Zimbabwe: Bow Hunting – Zimbabwe’s Great Wildlife Dilemma


Andrew Kunambura, Financial Gazette

Date Published
A worsening foreign currency crisis has armed safari operators with the ammunition they desperately needed to build a case for reintroduction of the bow hunting sport in Zimbabwe.

The sport, borrowing from ancient forms of hunting game, came to an abrupt end following the killing of Cecil the lion in July 2015.

The famous feline was first wounded with an arrow shot by recreational big-game hunter, American dentist Charles Palmer.

The lion was then killed with a rifle, approximately 40 hours later on 1 July 2015, triggering a loud global outcry from animal rights groups.

Government reacted by immediately banning bow hunting.

Hunters then migrated to South Africa, which, however, banned the sport last year, forcing cash-rich American bow sport hunters to seek a return back to the Zimbabwean forests.

And for cash-starved Zimbabwe, the lure of greenbacks is tempting, but conservationists are refusing to give in and a battle is looming.

Zimbabwe is one of only four countries in the world where any form of lion hunting is still permitted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The country also offers opportunities for hunting of big game like elephants and buffalo.

While there is nothing wrong with hunting, it is the undeveloped type of hunting that is raising consternation.

Bow hunting is the practice of hunting game by archery, in which hunters typically shoot several arrows to trees while tracking their quarry.

Once an animal happens to stray within range, hunters then set off the arrows.

Quick kills are rare, and animals suffer prolonged, painful deaths when the hunters only injure and fail to kill them.

Local safari operators cannot, however, wait to cash in on the sport, which they say has potential to bring in at least $5 million revenue every year.

Conservationists contend that more effort should be made to preserve Zimbabwe’s rich wildlife diversity which attracts game viewing tourists from all over the world.

The question being asked is: Should government prioritise the quick gains of bow hunting over long term benefits of game viewing tourism?

Like so many hot button issues, the answer to the question depends on who is asked.

On the one hand, some say nothing could be more natural than hunting, and indeed just about every animal species has been either predator or prey at some point in its evolution.

Ironically, hunting has wiped out many animal species, while at the same time helping to cull some wild animals that have been allowed to freely reproduce beyond the environment’s carrying capacity.

Using this argument, the country’s safari operators may just have a compelling case.

For instance, the American bow hunters currently knocking on the country’s doors are specifically targeting the buffaloes, elephants and lions, which are said to be off CITES red list in the country.

Elephants and buffaloes, for example, still roam the wild in great numbers in Zimbabwe, and have often posed danger to local communities and destroyed crops.

On the other hand, environmental and animal advocates see bow hunting as barbaric, arguing that it is morally wrong to kill animals just for the fun of it.

Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe president, Emmanuel Fundira, is encouraging government to review the blanket ban on bow hunting as a sport, which he says would open “an exciting period for the safari industry at a time when other parts of the economy are in crisis”.

He said there was huge earning potential for the country if it allowed bow hunting to resume.

“It is therefore my fervent hope and belief that the regulators will consider helping us capture this growing market to the best interest of economic development,” Fundira said.

Bow hunting grew in the 1960s in the United States when conservation lobbyists started discouraging gun hunting.

Mainly limited to hunting for food, the practice was popularised as a sport in the 1980s.

Overall, it was a pastime for older men, but there has been growing interest now among the affluent young generation.

But to the conservationists and animal rights activists, frivolous killing cannot be ethical, let alone be termed a sport.

They have declared that the role of hunting has always been to obtain protein for some populations living in areas infested with wild animals.

However, today the thrill of slaying mighty big mammals like the buffalo, elephant and lion that can be skinned and their hides hung on the wall of the basements of living rooms has brought a whole new dimension to the practice of hunting.

Considering how desperate the Zimbabwean government is at the moment in its search for liquidity, there is every reason to believe that conservationists might lose this fight.

But they will not go down without a fight.

California-based organisation, Animals Voice’s Glenn Kirk said bow hunting “causes immense suffering to individual wild animals and is gratuitously cruel because unlike natural predation, hunters kill for pleasure”.

He said despite hunters’ claims that hunting keeps wildlife populations in balance, hunters’ license fees are used to “manipulate a few game species into overpopulation at the expense of a much larger number of non-game species, resulting in the loss of biological diversity, genetic integrity and ecological balance”.

The same sentiments were echoed by another American group known as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which is vehemently opposed to the sport.

PETA is the world’s largest animal rights group with over 6,5 million members and supporters.

“Hunting might have been necessary for human survival in prehistoric times, but today most hunters stalk and kill animals merely for the thrill of it, not out of necessity. This unnecessary, violent form of ‘entertainment’ rips animal families apart and leaves countless animals orphaned or badly injured when hunters miss their targets,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said.

Local animal rights organisation, the Veterinarians for Animal Welfare of Zimbabwe (VAWZ), said it was opposed to bow hunting because of the pain it inflicts on animals.

“Hunting is often called a sport as a way to pass off a cruel, needless killing spree as a socially acceptable, wholesome activity. However, sports involve competition between two consenting parties and the mediation of a referee. And no sport ends with the deliberate death of one unwilling participant,” said VAWZ animal welfare officer, Mel Hood.

While the country’s safari operators argue that controlled hunting was necessary to keep herds and pride populations within healthy sizes, conservationists argue that nature had its own way of delicately balancing ecosystems thereby naturally ensuring the survival of most species.

While natural predators help maintain this balance by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals, hunters strive to kill animals they would like to hang over the fireplace. And these usually are the largest, most robust animals, which are, however, critical in keeping the gene pool strong.

“If communities decide that buffalo herds must be managed, it is wrong to reduce the taking of animal life to a recreational activity for bow hunting enthusiasts. Instead, a truly humane solution must be found, whether that solution is to hire professional sharpshooters to observe the herd, taking the old and infirm, or to implement an immune-contraception program for the herd,” says Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals general manager, Mark Beru.

As a signatory to the International Convention on Biodiversity a multilateral treaty signed at the United Nations Rio Earth summit of 1992 — Zimbabwe, which has a commitment to the sustainable use of its natural resources, finds itself in a tight corner over bow hunting.