Death of Zimbabwe’s Best-Loved Lion Ignites Debate on Sport Hunting

By Adam Cruise

Zimbabwe’s most well-known and much-photographed black-maned lion, affectionately named Cecil, was killed by sport hunters just outside the nation’s premier wildlife park, Hwange, last week.

Wildlife enthusiasts say Cecil, possibly Hwanges’s largest lion, was a favorite among visitors to the park as he was relaxed around safari vehicles.

Conservationists are concerned that the killing of the 13-year-old big cat may leave as many as a dozen cubs vulnerable to infanticide by males that assume leadership of his prides. Males commonly kill the cubs of ousted pride leaders so that they may sire their offspring with the females they inherit.

According to Jonny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a charity which focuses on the conservation and preservation of wildlife in the southern African country, Cecil was shot with bow and arrow by a Spanish hunter in the Gwaai concession about a kilometer [1,100 yards] from the national park.

Skinned and Beheaded for Trophy

Rodrigues says that Cecil did not die immediately; it took two days to track the lion and finish him off with a rifle. The big cat was skinned and his head removed as a trophy.

The Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association (ZPHGA) confirmed in a statement last Monday that Cecil was killed outside the park on a safari on private land. The professional hunter on the hunting permit was a ZPHGA member, the organization said, adding that there was an ongoing investigation.

A source familiar with the situation, who wishes to remain unnamed, says big cats may be lured out of protected areas into hunting concessions with bait. It “indicates to me a level of desperation by the hunting operators. No big male lions remain in their hunting concession areas, despite their claims of ‘sustainable’ hunting practices,” the source added.

Hunters posting in online forums insist —> Read More