TIME Zimbabwe

Who’s Really Responsible for the Killing of Zimbabwe’s Lions and Other Wildlife?

The world's anger at hunter Walter Palmer is understandable but misplaced

Earlier this month, a 55-year-old American dentist named Walter Palmer went on a safari holiday in western Zimbabwe, where, over a 40-hour period, he maimed, cautiously tracked, and finally killed a lion. Palmer, a veteran big-game hunter, insists that he had secured the necessary hunting permits, unaware at the time that his target was the most famous lion in Africa.

Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s oldest and largest wildlife reserve, and the lion Palmer killed was its star attraction. It even had a name: Cecil. For killing Cecil, Palmer has become a figure of global hate, and the lion depicted not so much as a bloodthirsty killer himself but a sort of cuddly mascot, who would affably tag alongside caravans of delighted tourists. #CecilTheLion was a top trending topic on Google and Twitter around the world throughout Tuesday — although nobody seemed to notice that he bore the same first name as the now reviled British adventurer and colonizer Sir Cecil Rhodes, who founded the white settler state of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was formerly known, and whose statue was recently pulled down in Cape Town.

The press has obligingly cast Palmer as a leering sadist and gone to great lengths to unearth alleged past wrongdoing unrelated to his hunting hobby. Prominent journalist Piers Morgan said that he wanted to hunt “fat, greedy, selfish, murderous businessmen like Dr Palmer” (who is neither fat nor a businessman) and then “skin him alive” and “cut his head from his neck.” Sharon Osbourne tweeted of her hope that he “loses his home, his practice & his money” (before noting: “He has already lost his soul”). Cara Delevingne called him “a poor excuse of a human being.”

The Yelp page of Palmer’s Minnesota dental practice has meanwhile become a catalog of ad hominem attacks. “Brought my lion here for dentistry and was horrified by the result,” one user wrote. “All kidding aside, I hope you die painfully.”

Faced with a shrieking, global witch hunt of this magnitude, Palmer, understandably, has mostly been incommunicado since the maelstrom began, but as repulsive as his hobby may be to many, it is indisputable that tourists such as him are not the real reason Zimbabwe’s precious wildlife is being decimated. To understand that, one has to look at the ruinous land-management policies practiced by the Mugabe regime over the past 15 years.

It is no accident that one of the two men who accompanied the dentist on the safari, and who have now been arrested, was a farmer (the other was a professional hunter hired by Palmer as a guide). State wildlife officials claim that Honest Trymore Ndlovu helped lured the lion off the wildlife reserve and onto his property, Antoinette Farm, where the beast was killed.

Why would he do such a thing? Perhaps because he is a farmer in a country where agriculture is an industry of destitution. Zimbabwe was once celebrated as the “breadbasket of Africa,” whose fertile earth supplied the world with abundant tobacco, corn and wheat. Today, 76% of its rural population lives in abject poverty, dependent on foreign food aid and desperate measures — like the poaching of the wildlife that inhabits its otherwise barren lands, or rendering assistance to those who want to hunt or poach.

In 2000, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe enacted a disastrous land-reform policy. Farms were divided up and nationalized and many plots were handed out to generals and ministers. Thousands of white landowners were violently evicted from their farms, which were then parceled into smallholdings and given to black Zimbabweans. The destruction of property rights led to a disintegrating economy and widespread poverty. Poaching — to feed the insatiable demand for rhino horn and ivory in China and other parts of Asia — became rife and much of the wildlife in Zimbabwe was simply wiped out.

Until 2000 Zimbabwe had a successful wildlife-management program, with many big-game animals flourishing. But by 2003, a staggering 80% of the animals that had lived on Zimbabwean safari camps (which employed firm quotas to regulate animal population sizes) had died. By 2007, there were only 14 private game farms in the country, compared with 620 prior to the land seizures of 2000, according to a National Geographic report. With the protection of private game reserves nearly nonexistent, once abundant wildlife began dying off, hunted by desperate farmers with no other options for sustenance.

Despite the passing of harsher laws for poachers in 2011 illegal hunting in Zimbabwe is still big business. Poaching syndicates earn hundreds of thousands of dollars exporting ivory and animal skins. Many conservationists believe allowing the community to reap the benefits of wildlife management — by, ironically, running the sorts of safaris on which Palmer shot his lion — will help curb illegal poaching. But it is impossible to have that debate while the world brays for the ruin of a lone Minnesotan dentist, and fails to criticize a regime whose policies were responsible for the almost complete extinction of Zimbabwean wildlife in the first place.

