Zimbabwe’s most beloved lion, Cecil, killed by a trophy hunter

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Cecil the lion and park icon. Photo: African Bush Camps

*Updated Monday morning

An immensely popular lion known as Cecil was killed recently outside of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, and authorities are trying to find the hunter said to have lured the animal beyond park boundaries before shooting him with a crossbow.

The 13-year-old black-maned lion, who wore a GPS collar and was part of an Oxford University research project, was found skinned on private property adjacent to the vast Africa wilderness preserve.

The death of Cecil, beloved by Hwange's staff and its frequent visitors, cast a pall over the preserve, and left many stunned in disbelief.

Reads a comment from a frequent visitor on the Hwange National Park Facebook page: "I am so saddened to hear about Cecil. I do hope that his murder is not in vain. Hopefully, the investigation will shine a light on the person who lured him out to kill him."

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Cecil the lion had become accustomed to human visitors. Video screen grab.

Fueling the anger is that Cecil did not die immediately. The wounded lion was tracked for nearly two days after it was shot, and ultimately dispatched with a rifle.

According to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the hunting party used an animal carcass to lure Cecil outside the park boundary. Because the cat wore a GPS collar, it was simple to trace its final movements.

Though many lions have been killed after being lured to legal hunting zones with bait, authorities maintain that this was an illegal hunt. They’ve arrested two men belonging to the hunting party, but are still seeking the trigger man.

The hunter, who reportedly paid about $55,000 to kill a trophy lion, was  a member of the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association, but that group stated via Facebook that the hunter was "in violation of the ethics of ZPHGA," and that his membership has been suspended.

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Part of the statement reads, "The ZPHGA reiterates it will not tolerate any illegal hunting or any unethical practices by any of its members and their staff."

Cecil had become accustomed to visitors in Hwange National Park. He was often spotted on the main road used by visitors, and had become a park icon and its most photographed animal.

His loss leaves a void in his pride that will be filled by another male lion, and that could jeopardize the health of Cecil’s 12 cubs, as a new lion establishes his dominance over the pride. (New males often kill cubs to encourage the female to mate.)

While the investigation continues, the incident has reignited the debate about the wisdom of trophy hunting in general, but especially near protected wilderness areas.

Reads a statement from African Bush Camps: “A meeting has been called for all stakeholders including the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association, Safari Operators Association Zimbabwe and National Parks to discuss the incident and find a resolution.

“The Tourism Operators in Hwange National Park, as well as the majority of the Zimbabwean population, are extremely passionate about the wildlife that we have worked hard to protect and continue to do so to ensure the long term conservation of not only our National Parks but their surrounding vulnerable wilderness areas.”

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