Our Burning Planet

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American hunter uses bow and arrow to claim yet another magnificent African lion as his trophy

The male lion known as Mopane, killed on the outskirts of Hwange National Park. (Photo: Supplied)

A Daily Mirror journalist has tracked down the trophy hunter who shot an arrow into a pride male lion on the border of Hwange National Park and left it to suffer for 24 hours.

The man who killed Mopane, the majestic pride male, is Phillip Smith, a physiotherapist who lives in Columbia, Missouri, where he co-owns PEAK Sport and Spine. He was tracked down by Daily Mirror journalist Christopher Bucktin. 

Asked whether the lion died a slow death, as reported after his poor shot with a bow and arrow, the physio said: “I don’t want to talk about it. How did you find me?” Smith reportedly paid more than R600,000 to kill Mopane in Zimbabwe. Locals told Bucktin he had been lying low since the August trip. 

Eduardo Gonçalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting and author of several books on the industry, said: “The killing of Mopane is even worse than the shooting of Cecil that shocked the world in 2015.

“Cecil was lured with bait out of the safety of the national park, shot with a bow and left overnight to drown in his blood. Mopane was lured out of the very same park, killed in the very same location, by the very same hunting company. But whereas Cecil’s killer Walter Palmer left him to wallow in agony for 11 hours, reports state Mopane was left by his killer to suffer in appalling agony for… 24 hours.”

Smith and a guide are said to have used an elephant carcass to lure Mopane out of the Hwange National Park — where hunting is illegal — into Antoinette farm. Locals claim the cat had to be finished off the next day by a bullet. The lion was tracked down with the help of Dinguzulu Safaris, the group used by millionaire Palmer in 2015.

As Our Burning Planet reported at the time of the hunt, Cecil, a 12-year-old male, left behind the Somadada pride which consisted of two adult females and six sub-adults of about 16 to 18 months old. Without his protection, the survival chance of his cubs was significantly reduced as the pride was left open for a takeover by other male lions. Once this happens, the cubs of the predecessor are likely to be killed by the new males to force the females back into oestrus. 

The male lion known as Mopane, killed by a bow hunter. (Photo: Supplied)

Mopane was in a coalition with another male lion, Sidhule, with both lions frequently seen by photographic safari lodges in and around Hwange National Park. The coalition had been successful, the two having sired offspring with the Nyamandhlovu pride, the Nora pride and the Guvulala pride. One of the best-looking lions of the park, Netsayi, who is in charge of Cecil’s pride, was sired by Sidhule.

Then, in August 2019, Sidhule was lured from Hwange and allegedly killed with a bow by Colton Payne from Houston, Texas, in a hunt organised by Chattaronga. 

According to Drew Abrahamson of Captured in Africa Foundation, in December 2020 an outfit called Big Game Safaris International was advertising and targeting Mopane, who was described as one of the “oldest and most aggressive lions in their hunting block. Do you want the chance to take a big free roaming lion?” said the advert. “Book a hunt with us!” The advert has since been removed.

According to Mark and Pamela Robinson of the Cecil the Lion group, the National Parks Service has confirmed the hunt for Mopane was authorised and that the mandatory permits were in place. 

“We are devastated by the loss of another apex alpha male with a pride,” they posted on Facebook. “Mopane marks the 4th black-maned lion with a pride that has been killed in that area outside the park in the past several years. The biggest breeding males are being snuffed for rug material.”

The death of Mopane won’t be the last. 

Of the 62 lions (18 adult males, 10 sub-adult males, 34 adult females) tagged during a Hwange study over seven years by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford beginning in 1999, 24 died through trophy hunting. Of these, 13 were adult males and six were sub-adult males.

*By the time of going to press there had been no reply from Dingazulu Hunting Safaris to our request for information concerning whether they had organised the hunt.DM/OBP

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  • Appalling & tragic!
    I’ve been involved in photo-safari tourism for over 42 years & have seen this scenario repeat itself across Southern & East Africa. And every time, I feel just as sick & disgusted as I did the first time
    -when as a young guide in my early 20s- I encountered “big-game-hunters” baiting & shooting lions & leopards for sport in Botswana .

    Of course the hunting fraternity will regurgitate their usual bullshit that hunting is an integral part of conservation & that killing wild animals for fun, especially endangered species, is part & parcel of protecting & conserving them…..
    Go figure, the “reasoning” is so screwed up it’s beyond comprehension.