— With reporting by Helen Regan

TIME Zimbabwe

Authorities Hunting for Spaniard Who Paid 50,000 Euros to Kill Famous Lion

Cecil, one of Africa's most famous lions, was brutally murdered and beheaded in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park earlier this month

Authorities are chasing a Spaniard who allegedly paid a park ranger 50,000 Euros to viciously kill and skin a lion at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

Cecil, one of Africa’s most famous lions, was murdered in an especially brutal manner, The Guardian reports. The 13-year-old had a GPS collar for an Oxford University research project, allowing authorities to track its movements.

Hunters lured the lion into leaving the park, a technique used by poachers to “legally” kill protected animals. The lion was shot with a bow and arrow. Authorities then tracked the injured animal for 40 hours before hunters shot Cecil to death with a rifle, then skinned and beheaded him.

Cecil’s headless body was found outside the town of Hwange.

“Cecil’s death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe but because now we have to give up for dead his six cubs, as a new male won’t allow them to live so as to encourage Cecil’s three females to mate,” Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said. “The two people who accompanied the hunter have been arrested but we haven’t yet tracked down the hunter, who is Spanish.”

Spain has a long history of importing lion heads as trophies from Africa. “From 2007 to 2012 Spain was the country that imported the most lion trophies from South Africa,” said Luis Muñoz, a spokesman for the Spanish anti-lion poaching and conservation group, Chelui4lions. “During this period it imported 450 heads, compared to 100 in Germany. Europe needs to ban these lion hunting trophies altogether.”

The Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association has acknowledged the involvement of its members, but claims the lion was shot on a private safari and outside park borders. The country’s government has repeatedly rebuked this claim, noting Cecil lived within reserve borders and was protected.

Read next: Only 100 Tigers Remain in Bangladesh’s Sundarban Forests, Survey Shows

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME Environment

The Burning River That Sparked a Revolution

Cuyahoga River
AP Images A fire tug fights flames on the Cuyahoga River near downtown Cleveland on June 25, 1952.

June 22, 1969: The Cuyahoga River catches fire in Cleveland, drawing national attention and helping the passage of the Clean Water Act

It was the disaster that ignited an environmental revolution. On this day, June 22, in 1969, the Cuyahoga River burst into flames in Cleveland when sparks from a passing train set fire to oil-soaked debris floating on the water’s surface.

When TIME published dramatic photos of the burning river — so saturated with sewage and industrial waste that it “oozes rather than flows,” per the story — concern erupted nationwide. The flaming Cuyahoga became a figurehead for America’s mounting environmental issues and sparked wide-ranging reforms, including the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of federal and state environmental protection agencies.

But the episode itself did not quite live up to its billing. It was not the first fire, or even the worst, on the Cuyahoga, which had lit up at least a dozen other times before, according to the Washington Post. Flare-ups on the river were so common that this particular fire, which was extinguished in half an hour and did relatively little damage, barely made headlines in the local papers.

And industrial dumping was already improving by the time of the 1969 blaze. As the Post points out, “The reality is that the 1969 Cuyahoga fire was not a symbol of how bad conditions on the nation’s rivers could become, but how bad they had once been. The 1969 fire was not the first time an industrial river in the United States had caught on fire, but the last.”

In fact, TIME’s dramatic photos were not even from the 1969 fire, which was put out before anyone thought to take a picture. The magazine instead published archival photos from a much bigger fire on the same river 17 years earlier, in 1952.

The story’s points were valid, however, and even more shocking than the photo spread. Aside from the Cuyahoga, in which there were no signs of visible life — “not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes” — unregulated dumping befouled nearly every river that passed through a major metropolitan area. The Potomac, TIME noted, left Washington “stinking from the 240 million gallons of wastes that are flushed into it daily” while “Omaha’s meatpackers fill the Missouri River with animal grease balls as big as oranges.”

While the Clean Water Act might not have prevented any more river fires, which were already on their way out, per the Post, it did force cities to clean up their act, and their water, in other ways.

By 1989, the Cuyahoga was not quite pristine — but it was fireproof, according to the New York Times. Some signs of life had reappeared, including insects and mollusks. And Cleveland’s water pollution control commissioner averred that the Cuyahoga no longer oozed, but “often gleam[ed] and sparkle[d].” Almost like, well, a river.

