Mopane had a reputation as a magnificent but elusive lion — sights of the imposing 12-year-old male with the gorgeous black mane were a particularly prized photo opportunity for the visitors who flock to the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe to see its bountiful wildlife.
But, sadly, he wasn’t elusive enough for the last American tourist who came after him, not with a camera but a bow and arrow.
The big game hunter — named online as Phillip Smith, a 46-year-old physical therapist from Missouri — paid tens of thousands of dollars to kill Mopane, who lived in the same park as Cecil the lion, whose death from another U.S. hunter’s arrows six years ago caused an international outcry.
Mopane’s appalling demise threatens to do the same. He reportedly died in the same miserable manner as Cecil: lured out of the park (where he was protected), using an elephant carcass as bait, to a neighbouring farm which allows hunting.
He was then hit during a night shoot on August 5 but was only wounded and had to be finished off the following day after suffering many hours of agony.
A growing number of big game hunters prefer to use a hunting bow rather than a gun as it poses a greater challenge.
Unfortunately for the quarry, that greater challenge entails a greater chance of being wounded rather than killed outright by a weapon blamed for causing unnecessary suffering.
Mopane (pictured) was hit during a night shoot in Zimbabwe on August 5 but was only wounded and had to be finished off the following day after suffering many hours of agony
Mopane may eventually have been dispatched by a gun carried by the hunter’s team of guides and helpers, their presence always making a mockery of any pretence that the high-paying thrill-seeker is risking life and limb in a single-handed battle against the king of the jungle.
A 15-day big game bow-hunting safari typically costs $30,000 to $40,000 (£22,000 to £30,000) with extras depending on the type of animal killed (Cecil’s killer paid his outfitters and guides £32,000).
Hannes Wessels, a former professional hunter who was in the area at the time, said Mopane was first shot only yards from where Cecil was hit.
Mopane’s killer and another tourist had reportedly shot a leopard earlier in their trip.
The hunts for both Mopane and Cecil were licensed and perfectly legal, but cash-strapped and ethically challenged Zimbabwe has an invidious reputation with animal welfare groups.
Despite the huge furore over Cecil, it remains a mecca for big game hunters, especially those seeking ‘dangerous’ quarry such as elephants and lions.
Nearly all bow-hunting of elephants, for instance, takes place in Zimbabwe.
Defenders of big game hunting insist the practice performs a valuable role in encouraging local people to protect wildlife from poachers, while the income from selling hunting licences goes towards strengthening the country’s conservation efforts.
The big game hunter — named online as Phillip Smith, a 46-year-old physical therapist from Missouri (pictured) — paid tens of thousands of dollars to kill Mopane, who lived in the same park as Cecil the lion, whose death from another U.S. hunter’s arrows six years ago caused an international outcry
However, wildlife campaigners complain that Zimbabwe’s conservation programme, under which lions aged six and over can be hunted, is opaque, unscientific and ineffectual.
Critics accuse the U.S. government of glorifying big game hunting by allowing parts of lions and elephants to be imported as trophies into America from Zimbabwe.
More than 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported into the U.S. between 2005 and 2014, says the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Although he had a troublesome reputation in his youth, Mopane had settled down, become a father and formed a pride with a subordinate male named Sidhule, two adult females and six young lions.
After Cecil died, locals were worried the two male lions might be targeted by trophy hunters, and started a petition to protect them.
It was to no avail. Sidhule was killed, allegedly by a Texan recreational bowhunter, two years ago. Now Mopane has gone, too.
Wildlife experts fear that without Mopane, the pride will be vulnerable to being taken over by other adult males who, in order to make the females want to mate with them, will kill the cubs.
It’s not clear whether Mopane was specifically targeted by his killers or just happened to take the bait.
However, a local big game hunting safari company was reportedly advertising the chance to specifically kill ‘the mighty Mopane’ in December last year, describing him as one of the ‘oldest and definitely the most aggressive lion in our hunting block’, and urging would-be hunters: ‘Do you want the chance to take a big free-roaming lion? Book a hunt with us!’
The founders of the Cecil the Lion campaign group said the loss of another ‘apex alpha male’ lion — the fourth black-maned lion with a pride killed in recent years in the same area outside the park — was ‘devastating’.
They added: ‘The biggest breeding males are being snuffed for rug material.’
Of 62 Hwange lions tagged by Oxford University researchers during a five-year project that ended in 2004, 24 have since been killed by trophy hunters.
Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said: ‘Another trophy hunter spending tens of thousands of dollars on a globe-trotting, thrill-to-kill escapade shows humanity at its worst.’
Cecil was shot by Walter Palmer, a dentist from suburban Minnesota, and Mopane has reportedly been killed by another innocuous-sounding Midwesterner who, like Palmer, makes his livelihood protecting people’s health.
Walter Palmer (pictured) went into hiding after he faced worldwide revulsion following Cecil the lion’s death, so it’s not surprising that Smith has yet to comment on Mopane
Phillip Smith was educated at a private Christian university affiliated with the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention.
He is the founder and chief executive of PEAK Sport and Spine, Missouri’s largest private outpatient physical therapy company, with some 30 clinics and more than 200 staff.
Smith, a former welder, is an avid hunter — as is his wife — holding 82 hunting licences across the U.S. He also owns a duck hunting club.
Walter Palmer went into hiding after he faced worldwide revulsion following Cecil the lion’s death, so it’s not surprising that Smith has yet to comment on Mopane.
It isn’t only Americans who go big game hunting, as former Bank of England director Sir David Scholey proved in 2015 when he was shown posing with a lion he’d killed in Zambia. It’s also increasingly popular with rich Russians and Mexicans.
The English ended their love affair with the longbow during Elizabeth I’s reign as firearms were starting to prove far more effective on the battlefield.
And it’s that relative ineffectiveness that is the bow’s chief attraction to modern hunters. A bowman needs to get far closer to a target and shoot far more accurately than a rifleman.
According to the British Bowhunters Association, hunting with a bow is not only more physically challenging but more ‘ethical’.
It claims on its website: ‘Bowhunting is about fair chase. Putting yourself on a level with your quarry in terrain and in a situation of your quarry’s own choosing, where it can use all of its senses against you.
‘A hunter will not get to within 20 yards of his quarry without determination and having shown his quarry due respect.’
Badly wounded by a part-time bowman whose gun-toting lackeys were there to step in if there was any chance of danger, Mopane hardly got anything approaching ‘due respect’.