Zimbabwe hunting controversy doesn't appear to affect local big-game hunting


International outrage surrounding a Minnesota man accused of killing a well-known lion in Zimbabwe doesn't appear to be affecting the local big-game hunting market.

James Palmer, the dentist at the center of the controversy, is accused of killing Cecil the lion — who was being studied by an Oxford University research program. While on a hunt in Zimbabwe, Palmer was allegedly using the unethical and possibly illegal practice of luring the lion into a kill zone, according to AP reports.

Palmer's guide and the owner of the land where the hunt took place were arrested for violating Zimbabwe hunting laws, and the nation is seeking Palmer's extradition to face potential penalties.

Palmer released a statement that he had relied on his guides to ensure the hunt was legal and didn't know the lion was protected until after he had killed it.

Varied opinions: Scott Failor, 59, of Dallastown, understands what it's like to be on an international big-game hunting trip and relying on a guide.

Failor has been on sheep hunting trips in Alaska, Canada and Kyrgyzstan — located in Central Asia directly west of China.

"You're up in the mountains in extreme conditions hundreds of miles from nowhere," Failor said of his trips. "You're at the mercy of your guide."

Failor said he's heard too many different stories regarding Palmer and Cecil the lion to form a definitive opinion, but he said he doesn't support luring animals because it's "not sportsmanlike."

Animal rights organizations aren't being as understanding about the issue.

In an email statement to the AP, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote, "If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property ... he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged."

Chris Muller, president of Safari Club International's Blue Mountain Chapter in Harrisburg, declined to give his opinion on this issue but said his organization hasn't seen any negative fallout from the story.

The sheep hunter: Failor, meanwhile, recently put the finishing touches on his trophy room, highlighting his "crazy expensive hobby," as he refers to it.

The owner of Failor's Photography in Red Lion, he began recounting trip costs ranging from $11,000 to $30,000, not including travel expenses, before admitting he "never wanted to figure out how much it has all cost."

Failor said he became interested in hunting from going on deer hunting trips with his father since he was 12 years old, and went on his first sheep hunting trip in 2007. He's since gone on four successful trips, shooting a Dall sheep in Alaska, Stone sheep and Rocky Mountain Bighorn in British Columbia, and Marco Polo sheep in Kyrgyzstan.

The first three are part of a North American Grand Slam club, which includes the Desert Bighorn — the final and most expensive ($55,000 for a permit) sheep Failor needs to hunt to join the club.

Failor said most of the money he spends goes toward wildlife conservation efforts, and the hunts have helped him create some of his life's best memories.

"I've gotten to see things some people never do so high up in the mountains," he said. "A lot of it is like extreme rock climbing, and I really enjoy being outdoors and the challenge of the hunt."

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.