It appears there is an urgent international manhunt under way to find the professional hunter responsible for the death of ‘Mopane’. The lion was killed last month near the border of Hwange National Park, not far from where ‘Cecil’ was killed in July 2015 by Walter Palmer, a visiting American client. The New York post among others is in hot pursuit of a ‘mystery bow-hunter-suspected to be an American’ who triggered a ‘tragedy’ when he let fly the fatal arrow that ended Mopane’s life.
It appears there’s no better prey for a predatory press looking to incite hatred, than a ‘wealthy American’ and better still if he is guided by a white professional hunter with an Afrikaans surname. I was recently in the area were this reported ‘tragedy’ took place and a few points need to be made in an effort to put this in context.
The local Matabele chiefs and village elders in the area are perplexed. They are asking why the world goes berserk when a lion is killed but nobody cares about them. As it turns out Mopane was responsible for the death of Thomas Mupusa last year. Thomas was a 43-year-old Line Tracker who was working for the National Railways. He was based at Kennedy-siding on the Park boundary where he was responsible for making sure there was water available for the passing trains and for clearing the tracks. Following pay-day he jumped on the train to Dete, the nearest town, and spent some of his wages enjoying himself at the local beerhall. Suitably inebriated, he boarded the train for the journey home late at night. At the siding he disembarked and was winding his way the few hundred yards to his dwelling when Mopane ambushed him and killed him. Just for the fun of it, it seems, because Thomas was not eaten. Considering the fact that Mopane did not devour Thomas, the authorities saw this as a mitigating factor and his life was spared.
In another incident in the area involving a lion called ‘Goose’ a youngster by the name of Elton Sibanda was mauled and killed near the village known as Magoli in the Hwange Communal Land abutting the Park. Local leaders are asking why there was no outcry for Thomas and Elton – is it because they are black and poor they ask?
Well I’m a little lost for answers to that question but I’m not sure skin colour is an issue because I don’t think many remember the name Quinn Swales. Quinn and other guides in the area knew all about a big Hwange male known as ‘Nxaha’ because he was aggressive, bordering on psychotic and they were wary of him. But Quinn had the difficult task of being out in the field walking with clients barely a month after the Cecil story convulsed the world. So when approached by Nxaha, despite the fact the lion was showing aggressive intent, he responded with a harmless explosive device called a ‘bear-banger’ and this restraint cost him valuable time. When the approach turned into a full-blooded charge it was too late; he fired a round using his .375 but to no avail; the big male was on him. In a sense, in that flash of time, he believed the lion’s life was actually more important than his own and if you worry about what the media decides, it appears he was right. They were quiet when Quinn went to an early grave.
Much is being made in the press of the number of collared lions being killed and this does make for distressing reading but there is more to this debate which is not widely known.
While in the area last month I was introduced to a group of badly behaved males known as the ‘Baggage Handlers’. This on account of the fact they tore open the luggage-pod of a parked aircraft having smelled a stash of fresh meat contained therein, doing considerable damage, and rendering the plane temporarily unusable. Apparently, someone in the camp kitchen was siphoning off meat for his own use later but the lions had other ideas. Sadly, ‘Delta’, one of the meat-thieves had just been killed by a train. One operator who has been in the area for over 40 years, insists more lions have been killed by lions and by trains in the last five years than by hunters.
Informed people I spoke to while in the area, tell me the lion population of Hwange and environs has never been healthier, estimating over 600 adults, and breeding well. As proof they point to the depleted herds of buffalo and other game. Their numbers are down because the lion population is growing.
One local hunter operating north of the Park told me recently, “We have lions coming out of our ears. It’s the locals (villagers) who are getting pissed off because they’re losing cattle and losing patience. The same problem with the elephant, there are too many and they are doing enormous damage to crops but if you shoot one all hell breaks loose. If we (the hunters) were not in the area to remind the locals of the benefits that come their way through hunting I reckon they would poison all the lions.”
And that would be a real tragedy, but not one the New York Post or any other media outlet will be interested in reporting because there’s no rich white American involved that everyone can love loathing.