Conservationists in Zimbabwe say the man who paid $50,000 (£32,000) to kill the country’s most famous lion was an American dentist. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) named the tourist as Walter Palmer from Minnesota and said he shot the animal with a crossbow and rifle.
The lion, named Cecil, was later skinned and beheaded, the ZCTF said. Two Zimbabwean men who were involved face poaching charges because the group did not have a hunting permit. The men – a professional hunter and a farm owner – could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison in Zimbabwe if they are found guilty.
They are due to appear in court on Wednesday. The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority said it had received the identity of the American tourist from the ZCTF but could not immediately confirm the information.
Mr Palmer told the Minnesota Star Tribune that “some things are being misreported” but did not deny shooting the animal. He said he would release a statement later on Tuesday. Zimbabwe, like many African countries, is battling to curb illegal hunting and poaching which threatens to make some of its wildlife extinct.
Cecil’s six cubs are likely to be killed by the male lion who takes over the pride The 13-year-old lion was a major tourist attraction at the country’s famous Hwange National Park. He is believed to have been killed on 1 July but the carcass was not discovered until a few days later. The ZCTF said the hunters had used bait to lure him outside Hwange National Park during a night-time pursuit.
Mr Palmer is said to have shot Cecil with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The wounded lion was not found until 40 hours later and shot dead with a gun. The animal had a GPS collar fitted for a research project by UK-based Oxford University that allowed authorities to track its movements. The hunters tried to destroy it, but failed, according to the ZCTF.
On Monday, the head of the ZCTF charity told the BBC that Cecil “never bothered anybody”. “He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at,” Johnny Rodrigues said. The six cubs of Cecil will now be killed by the new male lion in the pride, Mr Rodrigues added, in order to encourage the lionesses to mate with him.