HUNTING CONTROVERSY

Zimbabwe authorities seek Spanish hunter who killed Cecil the lion

The animal, one of Africa’s best-known cats, “took two days to die”

Cecil the Lion gets close to tourists in Zimbabwe.Video: Bryan Orford

An unknown Spanish hunter has allegedly killed Zimbabwe’s best-loved lion, known popularly as “Cecil,” during a private safari. Authorities are describing the hunt as illegal and are searching for Cecil’s killer.

The incident, which took place just outside the Hwange wildlife reserve, has caused an international outcry. Authorities believe the hunter and his companions deliberately lured Cecil with bait outside the park limits, where animals are protected by law, in order to kill him in the adjacent hunting concession.

“Cecil’s death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe but also because now we have to give up for dead his six cubs. The new leader of the pride will not allow them to live, he will kill them all,” said Johnny Rodrigues, director of the charity group Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), in a conversation with EL PAÍS.

The hunter allegedly paid €50,000 for the chance to kill the star attraction at Hwange National Park

“The two people who accompanied the hunter have been arrested but we don’t know their identity and don’t want to fuel speculation. But it’s clear that the hunter, who has not yet been arrested, is Spanish,” he added.

The 13-year-old lion was first wounded with a bow and arrow, then the hunting party tracked him for two days before finishing him off with a rifle. Cecil was then skinned and his head taken away as a trophy.

The hunter allegedly paid €50,000 for the chance to kill the star attraction at Hwange National Park, where Cecil was regularly photographed by tourists.

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“The hunt was illegal,” says Rodrigues. “The three attackers lacked a license, and trailed the feline for two days after wounding him. They tried to break the GPS collar he was wearing, which allowed him to roam freely around the park, but they were unable to.”

Cecil was part of an Oxford University research project, whose organizers had fitted him with the collar. This enabled authorities to find his body.

The hunter belongs to the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association (ZPHGA), which said it is investigating the incident. The ZPHGA declined to comment on legal matters, but said it has suspended the hunter indefinitely.

English version by Susana Urra.

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