The lion is the King of the Jungle: a magnificent, noble beast, a conservation symbol, and a lure for tourists to Africa eager to photograph one in the wild. Perhaps the most famous lion in the world is Cecil, the star attraction at Zimbabwe’s Hwange national park. And a lucrative attraction, too: by some estimates tourists at a nearby lodge collectively pay about $9000 per day. Being close to Cecil is an expensive choice for the well-heeled, would-be safari traveler. Alas, no more, because Cecil has been killed, skinned and decapitated after being lured out of the park by an unknown hunter who allegedly paid park guides $50,000 to hunt the lion.
The 13-year-old lion wore a GPS collar, first fit in 1999, so authorities were able to trace his last movements. The lion was shot with a bow and arrow and then tracked for 40 hours before being shot. “Cecil’s death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe but because now we have to give up for dead his six cubs, as a new male won’t allow them to live so as to encourage Cecil’s three females to mate,” said Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. Luring animals out of the conservation park is a strategy used by poachers to ‘legally’ kill protected animals. The identity and whereabouts of the hunter, at first thought to be Spanish but now believed to be American, remain unknown.