after an incident in which hunting trophies were allegedly shipped to Perth, Australia under a false label of 'mechanical equipment'.
READ: SAA cargo overturns ban on hunting Trophies
SAA Cargo announced the lifting of the embargo in a cargo policy and procedures advisory, dated 20 July 2015, saying the airline had been engaging with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). It said the DEA’s implementation of "additional compliance measures for permits and documentation" caused the airline to review its embargo.
Minister Edna Molewa recently met with stakeholders to address the mounting public concern about the controversial practice - especially as a new international report by TRAFFIC throws light on the growing trade in lion bones, involving hundreds of South African lion carcasses exported annually to supply the traditional Asian medicine market, says Andreas Wilson-Spath.
"The DEA’s official statement about the meeting reveals a fundamental disagreement over what constitutes ‘canned hunting’ in South Africa," Wilson-Spath said.
Following the discussions and in an unprecedented move, the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) has been told that its “position on lion hunting is no longer tenable”.
PHASA to review its policy
According to a Conservation Action Trust update, an email sent to PHASA members by the organisation’s president, Hermann Meyeridricks, asked for a review of its policy on the matter ahead of its next annual general meeting.
Meyeridricks said PHASA has made “little demonstrable progress” in getting government and predator breeders to “clean up” the country’s lucrative but controversial captive-bred lion hunting industry. He is calling for it to improve its standards and conditions to a "generally acceptable level”, acknowledging that opposition to the hunting of bred lions is no longer confined to “just a small if vociferous group of animal-rights activists”.
The idea that the hunting of captive-bred lions represents a legitimated and sustainable use of a wildlife species is turning, despite the fact that it is seen by the government as a "key driver of economic growth, skill development and job creation in the sector".
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And what the shock killing of Cecil the lion indicates, irrespective of the hunt having taken place in Zimbabwe, is that the issue of organisations that fail to follow procedure and who continue to operate illegally, as now called into question by PHASA, requires more than just regulation clarity and refinement.