Biggest elephant killed in Africa in 30 years conjures memories of Cecil the lion

An elephant with tusks weighing 120 pound each was legally killed by a German big-game hunter in Zimbabwe.
An elephant with tusks weighing 120 pound each was legally killed by a German big-game hunter in Zimbabwe. Photo: Game Animals of the Past and Present Facebook

One of the biggest elephants ever seen in Zimbabwe, with tusks each weighing 120 pounds, was killed by a German trophy hunter on Oct. 8 in Gonarezhou National Park in what many believe is the elephant version of Cecil the lion.

The unidentified hunter paid $60,000 for a 21-day game hunt with a local guide known among big-game hunters for finding his clients large elephants, according to The Telegraph.

The elephant, which had never been seen before, neither in Zimbabwe nor Kruger National Park where it was speculated it might have come from, was reported as the biggest elephant killed in Africa in nearly 30 years.

The death of the elephant comes three months after the killing of Cecil the lion caused global outrage, as the lion was popular and beloved in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It was alleged that it was an illegal hunt, that Cecil was lured outside the park boundaries.

Though the hunter, Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, was exonerated of any wrongdoing earlier this week, his guide, Theo Bronkhorst, remains accused of failing to stop an illegal hunt. His case was delayed to Oct. 20, according to The Guardian.

In this case, nobody is making accusations of illegal hunting. The elephant hunt was legal and no hunting ethics or code of conduct were broken, but animal lovers, conservationists and even some hunters are mourning the death of the majestic animal, estimated to be between 40 and 60 years old.

Anthony Kaschula, a photographic safari guide in Gonarezhou, confirmed with GrindTV that the hunt was legal but lamented the killing of the elephant.

“We have no control over poaching, but we do have control over hunting policy that should acknowledge that animals such as this one are of far more value alive (to both hunters and non-hunters) than dead,” Kaschula wrote online, according to The Telegraph and confirmed by GrindTV.

“Individual elephants such as these should be accorded their true value as a National Heritage and should be off limits to hunting. In this case, we have collectively failed to ensure that legislation is not in place to help safeguard such magnificent animals.”

Several hunters on a hunting forum remarked over the size of the tusks, one saying he’s never heard of “a tusker” breaking the 115-pound barrier. Some said better that the hunter shoot it than a poacher, though some hunters disagree with that thinking.

“This was a legal hunt and the client did nothing wrong,” an unidentified man who helped arrange the hunt told The Telegraph. “We hunters have thick skins and we know what the greenies will say. This elephant was probably 60 years old and had spread its seed many many times over.”

Louis Muller, chairman of the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association, told The Telegraph his organization had suggested unique elephants such as this one be collared and protected from hunting.

“We have suggested before to all concerned parties that each elephant area should collar a few with [the] biggest tusks, so that we do not shoot them,” he told The Telegraph. “Nobody responded to our suggestion last year. We believe this might now be taken seriously.”

Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in an emailed report that the elephant’s tusks were so big that they dragged along the ground when it was walking.

Rodrigues suspects the elephant came from Kruger National Park, the largest game reserve in Africa. But William Mabasa of South Africa’s National Parks dismissed such a notion.

“If this elephant came up from the Kruger, he would have had to go through all the communities on the edge of Gonarezhou and someone would have seen him,” Mabasa told The Telegraph. “It’s not possible.”

The news about the giant elephant’s death comes on the heels of a report that 40 elephants had been killed in Zimbabwe by poachers using cyanide to poison the animals in the past two weeks. On Tuesday, Zimbabwe National Parks called for harsher penalties for poachers.

UPDATE: Germany’s nature conservation agency said Friday that it will consider blocking the import of the tusks from Zimbabwe amid growing outrage over the hunt. The Telegraph reported that Germany has refused the entry for animals killed in trophy hunts before and would do so in this case “if the hunt had infringed German wildlife regulations.” German officials say the hunt would be “classed differently” if the animal “crossed state borders,” and the trophy import would be banned. “EU officials and Zimbabwean hunting experts questioned the legal distinction,” The Telegraph wrote.

The Telegraph also reported that Germany’s PETA branch is offering a reward to anyone who could identify the unnamed hunter.

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