Two men will appear in court for allegedly helping to kill a well-known lion, whose death is seen as a blow to Zimbabwe's tourism, wildlife authorities said Tuesday.
A professional hunter and a farm owner face poaching charges for allegedly hunting a protected lion known as Cecil, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said in a joint statement.
Killing the lion was illegal because the farm owner did not have a hunting permit, the joint statement said. If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison in Zimbabwe.
The two men are due in court on Wednesday.
The lion is believed to have been killed on July 1 in western Zimbabwe's wildlife-rich Hwange region, its carcass discovered days later by trackers, the statement said.
An American tourist, identified in media reports as Minnesota dentist Walter James Palmer, is alleged to have paid $50,000 to kill the lion, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said in a statement.
During a nighttime pursuit, the hunters tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the task force.
The American is believed to have shot it with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The wounded lion was found 40 hours later, and shot dead with a gun, Rodrigues said in the statement.
The lion was skinned and beheaded. The hunters tried to destroy the lion's collar, fitted with a tracking device, but failed, said the statement.
"The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho will most likely kill all Cecil's cubs," said Rodrigues.
Rodrigues told CBC Radio's As It Happens that he believes Cecil was the target of "very wealthy people around the world who've got an ego. They're bored with their lives".
The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said the lion trophy has been confiscated.
Cecil, recognizable by his black mane, was being studied by an Oxford University research program, the conservation group said.
Tourists regularly spotted his characteristic mane in the park over the last 13 years, said Lion Aid, also a conservation group.