Hannes Wessels

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.  

8 thoughts on “Hunting the Hunter”
  1. Thank you Hannes,
    As ever a worthwhile and informative read.
    In the last 2 years we lost our resident pride of lion not through natural causes, nor by hunting (directly) but by poisoning and snaring by the local tribesmen adjacent to our game viewing area.
    A healthy population of 13 lion has been reduced in the last 20 months to just 2 survivors !
    Prey species abound in our area but the lion continually raided the cattle, goats, donkeys and sheep of our neighbouring villagers, perhaps easy picking or in some cases we assumed “teaching” the juveniles the art of hunting – easy prey ?
    The issue is that the authorities failed the villagers.
    All requests for assistance went unanswered.
    Local safari operators, NGO’s, anti poaching units ALL offered to assist, but authorities denied all requests to assist.
    In Hwange communal areas that abut the Hwange National Park boundary, NGO’s and operators there have devised a successful method of corralling the livestock at night surrounded by nothing more than plastic sheeting ! The lion will not jump over the sheeting as they cannot see the other side. The lion certainly walk around the corral (boma). This method does work. The bomas can be erected very quickly and are mobile if need be.
    The lion there are, in the main, collared with radio/satellite tracking devises so that villagers can be alerted when lion are approaching their area.
    In our area however the hunters are very strongly against the collaring of lion – they simply do not want their hunting clients to see wild lion with collars on. Hunting is BIG money and very influential in decision making on the part of the local councils. So instead of having some method of keeping an eye on the lion and their movement ( being able to warm the villagers of the approaching lion) the villagers were left to their own devices !!
    With no help from authorities, and denying help from surrounding operators and NGO’s, the villagers poisoned and snared the lion pride.
    A difficult problem to solve.
    Thank you
    Steve Edwards

  2. The Zanu predator or parasite knows no bounds but is continually propped up by the likes of Lord Carrington, Henry Kissinger, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Malcolm Fraser, Margaret Thatcher and Lord Soames who all zoomed back to their safe house for another gin and tonic. The Zimbabwean Utopia of 2021 including the blood of a 20 000 genocide is on their hands just as much as it is on Mugabe and ED. It is a long process?

  3. IMO, we are short of big cats, everywhere. We are nowhere, on the planet, short of humans….. you can wring your hands over this summary judgement, but AFAIC we need big cats a WHOLE lot more than we need over-populated humans. I’ll stick to my point here – the humans are worth less to me than the cats. Understand ?

    1. An excessive lion population leads to what the late Dr. Valerius Geist, a wildlife biologist and specialist in this particular area, called “predator deserts” — where there are no large prey animals left. These “predator deserts” don’t recover until the number of predators is brought down sufficiently to let the prey populations recover. Which means either humans hunt the excess lions, or the lions are allowed to starve to death because they’ve eaten all the major sources of meat. (Assuming, of course, that you don’t prefer that the lions turn to eating humans. Which they will.)

      Nature doesn’t balance. Everything in nature grows and consumes until it runs out of resources, then suffers a major dieback. We see this regularly with deer in North America, mice in Australia, wolves in Siberia, and seems like now we’re about to see it with lions in Africa, once they’ve eaten all the large prey.

      1. Reziac Sir,
        In your statement “Nature doesn’t balance” I beg to differ.
        Nature has since time, proven that it can and will “balance” and recover !
        The issue with nature being a self consumer IS NATURE !!!
        Where the natural formulae goes awry is MAN and its interference, meddling, alarming procreation and wild area encroachment.
        Man will push wildlife out of their natural environment and force the destruction of lifestock ( easy picking) and crops.
        The examples you quote are ALL man made situations.
        My thoughts.
        Thank you Sir.
        Steve Edwards

  4. So true as always. The other aspect all these media outlets forget is the amount of money paid which goes to ‘Conservation’ which must be a good thing … isn’t it?

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