Why has Zimbabwe lifted its ban on big-game hunting after just 10 days?

Big-game hunting has garnered much negative attention after the illegal killing of Cecil the lion last month. But professional hunters have been careful to point out that their work is legal. 

Paula French via AP/File
In this image taken from a November 2012 video made available by Paula French, a well-known, protected lion known as Cecil strolls around in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe.

It looks like big-game hunting is no longer out of the question in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. According to NBC News, the country has lifted its ban on big-game hunting in the area where Cecil the lion was shot, just 10 days after the moratorium was imposed.

The ban remains in place on farmland where Cecil died, as well as several other farms where officials allege animals were killed illegally, parks spokeswoman Carolina Washaya-Moyo told NBC News.

Some animal-rights activists are unhappy with the practice of big-game trophy hunting altogether and believe it should be permanently banned. In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Carla Hall called on the US government to lead the initiative.

“I think trophy hunting should be outlawed the world over. But in the meantime, there is a proposed US law that could be put into place that would recognize the fact that the population of lions is declining,” she writes.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service decided late last year to propose listing the lion as threatened – a lesser category than “endangered” but a category that will put restrictions on the importations of lion parts (those trophies) from other countries.”

But while the US government hasn't restricted American trophy hunters from killing lions, several US airlines have announced they will no longer allow hunters to transport their big-game trophies on flights, USA TODAY reported, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.

The scathing response is worrying for people whose lives are intertwined with big-game hunting. George Hinton works for Hunting Legends in Pennsylvania, a company that runs safaris on thousands of acres in South Africa. He told National Public Radio that all the hunting they sponsor is completely legal.

“Our clients come to us and they tells us what kind of adventure they want to have, and if we can accommodate them, we will,” he says. “It’s all done legally. We have professional hunters, trackers, skinners, games people. I mean, we employ a lot of people. This industry is huge.”

Mike Hoffman, with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, told NPR it’s important to distinguish between illegal poaching – which he says is the real driver behind the decline in wildlife numbers – and legal trophy hunting, in which people will pay a high price to hunt elephants, lions, and the like.

“When it’s well-managed,” Mr. Hoffman says, “a lot of that income goes back into conservation and into supporting local communities and so on. But of course there is a lot of trophy hunting which is not necessarily well-managed, and that can be extremely detrimental and have a very negative impact on [animal] populations.”

According to Voice of America, the hunting industry in South Africa brings in more than $744 million each year. The industry employs 70,000 people and is the most profitable form of commercial land use in the country. And it’s possible that Zimbabwe reaps similar benefits – an incentive for lifting the ban on big-game hunting.

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