The maiming with a crossbow and later killing of Cecil, the famous Hwange lion, by American dentist Walter Palmer has led to an international firestorm of protest and calls for the banning of all trophy hunting worldwide.

The South African NSPCA has expressed disgust at the ongoing cruelty involved in this so-called sport. “Conserving animals does not mean killing them!” said the society’s Manager of its Wildlife Protection Unit, Ainsley Hay.

“How much of the money paid to kill Cecil went anywhere other than into the pockets of the professional hunter and the landowner? Even if this hunt was legal, how on earth can it be claimed that this is conservation? We’re relieved that at last the public are seeing the truth behind it.”

Kenyan activist, Paula Kahumba, writing in The Guardian on Thursday, said there was no ecological justification for trophy hunting.

“Arguments can be made – but also disputed – in favour of hunting as a means of controlling populations of common animals such as deer. But trophy hunters are not interested in common animals; for them, the rarer the better. The ultimate, orgasmic experience for a trophy hunter would be to kill the last individual of a species.”

Damian Aspinall, Director of the Aspinall Foundation, has called for an international agreement to outlaw big-game hunting. “Apologists claim that hunting has something to do with conservation,” he said. “That is patently untrue.

“Hunters and poachers have virtually wiped out lions across Africa in the past 30 years. Hunting and destroying habitats has nothing at all to do with conservation and everything to do with arrogance, savagery and greed.”

Born Free USA last week urged concerned citizens to write to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, urging them to stop all lion trophy imports, as has happened in Australia.

The magnificent black-maned lion, the much-photographed poster-boy of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, was evidently lured out of the Zimbabwean park and shot with a crossbow. It was then stalked and gunned down as it lay injured. The cat was skinned and decapitated.

The incident rapidly went beyond the death of a single lion to hunting in general. Worldwide revulsion over the killing was immediate and unprecedented. Almost overnight, Palmer went from being a dentist and long-time hunting enthusiast to the villain at the centre of widespread storm over the ethics of big-game trophy hunting.

In the dentist’s hometown, people took to the streets voicing their anger. His practice was besieged by demonstrators who placed stuffed animals outside the door. He has not been taking calls and his Facebook page was offline. His whereabouts are unknown.

Hay pointed out that hunting an alpha male like Cecil had wider implications than the death of an individual, something not acknowledged by trophy hunters. “Not only has Cecil been killed, so have all of his cubs as a new male will kill them when he claims Cecil’s territory. Females may be injured or killed defending them.

“We feel that details of all legal trophy hunts should be freely and transparently available to the public as wildlife is our heritage and it’s abhorrent that selfish individuals are able to rob us of this.”

One of the problems banning trophy hunting, said Aspinall, were the huge profits for corrupt government officials who circumvented conservation policies and secretly aided foreign hunters. Around 9 000 trophy hunters visit South Africa each year, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on game licences — not to mention backhanders and bribes.

“The annual income in South Africa from big-game hunting,” he said, “is put at £477 million. Between three and five per cent is ploughed into conservation work. The rest disappears into pockets and secret bank accounts.”