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FALQs: Laws Related to Hunting Lions in Zimbabwe

The recent killing of a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe has been widely reported and discussed both in social media and by traditional media outlets.  Three individuals were allegedly involved in the act: an American citizen who traveled to Zimbabwe, with reports stating that he injured the lion using a crossbow and later killed it with a rifle; a professional Zimbabwean hunter, who was reportedly escorting the American hunter; and the owner of a commercial farm (situated adjacent to the Hwange National Park), on whose land the lion was reportedly killed.  The men are alleged to have lured the lion out of the National Park using food as bait.  The American hunter, who has admitted to killing the lion, stated that he was led to believe by his escort that his actions were legal.

In a recent statement,  Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority alleged that the two Zimbabwean men lacked the necessary permit or quota to kill a lion. Both men have been arraigned on poaching charges.  Zimbabwe is also said to be seeking the extradition of the American back to Zimbabwe under a 1998 treaty with the United States.

As a result of these events, there has been some discussion about Zimbabwe’s laws related to hunting wildlife, and particularly lions. In this post, I look at some of the different provisions that regulate such activities.

1.  What laws apply to hunting lions and other wildlife in Zimbabwe?

It seems that the key statute applicable to the preservation of wildlife in Zimbabwe is the Parks and Wildlife Act of 1975 (as amended) (PWA).  This law, among other things, establishes national parks, sanctuaries and safari areas and delegates powers for their management.  Further detailed rules are provided by the Parks and Wildlife (General) Regulations (SI 362 of 1990) (as amended) (PWRs).  These include rules and forms for obtaining permits to conduct various wildlife related activities.

Cecil - Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Photo by Flickr user Vince O'Sullivan, Jul. 29, 2014). Used under Creative Commons License, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

Cecil – Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Photo by Flickr user Vince O’Sullivan, Jul. 29, 2014). Used under Creative Commons License, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

2.  Who is responsible for managing Zimbabwe’s wildlife?

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is entrusted with the task of managing the “entire wildlife population of Zimbabwe, whether on private or communal land.”  This includes the management of Zimbabwe’s 11 national parks, including the Hwange National Park, recreational parks, safari areas and sanctuaries.  While the Authority permits controlled hunting in some of the parks and wildlife estates under its jurisdiction, it does so “through a comprehensive quota system that allows for sustainable and non-destructive hunting.”

Following the recent killing of Cecil and another incident involving an illegal hunt, the Authority has suspended the hunting of lions, leopards, and elephants near the Hwange National Park and has began “an industry wide investigation to crack down and weed out any illegal hunting activities.”  It has also suspended bow hunting.  Zimbabwe had put in place a similar ban on lion trophy hunting in 2005, which it lifted in 2008.  It is unclear how long the suspension will last.

3.  What does the law say about hunting lions?

The Parks and Wildlife Act lists a number of “specially protected animals,” which cannot be hunted for sport. These include cheetahs, black and square-lipped rhinoceros, and pythons. (PWA sec. 43.)  A hunting permit for this category of animals may be issued only for good reason, including for educational and scientific purpose or management of the animal population. (Id. sec. 46.)

Lions are not listed as specially protected animals and can be hunted. However, a number of restrictions do apply to the hunting of lions.  Hunting of any wildlife, including lions, requires a permit and whether one is issued largely depends on the location of the wildlife.

For instance, unless authorized to do so, which is possible only in limited circumstances, it is prohibited to “hunt any wildlife . . . . in a national park.” (Id. sec. 24; PWRs sec. 17.)  In this instance, a hunting permit may be issued only if the animal is injured or sick, causing damage to property, or considered to be a danger to humans. (PWA sec. 23.)

Strict hunting restrictions also apply to sanctuaries and safari areas.  Hunting in these areas may take place only for limited purposes (including scientific and educational purpose, to protect human life or property, or “any other purpose, in the opinion of the Authority, is in the interests of the conservation of animals”) and with proper permits. (Id. secs. 34 & 38.)

Although not as restricted, hunting in areas outside of national parks, sanctuaries or safari areas, may take place only with a permit and in accordance to the terms of the permit. (PWA sec. 59.)

It appears that only male lions may be hunted.  Although none is said to exist at the time, restrictions regarding the age of a male lion that may be hunted is under consideration in order to limit the impact of hunting on lion population.  Hunting in the Parks and Wildlife Estate (including national parks, safari areas and sanctuaries) is permitted only during day time. (PWA sec. 17; PWRs sec. 18.)

When a non-resident person applies to go on a hunting safari, the person must be accompanied by what is known as a professional hunter who must be duly licensed.  (PWA sec. 66; PWRs secs. 55-57.)  Whenever a professional hunter intends to take a person who is not ordinarily a Zimbabwe resident on a hunting safari, he is required to give the Authority notice of intention to conduct the safari.  (PWRs sect. 59.)  The Authority may then issue a permit including specific conditions.  (Id.)  The professional hunter is required to “supervise and control the hunting by everyone who hunts during safaris conducted by him in terms of his license.”  (PWA. sec. 66.)  In addition, a professional hunter must “take all reasonable steps” to make sure that a person whom he accompanies in a hunting safari understands all applicable conditions and to “prevent any unlawful hunting.”  (Id.)

