An elephant with massive tusks was killed recently in a legal hunt just outside a national park in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has lost 26 elephants to poachers using cyanide in the past month
This time it is not a lion named Cecil, but an unnamed “tusker” elephant whose death is causing controversy.
The hunt was legal: In Zimbabwe, as in Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique and other countries, controlled hunting is legal.
Usually, a professional hunter will bid for a quota of animals from the government. For example: six elephants, four buffalo, two lions, and smaller game such as gazelles.
But there are restrictions. Hunters can’t kill endangered animals, and certain ethical considerations prevail. It’s considered unethical, for example, to hunt a young bull elephant who can probably still mate. However, it’s illegal to kill young females that could be nursing a baby.
But otherwise, as long as a hunter has the proper permits and has stayed within a designated area, in Zimbabwe, nature’s bounty is at a fee-payer’s fingertips.
This hunt took place just outside Gonarezhou National Park. Like many parks across Zimbabwe, it has borne the brunt of what a collapsed economy does to a country’s wildlife. Poaching is rife. Some park rangers in Zimbabwe say in the more remote parks, they have lost around 75% of their wildlife. In the past month alone, Zimbabwe has lost dozens of elephants to poaching after they were poisoned with cyanide. The death toll last week was 14; it’s now risen to 26.
What happened to the elephant was not poaching – it was regulated. But regulated or not, for some people it is hard to understand why anyone would want to kill a big, beautiful animal.
Conservationists and many professional guides say great tusker should not have been killed. They say the bull elephant killed in Zimbabwe was a tourist attraction, and had most likely wandered across an invisible line separating the national park from a hunting concession where it became fair game for hunters.
Hunters, however, argue that regulated trophy hunting brings much-needed money into communities.
Conservationists argue that, as lucrative as that sounds, animals like this elephant will always be worth more alive than dead. They point out you can shoot an animal only once, and once you have, you lose forever the enjoyment of looking at it.
This week, Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot Cecil the lion, had all charges against him dropped. His paperwork, according to Zimbabwe’s National Parks, was in order.
Opinion: In defense of legal hunting
CNN’s Briana Duggan contributed to this report.