Idaho Big Game Hunters Defend Actions Amid Controversy About Cecil the Lion

Sabrina Corgatelli, Aaron Neilson respond to African animal kill photos

August 3, 2015, 8:12 PM

— -- Amid the backlash over Cecil the lion’s death, a second American doctor is now under fire for allegedly illegal lion hunting, but Idaho big game hunters Sabrina Corgatelli and Aaron Neilson strongly defended legal trophy hunting, saying it helps with conservation.

“I'm a passionate lion hunter, have been for 20 years,” Neilson told “Nightline” in a Skype interview from South Africa. “[People] think it’s about the trophy and being able to take this trophy home and mount it in our trophy room that is not what it’s about. It’s about the pursuit and the adventure of the hunt. That is why we hunt."

Zimbabwe's National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority today accused Dr. Jan Casimir Seski, a gynecological oncologist from Murrysville, Pennsylvania, of illegally shooting and killing a lion with a bow and arrow in April, according to The Associated Press.

The accusations after Minnesota dentist Dr. Walter Palmer was accused of illegally killing Zimbabwe’s famous lion, Cecil. Zimbabwe has since suspended bow and arrow hunting, as well as the hunting of lions, leopards and elephants near Hwange National Park.

Both doctors have been the subject of enormous public outrage, which has forced the controversy of big game hunting back into the spotlight.

Corgatelli has been dealing with negative comments herself after posting a series of photos on her Facebook page and Instagram account showing her and Neilson's various kills, including a warthog, a crocodile, a wildebeest, an impala and a giraffe, during what they say was a legal hunting trip in South Africa's Kruger National Park.

In the giraffe photo posted on Facebook, Corgatelli is standing next to the animal with its neck wrapped around towards her. “I couldn't be any happier!! My emotion after getting him was a feeling I will never forget,” she wrote.

“So many people are calling me a poacher because they don’t even think it’s legal to hunt giraffe,” Corgatelli added. “So before you speak make sure you know what you are speaking about.”

Corgatelli said she has received numerous negative comments on her photos, including death threats against her, Neilson and their son, but both defended their African hunt.

"People like to claim that hunters like us are hunting endangered species when that is absolutely factually incorrect,” Neilson said.

Neither Neilson nor Corgatelli condone what Palmer and Seski did if their hunts were in fact illegal, as Zimbabwe officials have claimed.

Palmer has acknowledged killing Cecil but said that the hunt was done legally.

Seski could not be reached for comment by ABC News, but the safari operator denied that the hunt was unlawful and that Seski acted in "good faith."

When done legally, Neilson insisted that hunting in Africa helps with conservation because big game hunters pay national parks thousands of dollars to hunt lions and other wild animals, generating revenue for the parks so they can provide the animals protection from habitat loss and poachers.

“It’s not about the few lions that are killed every year by sports hunters. It’s about the tens of thousands of acres of habitat that are lost every year,” Neilson said. “Hunting absolutely is the only tool right now that’s paying for the vast majority of the wildlife conservation throughout the continent of Africa... We might take a small surplus of [lions], but without what we’re doing there won’t be any of them at all.”

But Adam Roberts, the CEO of the non-profit wildlife conservation organization Born Free USA, said it was a "fantasy" to believe that trophy hunting somehow benefits the animals.

“This about a blood lust for entertainment, a thrill kill and when you take animal, whether it’s an elephant or a rhino or a lion out of their family system and out of their ecosystem, it does nothing to enhance conversation,” Roberts told “Nightline.” “The vast majority of the money is not coming from trophy hunting, not supporting African conversation and not supporting the African people.”

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