White Rhino, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Photo by Flickr user Terry Feuerborn, Sept. 16, 2007).  Used under Creative Commons License, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

White Rhino, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Photo by Flickr user Terry Feuerborn, Sept. 16, 2007). Used under Creative Commons License, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

4.  Are there any restrictions regarding the hunting methods or weapons that can be used?

The Parks and Wildlife (General) Regulations prohibit the use of “any equipment to transmit sound as a lure to attract animals” in the Parks and Wildlife Estate for the purpose of hunting the animals. (PWRs sec. 18.)  The Regulations also prohibit the offering any food to any animal within the Parks and Wildlife Estate.  (PWRs sec. 8.)

In addition, the Regulations prohibit the use of “any rifle or shot-gun capable of firing more than one cartridge as a result of one pressure on the trigger . . . or . . . a pistol or revolver.” (PWRs sec. 53.)

While the use of a bow and arrow was previously prohibited only in places other than communal land, in 1999 Zimbabwe introduced additional restrictions on this particular weapon.  It amended the Regulations and restricted bow hunting to “alienated land.”  This includes private land, state land held under the terms of an agreement of purchase or lease, or trust land held under terms of an agreement of lease. (PWA sec. 2.)  The amendments also imposed an absolute prohibition on the use of the following:

(a) Any type of crossbow;
(b) An arrow to which any drug or chemical has been applied to incapacitate or kill animals;
(c) An arrow to which an arrow head capable of exploding in any way has been attached;
(d) Any broadhead other than a permitted broadhead. (PWRs sec. 53A.)

In addition, a person using a bow for hunting must use “a bow with a draw weight of not less than 35 kilograms and an arrow weighing not less than 45 grams with a permitted broadhead consisting of only two cutting edges and constructed of steel.” (Id.)

5.  What penalties apply to illegal hunting?

Hunting any wildlife in a national park, including lions, is punishable by a fine and/or a maximum of three years in prison.  (PWA sec. 24.)  Hunting an animal in a sanctuary or a safari area without a permit or in violation of the terms of one is punishable a fine and/or up to two years in prison. (PWA secs. 33 & 38.)  Hunting outside these areas without a permit or in violation the terms of a permit is punishable by a fine and/or a maximum of one year in prison.  (Id. sec. 59.)  A professional hunter who fails to prevent an illegal hunt during a safari he conducts is punishable by a fine and/or a maximum of one year in prison.  (Id. sec. 66.)

Unlawful hunting of a rhinoceros or any other specially protected animals or the unlawful possession or trading of trophy of any such animals is punishable by a minimum of nine years in prison.  (Id. sec. 128.)  A second or subsequent offense is punishable by at least 11 years in prison.  (Id.)

Offering food to wildlife in a national park, using prohibited hunting methods or using prohibited hunting weapons is punishable by a fine and or a maximum of one year in prison.  (PWR sec. 111.)

6.  What if a hunter doesn’t know about these rules?

According to the country’s law, where a person “does or omits to do anything which is an essential element of a crime in terms of any law” and at the time was mistaken about (had an “erroneous impression” regarding the nature of the law) or ignorant (had no idea of the law’s existence) of the law, he or she may have a valid defense only if the mistake or ignorance was the result of advice provided by “an administrative officer . . . he had reason to believe was charged with the administration of the law concerned and was familiar with its contents.”  (sec. 236)

Outside of this, mistake or ignorance may be a consideration in sentencing: the law states that “genuine mistake or ignorance as to the relevant provisions of a law on the part of a person charged with a crime shall merely be a factor to be taken into account in the assessment of sentence.”


Hwange National Park (Photo by Flickr user Letizia Barbi, Jul. 31, 2013). Photo used under Creative Commons License, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

7.  How many lions are killed by hunters in Zimbabwe?

The Zimbabwe lion population is estimated to be between 1,000 and 1,700, most of which live in protected areas.  This is said to be less than one-fourth of the population half a century ago.  From 1999 through 2009, about 800 lions are said to have been killed in Zimbabwe.  For instance, the hunting quota issued by the Authority in 2011 was for up to 101 lions, compared to 14 lions in Namibia (2010), and 315 in Tanzania (2011-2012).

This is not an issue unique to lions or Zimbabwe for that matter.  For instance, Zimbabwe is said to have lost a great number of rhinos (especially protected animals) to poaching recently: 84 in 2008, 60 in 2013 and around 17 in 2014.  In 2013, 300 elephants were reportedly killed by poachers who poisoned their waterholes with cyanide although the Zimbabwe government put the figures at 90.  In 2014, poachers reportedly killed 1,215 rhinos in South Africa, a 21% increase from the previous year.  In 2012, 30,000 elephants were said to have been killed in Africa.

The Zimbabwe government is said to earn around US$20 million in annual revenue from trophy hunting licenses.  One estimate put revenue from trophy hunting in Africa at US$200 million annually.  Lion hunting, which reportedly costs USD$25,000 to USD$70,000, is said to be the most lucrative.

8. Where can I find more information about the wildlife laws in different countries in Africa?

In 2013, we published reports on the wildlife trafficking and poaching laws of different African jurisdictions, including Botswana, Central African Republic, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.  Following are additional relevant materials on the subject of poaching in Africa:

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