Read more, from 1969, in the TIME Vault: The Price of Optimism

TIME solomon islands

People on the Solomon Islands Have Killed Over 15,000 Dolphins For Their Teeth

Dolphins in Minsk, Russia, March 8, 2015
Vasily Fedosenko—Reuters Dolphins in Minsk, Russia, March 8, 2015

The teeth are used by the islanders as a currency

Villagers in the Solomon Islands killed over 15,000 dolphins from 1976 to 2013 for their teeth, which are used as currency or personal ornamentation, according to a study published Wednesday in Royal Society Open Science.

In 2013 alone, more than 1,600 dolphins were killed by residents in the village of Fanalei. The extracted teeth are valued at 70 cents apiece.

The traditional hunting method involves up to thirty canoes driving dolphins to shore, where they are killed.

Such hunts have been going on sporadically since the early histories of the villages. There was a brief respite in 2010 when the Earth Island Institute paid villagers to stop, but the agreement deteriorated in 2013 and 1,000 dolphins were killed.

While dolphins are not classified as endangered, the resurgence of these dolphin hunts worries scientists and conservation activists because they claim far more dolphin lives than hunts in Japan and elsewhere.

TIME Environment

How Earth Day Began: With Somber Reflection, and a Few Dump-Ins

Save Your Earth
Lambert / Getty Images An Earth day button, circa 1970

April 22, 1970: The first Earth Day is observed

Born from what TIME described in 1970 as a casual suggestion by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day was meant as neither protest nor celebration, but rather as “a day for serious discussion of environmental problems.”

What surprised Nelson — and others — was how much enthusiasm the idea engendered. On this day, April 22, 45 years ago, nearly 20 million Americans took Nelson up on his suggestion and turned out for the inaugural Earth Day events. These cropped up all over the country, on college campuses and in public places — including Central Park and New York’s Fifth Avenue, which was closed to traffic for two hours while 100,000 people staged a quiet, contemplative parade.

A dissonant combination of festivity and somber reflection pervaded the holiday. Environmentalists found themselves transformed into celebrities for a day, suddenly overrun with invitations to share their grim prognoses for the planet. As TIME wrote in 1970:

Ecologist Barry Commoner’s schedule was the busiest, calling for him to rush from Harvard and M.I.T. to Rhode Island College and finally to Brown University. Population Biologist Paul Ehrlich was lined up for speeches at Iowa State, Biologist René Dubos at U.C.L.A., Ralph Nader at State University of New York in Buffalo. In addition, such heroes of the young as Dr. Benjamin Spock, Poet Allen Ginsberg and various rock stars planned to have their say, if not precisely about ecology, then about the joys of the natural life.

Along with educational lectures and nature walks, however, there were livelier, more dramatic demonstrations meant to draw attention to the need for environmental reform. According to the New York Times, some activists held “mock funerals of ‘polluting’ objects, from automobiles to toilets.” Per TIME, students at several schools collected piles of litter and then staged “dump-ins” on the steps of city halls and manufacturing facilities.

At San Fernando State College, a group of students offered rice and tea to passersby as a sample of the “hunger diet” they could expect in the future, when overpopulation led to worldwide famine.

Meanwhile, at Florida Technological University, some students held a mock trial for a Chevrolet charged with poisoning the air. Finding it guilty, they set about executing it with a sledgehammer — but according to TIME, “the car resisted so sturdily that the students finally shrugged and offered it to an art class for a sculpture project.”

Despite — or perhaps because of — their heavy-handed theatrics, these grassroots protests paid off. By the end of the year, Congress had authorized the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

By the following year, Earth Day had grown into Earth Week, and this time it was officially sanctioned by President Nixon. But the festivities were “cooler and saner” the second year, per TIME, which noted, “Instead of noisy confrontations, the 1971 ‘week’ that ended April 25 ran to practical matters, like arranging bottle pickups.”

Read more about the importance of the environment in 1970, here in the TIME Vault: Issue of the Year

TIME Internet

New Google Doodle Celebrates Earth Day 2015

Google The Earth Day 2015 Google Doodle.

It comes with a nifty little quiz

In 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets to spread the message of environmental awareness, and in the process created the first ever Earth Day. To honor what has become a global observance, a new Google Doodle has been created for Earth Day 2015.

The brainchild of the late Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day 1970 garnered bipartisan support and is widely considered to be the beginning of the environmental movement. The campaign led to remarkable change — generating momentum for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

In 1990 another big campaign was organized to honor the 20th anniversary of Earth Day and an estimated 200 million people worldwide participated in the celebrations. Afterward, President Bill Clinton awarded Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest honor a U.S. civilian can receive.

