In Zimbabwe, Cecil the lion was a believed to be a rare animal that was relatively safe from trophy hunters and poachers. After all, the 13-year-old lion wore a GPS collar as part of a research project with Oxford University and lived in a reserve funded by various governments and organizations to keep animals safe. Indeed, Cecil was something of a beloved celebrity. What park rangers did not count on was combination of corrupt tour operators, a foreign hunter, and an array of others seeking to lure the lion out of its protected area. Officials say that hunters paid $55,000 for the fun of shooting Cecil and then cutting off his head and skinning him. He was lured out of the park with bait so that he could be killed for sport. The culprit was allegedly a US dentist Walter Palmer from a small town near Minneapolis. Palmer loves to kill large animals and then pose with their bodies in postings on social media.
Cecil had six lioness mates and had sired approximately 24 cubs. Those cubs may now also be killed, which is common when other males move into another lion’s pride.
Palmer (left shown here with an earlier trophy) allegedly hired his band of hunters who helped lure Cecil a mile from the park. Palmer then was able to enjoy killing this magnificent animal with a bow and arrow. They then cut off the collar, another crime in the country.
Cecil was tracked for 40 hours by the team to corner it for Palmer to kill him. The first effort was botched and Cecil survived in pain until he could be tracked down the next day and killed.
The professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst, with Bushman Safaris said he reported the “mistake” to the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. However, few believe his account and he and the landowner bordering the national park have been charged. The government noted that “Both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.”
For his part, Palmer issued a statement that “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted. . . I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt . . . I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”