An American man allegedly used a bow and arrow to kill one of the most famous animals in Zimbabwe, officials have said. The lion reportedly took over 40 hours to die.
Cecil the lion was among the oldest and most famous lions in Zimbabwe, at 13-years-old. His distinctive black mane made him an attraction among many international visitors to the Hwange National Park, visited by tens of thousands of foreign tourists each year.
"A lot of people travel long distances coming to Zimbabwe to enjoy our wildlife and obviously the absence of Cecil is a disaster," Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe said on Tuesday.
At a news conference in the capital, Harare, he added that the lion was "almost semi-domesticated."
The case has gone viral on social media, with celebrities, politicians, charities and private individuals alike expressing their sorrow.
The American hunter, named as Walter James Palmer by the authorities, and a local guide are reported to have lured Cecil outside the park by tying bait to their vehicle, according to representatives of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force charity. The lion was then allegedly shot with an arrow, but wasn't killed instantly.
"They tracked (Cecil) down and found him 40 hours later when they shot him with a gun," the charity alleged.
The lion was then skinned and beheaded. The activists also claim that the hunters tried to hide the lion's tracking collar, which was part of a Cambridge University research program.
The chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues, said both the head and the skin had been recovered and could be used as evidence in court.
Hunter not 'contacted' by officials
The US dentist is reported to be a well-known expert in hunting with bow and arrow. On Tuesday, the man expressed regret over the incident.
"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," he said in a statement. "I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt."
The American also said that his guides had secured "all proper permits" for his hunting trip in early July, and that officials in Zimbabwe and the United States had not yet contacted him about the incident.
He added that he "will assist them in any inquiries they may have."
The American tourist's local associate and the owner of the land where the hunt took place are to appear in court in Victoria Falls on Wednesday to face poaching charges.
"(They) are being jointly charged for illegally hunting the lion," the Zimbabwean Parks Authority said in a statement, saying that the suspect had "no permit or quota" for the killing of the large animal.
Lion hunting is outlawed in Zimbabwe's national parks, but lions are not a protected species in the country. If convicted, the two men would be required to pay a $20,000 fine, in addition to a possible jail term.
dj/lw (AFP, Reuters)