A well-known and much-photographed black-maned lion, affectionately called Cecil, was killed by sport hunters just outside Hwange in Zimbabwe last week.
Wildlife enthusiasts say Cecil, possibly Hwange’s largest lion, was a favourite among visitors to Zimbabwe’s premier national park, as he was extremely relaxed around safari vehicles.
The animal was wearing a collar when he was shot with bow and arrow by a Spanish hunter in the Gwaai concession that borders the park. Allegedly, Cecil did not die immediately and it took a further two days to track him and kill him with a rifle.
The lion was skinned and his head removed as a trophy. There may have been an attempt to destroy the collar and hide it but it was later found.
Apparently there is no permitted quota to shoot lions in the Gwaai area but Zimbabwean hunters posting in online forums have insisted the hunt was legal.
The Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association (ZPHGA) confirmed in its statement late Monday that the professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst, who accompanied the Spanish client, was one of its members.
Legal or not, the death of Cecil, who has been a favourite icon in the area for over 13 years, has caused deep concern among many conservationists about the practice of lion trophy hunting.
In a press release, Beks Ndlovo, CEO of the African Bush Camps group of companies, said: “In my personal capacity… I strongly object and vehemently disagree with the legalising and practice of hunting lions in any given area. I will personally be encouraging Zimbabwe National Parks and engaging with Government officials to stop the killing of lions, and with immediate effect.”
Bryan Orford a regular visitor to Hwange and who has filmed Cecil on numerous occasions, says Cecil was Hwange’s “biggest tourist attraction. Not only a natural loss, but a financial loss”. Orford reckons that with tourists from just one lodge collectively paying US$9 800 a day, Zimbabwe would have earned more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, than being shot by someone paying a single one-off fee of US$45 000 with no hope of future revenue.
A full investigation by the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the safari industry at large has been initiated and a meeting has been called for all stakeholders to discuss the incident and find a resolution.