Earth Day 2015 includes a cleanup of the Great Wall of China, beach-litter removal in Lebanon and an attempt to protect 25,000 acres of rain forest in Indonesia.

The doodle features a spinning globe with various animal animations inside the Google letters. With a click, the animation links to a fun quiz where people can find out “which animal are you?”

Read next: This Is the App You Need to Download for Earth Day

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to break up the NSA.

By Bruce Schneier at CNN

2. By prescribing appearances, sororities are contributing to a culture of segregation.

By Clio Chang in U.S. News and World Report

3. In Egypt, the U.S. still values security over human rights.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

4. Bartering for eggs is saving giant turtles in Cambodia.

By Yoeung Sun at Conservation International

5. How does Internet slang work its way into American Sign Language?

By Mike Sheffield, Antwan Duncan and Andrew Strasser in Hopes and Fears

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Conservation

Report: Elephants at Risk as China’s Demand for Ivory ‘Out of Control’

Authors of a new report say China “holds the key to the future of elephants”

Skyrocketing demand for ivory in China has stoked the booming illegal trade and led to the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants annually between 2010 and 2012, according to a new report.

Researchers from Save the Elephants and the Aspinall Foundation found that “every metric on the ivory trade has exploded upwards in recent years,” from the price of raw ivory to the number of factories and retail outlets. “All have shot up,” the report says.

In 2002, the report says, there were 5,241 elephant ivory goods on sale in Beijing and Shanghai. But in 2014, that number had risen to 8,444. A decade ago, there were 9 factories and 31 authorized ivory retail outlets in China. By 2013, the researchers found, there were 37 factories and 145 retail outlets.

The authors say China “holds the key to the future of elephants.” China has become the major source of illegal ivory smuggled in from Africa, even as it holds on to a stockpile of ivory that can be sold legally. The Chinese government has begun cracking down on illegal smugglers in recent years, but they’re currently losing the battle against dark trade.

“At the moment we are not winning the conservation battle against the elephant poachers, traffickers and consumers of ivory. Laws are in place but even in China they are not being adequately enforced. The system is presently out of control,” say the authors of the report in a press release.

Many countries have taken steps to combat the illegal trade of ivory in recent years, often holding large and symbolic events showcasing the destruction of goods. During his current trip to the U.S., Prince William has been calling for more countries to do more to conserve wildlife and end ivory trafficking.

TIME Environment

Here Are 4 More Vulnerable Fish to Avoid Next Time You’re at the Sushi Bar

Blue-Fin Tuna Farm Operations At Kinki University Fisheries Laboratory As Seafood Proves Sweet Spot In Japanese Exports
Tomohiro Ohsumi—Bloomberg / Getty Images A farmed blue-fin tuna on board a boat at a fish farm operated by the laboratory in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014.

Pacific bluefin tuna, Chinese pufferfish, American eels and Chinese cobras named by conservationists as risking extinction due to overfishing

A dwindling population of bluefin tuna is among the species of fish that could vanish from the Pacific ocean for good, conservationists warned on Tuesday, unless constraints are placed on commercial fisheries that target the highly sought after fish.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature added Pacific bluefin tuna to its “vulnerable” list of more than 22,000 species threatened with extinction, according to IUCN’s conservationists. The tuna was joined by American eels, Chinese pufferfish, and Chinese cobras.

“The Pacific Bluefin Tuna market value continues to rise,” said the organization’s tuna and billfish specialist Bruce Collette. Without curbing catches of juvenile fish, he added, “we cannot expect its status to improve in the short term.” The group estimates that the population has diminished by 19% — 33% over the past 22 years.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Bill Gates has some notes for Thomas Piketty: Tackle income inequality by taxing consumption, not capital.

By Bill Gates in Gates Notes

2. Thousands have died as Central African Republic slides toward civil war, but media coverage is scant. Is there an empathy gap?

By Jared Malsin in the Columbia Journalism Review

3. Europe’s apprentice model isn’t a perfect fit for U.S. manufacturing, but it could change the way we train a new generation of blue-collar workers.

By Tamar Jacoby in the New America Foundation Weekly Wonk

4. Ebola may be gruesome but it’s not the biggest threat to Africa.

By Fraser Nelson in the Guardian

5. In dry California, regulators are using an innovative pricing scheme to push conservation.

By Sarah Gardner at Marketplace

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com