Photo Credit: Bert du Plessis of Fish Eagle Safaris
By Andrew Van Ginkel
Editor: In this analysis, Andrew Van Ginkel highlights the many contradictory statements surrounding the trophy hunting/killing of Xanda – a healthy, 6.2 year old male lion from Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
Was Xanda a lone male (as claimed by the hunting authorities), or a dominant pride male with dependent cubs (as highlighted by Wild Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU)?
Xanda was a lion forming a key element of WildCRU’s academic studies, so one would suspect that WildCRU are in possession of accurate data relating to Xanda’s pre-deceased status.
If Xanda was a pride male with cubs, then Xanda’s killing exposes those cubs to the risk of infanticide from incoming males. So the “harvesting of just one lion” (sic), Xanda may well result in the deaths of multiple lions. How is Xanda’s “harvesting” good, conscientious action that helps (as claimed by the hunting fraternity) to ensure the survival of the species in the wild?
WildCRU are of the opinion that trophy hunting is justified to support habitat protection, but again in this case, the habitat might be protected, but the inhabitants are not – WildCRU has suggested the exclusion zone where lions might wander out of the protection of Hwange National park into the hunter’s sights needs to be extended (Update: WildCRU have reportedly suggested 5km):
“Xanda was shot 2km from the park boundary in the Ngamo Forest, an area were lions can be legally hunted on quota…….The Oxford scientists who were tracking him have called for a wider no-hunting zone around the Park.” – WildCRU
21 July 2017 Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association (ZPHGA) statement on Xanda’s hunt
“On the 30th of June 2017, a lion known by operators in Hwange National Park as “Xanda” was shot during a safari conducted by a licenced professional hunter and member of the ZPHGA.”
“Before entertaining the thought of hunting this cat, and knowing the history of this area, both the Senior Ranger for ZNPWMA in the area, and the field representative for Hwange’s lion research project were contacted by the professional hunter. Both confirmed that the lion, previously with a pride in the park, had been ousted by a coalition and had taken up residence in the adjacent forestry concession for the past 6 months. They furthermore confirmed that the lion in question did not have any dependant cubs and was of a legal age for harvesting under new regulations adopted by ZNPWMA to comply with USFWS guidelines for sustainable utilization (Less than 2.5% of the 2,000 lions (2016 survey) resident in Zimbabwe were harvested in 2016 under this new programme).
“It is not illegal to hunt a collared animal in Zimbabwe. The collaring of lion, and various other species, in and around Zimbabwe’s national parks and other wildlife refuges, is for research purposes – not for direct protection. The dynamics of big cats is still under research and includes their ranging into hunting areas and further into populated communal areas. The professional hunter was asked to return the lion’s collar to Hwange’s lion researchers in working order, which after harvesting him, he duly did.”
Summary of ZPHGA version of events:
1) Richard Cooke the professional hunter who organised the hunt contacts Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZNPWMA) and Hwange’s lion research project to confirm he has the go ahead to hunt the lion he has in his sights to make sure he has the permission to shoot it. Both organizations confirm that he can proceed because the lion did not have any dependant cubs, was of a legal age for “harvesting.”
2) They state that it is not illegal to shoot a collared lion and that a collar is there for research purposes and not for their protection.
3) The professional hunter (Richard Cooke) is asked to return the collar to Hwange’s lion researchers in working order, which after “harvesting him,” he did.
4) Xanda was shot on the 30 June.
21 July 2017 – Statement of Wild Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Oxford University about Xanda hunt:
“Xanda, aged six, was shot by a trophy hunter on 7th July, just outside the boundaries of Hwange National Park, close to where his father was killed.”
“Xanda was first collared as an adult lion in July 2015, and a new GPS satellite collar was fitted by Dr Loveridge and the project field team in October 2016. He was the pride male of a pride of three females and seven cubs and his movements were continuously tracked until his death. The pride’s home range spanned the National Park boundary and they spent considerable time outside the protection of the park. Xanda was shot 2km from the park boundary in the Ngamo Forest, an area were lions can be legally hunted on quota.”
“Professor Macdonald, who was shocked to hear of Xanda’s death as he got off a plane from Australia only a few hours ago, said: “Our buffer zone idea also illustrates the importance of our work – we have carefully documented the movements of the lions, the threats they face, of which trophy hunting is only one, and so we know where they are at greatest risk. Our evidence provides the essential details to assist Zimbabwe’s policy-makers.”
“A statement released by ZPHGA (Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association) regarding the recent hunt of the lion ‘Xanda’ on a safari conducted by a Zimbabwean professional hunter contained two inaccuracies that WildCRU wishes to correct insofar as they mentioned our data and our field staff. The first inaccuracy concerned the statement that this lion was an “ousted” territorial male and the second concerned reference to remarks wrongly attributed to our field team.
Firstly, this lion was not an ‘ousted’ territorial male. He was a territorial pride male in a pride of three females with at least seven dependent cubs of between 1 and 1.5 years old. These cubs are too young to survive on their own and will certainly be vulnerable to infanticide. While the hunt of this animal was not illegal it was clearly disruptive to the social structure of the population and has most likely put the survival of the pride’s cubs in jeopardy.
Secondly, the professional hunter was said to have been told by our field staff that ‘the lion had previously been with a pride in the park’ and ‘confirmed that the lion in question did not have any dependant cubs.’ In fact he was informed that this lion, whose range spanned the park boundary, was a pride male associated with a pride and dependent cubs, and that hunting him would be detrimental to the population.
It is regrettable that the ZPHGA misrepresented this information which has created, in some quarters, an incorrect impression.“
Summary of WildCRU’s version of events:
1) Xanda was shot on the 7th of July.
2) Xanda was the pride male of a pride of three females and seven cubs.
3) Professor Macdonald (WildCRU) while getting off a plane on the 21 July hears about the killing of Xanda.
22 July 2017 – Press statement by The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) – “ Editor’s Note: Zimparks’ ‘Press Releases’ unavailable at the time of writing and no comments relating to Xanda on Zimparks’ facebook page (?):
“Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) says there is no evidence yet linking the recently killed lion at Ngamo Sikumi forest to Cecil the lion and has confirmed that the hunt was legal.”
“Zimparks which has described the incident as unfortunate has dispelled reports suggesting that the hunt was illegal and has further clarified that no DNA evidence shows that the killed lion was one of Cecil the lion’s cubs.”
A few questions we need answers to:
1) ZPHGA say Xanda was killed on the 30th June, WildCRU (Oxford University) say the 7th of July. Why are these dates not the same?
2) ZPHGA say Xanda had been ousted from his pride, but WildCRU (Oxford University) say he was the pride male of “a pride of three females and seven cubs.” How can this important fact have two very different versions? Is one of them lying?
3) Zimparks publish a press statement stating that no evidence exists to verify that it was Xanda, or any other relative of Cecil the lion that was shot in this trophy hunt. So what are Zimparks saying? Are ZPHGA and WildCRU (Oxford University) both not stating the correct facts?