Echoes of Cecil the Lion as Botswana Research Elephant Shot

Months after Botswana controversially lifted a hunting ban on wildlife, hunters have shot dead an elephant that had been collared for research purposes, echoing the 2015 killing of a Zimbabwean lion named Cecil by an American dentist.

Like Cecil, the elephant in Botswana had been collared, in this case by researchers from the non-governmental organization Elephants Without Borders. The animal was killed last month by a hunting party that included a professional hunter and a Department of Wildlife and National Parks official. Four other elephants without collars were also shot.

Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi earlier this year lifted a hunting ban that was introduced by his predecessor Ian Khama in 2014. Conflict between humans and wildlife has increased in recent years as elephants are drawn to areas where farmers grow crops and occasionally trample people. Critics said it was a ploy to win rural votes that would harm the country’s $2 billion tourism industry. Botswana has about 130,000 elephants, more than any other nation.

“Killing of collared animals is not permitted,” the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, said in a statement Thursday. “Appropriate measures shall be taken against transgressors including revocation of their licenses.”

‘Deeply Disturbing’

The elephant was killed under a so-called citizen hunting license, which is reserved for residents. Mike Chase, the head of Elephants Without Borders, didn’t answer a call to his mobile phone.

“Instead of following the correct procedure of report and return, the tracking device was removed by the hunter and attempts were made to destroy it,” said the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association. “We are concerned about poor ethics in breaking procedure.’’

The two hunters in the party that killed the elephant, one of which was a BWPA member, have surrendered their hunting licenses to the government, the association said.

A local community, the Ju/’Hoansi-San people, expressed outrage, according to South Africa’s news website Daily Maverick, citing a representative who said elephants are seen as similar to humans and become more aggressive when members of their herds are killed. The San are traditionally nomadic hunters and don’t grow crops.

The killing of Cecil, who had been collared by Oxford University researchers, caused global outrage. The Zimbabwean government initially demanded the U.S. extradite the dentist, Walter Palmer, as protesters picketed his business premises in Minnesota. A petition in the U.S. calling for his extradition gained 144,000 signatures and he received death threats through social media.

The big cat was lured out of a national park, wounded with an arrow and then tracked for several hours before being shot. He was then skinned and beheaded for trophy purposes. Lions heads are often mounted as trophies and their skins are made into rugs.

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