The death of a camper mauled to death by lions at a Zimbabwe game park highlights the country’s poaching crisis, a leading conservationist said.
Johnny Rodrigues said illegal hunting of lions, as well as prey such as impala and bison, is ‘traumatizing’ and forces those animals to encroach on public game parks, increasing the risk to humans.
Mr. Rodrigues, who is chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said, “Poaching is a big problem in Zimbabwe – not just by professional hunters after animals like lions, but also local people after buck (deer) or bison for food.
“A lot of animals are becoming traumatized by it. They’re becoming more aggressive and are coming into contact with humans whereas before, when there were plenty of animals they’d shy away from us. We’re turning these hunters into scavengers.”
Businessman Peter Evershed, 59, was on holiday with his wife, brother-in-law and a friend at the Mana Pools National Park on the Zambezi River when he went to take an outside shower on Saturday night.
It is thought that a young male lion, followed by four other giant cats, attacked him while he was in the shower. By the time those traveling with him dashed to the shower, which was 125 feet from their tents, Mr. Evershed had suffered fatal neck injuries.
The Zimbabwean’s body was taken back to Harare, where his wife Liz appealed for clemency for the lions.
“The party raised the alarm and five cars arrived and they started firing but it was too late. He didn’t stand a chance," Rodrigues said.
Lions and other animals roam freely in the park, which is not fenced.
“We used to have a lot of impala and buffalo here, but they’ve been poached or killed over the years, so it’s forced the lions to come closer to humans," Rodrigues added.
“More people are also coming to national parks like Mana and there’s no limit to people coming in. They can walk around without guides and the lions see that. They are wild animals and will kill if they’re hungry – it’s natural to them.”
He said the area has seen a reduction in the number of prides (lion herds) – from 20 prides five years ago to about eight now – spurred on by poaching. Chinese buyers will pay $3,000 per kilogram for lion bones to grind down for medicine or wine.
Rodrigues's conservation group said eight people were killed by lions in rural areas of Zimbabwe between May and June, which resulted in some cats being killed in revenge.