Roberta Katunga, Senior Business Reporter
OPERATORS in the hunting sector are facing the worst season in 15 years as the debacle surrounding the killing of Cecil the Lion continues to deter hunters from Zimbabwe.
According to conservationists, bookings for the whole season across the whole hunting sector were 75-80 percent down with other operators recording up to 99 percent cancellations.
An operator in the Gwayi Conservancy, Mr Langton Masunda said the hunting season that started in the March/ April period and is scheduled to end next month has been the worst year for consumptive tourism.
“A lot of falsehoods were peddled in the aftermath of the death of Cecil and animal activists put a lot of effort in trying to put a stop to hunting. The negative publicity and the unfair treatment of the dentist in the whole saga led other international clients to adopt a wait-and-see attitude,” said Mr Masunda.
Mr Masunda said what compounded the Cecil the Lion drama was the cyanide issue which killed a number of elephants in the country. He said hunters were drawn to Zimbabwe as a hunting destination because of the big game like elephants, buffaloes and lions hence any inconsistency, like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) which wanted to ban trophy exports, would deter clients.
“No client wanted to come and hunt when they would not be able to take their trophies out of the country or back to their countries. This further compounded the Cecil debacle,” he said.
Mr Masunda said the poor hunting season has impacted negatively on conservation efforts such as fire guards, anti-poaching programmes, dam water supply and infrastructure repairs as these are done from hunting proceeds.
He said although the Cites meeting which ended in Johannesburg, South Africa on 5 October had come up with good news that elephants and lions remain on appendix two, meaning there are no restrictions in hunting those animals; operators have, however, been set back by a year.
“Whatever proceeds operators make in the next season will be used to cover this poor season and the next season. It is therefore important to come up with innovative ways to raise funds. The National Parks should allow controlled biltong hunt (hunting for the local market),” said Mr Masunda.
In a separate interview another operator, Mr Chris Dube who operates Dumazulu Safaris in the Chamankanu Ranch, Gwayi reiterated Masunda’s assertions on the prevailing hunting season. Mr Dube said they had been seriously affected, adding that in his quota, he had experienced 99 percent cancellations.
“Most operators were left out of business the whole year. We feel that the problems we faced this hunting season have been outstanding issues that should have been addressed a while back,” he said.
Mr Dube said the few clients that most operators got this year were referrals from the South African market that would be looking for big game which is abundant in Zimbabwe.
Cecil was a male south-west African lion who lived primarily in the Hwange National Park. Last year in June Cecil the lion was killed by Walter Palmer, an American dentist, sparking an international outcry and greater scrutiny of trophy hunting for the heads, skins, or other body parts of wild animals.
After the outcry over the killing, some countries decided to stop letting hunters take lion trophies across their borders.
Australia and France flat out banned them while the United States, the biggest importer of lion trophies, added new protections for lions under the Endangered Species Act.