Cecil the Lion, a 13-year-old big cat who lived in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, was perhaps the most beloved lion in Africa, or maybe the whole world, for his gentle nature, friendliness around people, and of course, his majestic mane. Cecil was so popular with visitors to the park that he had become not only the star attraction there and a celebrity in his own right, but a symbol of pride for the whole country of Zimbabwe itself.
And not incidentally, Cecil was a significant source of revenue for the local economy around the Zimbabwe wildlife preserve, with tourists paying thousands to visit the park, stay in nearby lodging, and dine at local restaurants, all in hopes of getting a photograph of the celebrated lion — hopes that Cecil was usually happy to fulfill.
But earlier this month, all of that came to an end when Cecil’s dead carcass was found, skinned and beheaded, on the outskirts of the park.
Now a manhunt is on for the cat-killer who authorities say is a recreational hunter from Spain [see update below] who paid €50,000 — which would be about $55,000 in American cash — for the opportunity to stalk and kill the iconic lion.
UPDATE: On Monday, the hunter who killed Cecil the Lion was revealed as an American dentist, Walter J. Palmer of Bloomington, Minnesota, whose practice maintains a Facebook page at this link.
However, the page may soon be removed, as in the last 24 hours it has been inundated with comments condemning Palmer.
“You should be in jail and you should hang your head in shame. That animal was so friendly and loved he had a name – CECIL. YOU MURDERED HIM and you betrayed his good-natured trust in human being to do it. You are lower than pond scum,” wrote one typical commenter.
“There aren’t words created that are bad enough to describe what you did,” wrote another. “But I hope you pay dearly and have nothing but pain and misery for the rest of your life.”
“Pure evil. killing those protected animals for fun. I hope you end up in jail for many years. Rich predator. What an evil man,” wrote a different commenter. And so on.
Palmer is described as an “expert shot” with a bow and arrow, and has a worldwide reputation as a “big game” hunter, and claims to have killed polar bears, bison, cougars and the 175-pound leopard in this photo.
“Bow hunting attracts people because there is much more stalking involved,” said Spanish game hunter Guiseppe Carrizosa, who knows Palmer, in an interview with the Telegraph newspaper. “You have to get very close. With a gun you can kill an animal from hundreds of meters.”
Authorities know exactly what happened to Cecil, because the lion was one of 62 fitted with electronic surveillance tags by researchers at Oxford University as part of a research study. Of those 62 lions, 34 were killed by “sport” hunters, according to a report in the Guardian.
The way the Spanish hunter and his “guides” killed Cecil was particularly cruel. Using another dead animal as “bait,” they tricked Cecil into crossing outside of the national park into a “concession” area, in which hunting lions is legal. Then, probably blinding Cecil with a spotlight, the hunter shot him with a bow and arrow.
The hunters stalked the wounded and suffering lion for 40 hours before shooting him dead with a rifle, skinning him, and cutting off his head as a “trophy.”
Using such bait to lure lions into crossing out of the protected areas is a common practice among “sport” hunters in Africa.
Two men have been arrested in connection with the killing of Cecil. Allegedly, when they noticed the electronic tag Cecil’s body, they tried to destroy it, knowing that it would provide evidence that Cecil was killed illegally.
“What hunter, what sort of demented person, would want to kill a magnificent adult lion, known to and photographed by all the park’s visitors?” said Luis Muñoz, of the Spanish lion conservation group Chelui4lions. “We’re ashamed of the fact that in Spain there are rich madmen who pay for the pleasure of killing wild animals such as lions.”
So-called “sport hunting” has long been controversial, most recently when “extreme hunter” Rebecca Francis killed a giraffe and posted a picture of herself on social media grinning while lying next to the slain, majestic animal.
Sport hunters often claim that the fees they pay actually promote the preservation of endangered species, but conservationists say that the fact that hunters need to deceive protected lions into leaving protected areas, as they did to Cecil the Lion, due to a shortage of legally huntable lions shows that the “sport” is not, as its advocates claim, “sustainable.”
[Image: YouTube Screen Grab]