As It Happens

Cecil, one of Africa's most famous lions, killed by tourist

Zimbabwe authorities now allege the trophy hunter is an American dentist who paid $50,000 to shoot Cecil with a crossbow.
Cecil the lion was a top attraction at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (Bryan Orford/YouTube)

His name was Cecil, and his black mane made him an easily recognizable star in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. For the people who live and work near the park, the lion was more than an icon. He represented a lucrative draw for tourists.

So, when Cecil was found dead it symbolized more than just another case of poaching. It's a blow to the whole community. 

Johnny Rodrigues is the head of the Zimbabwe conservation task force. He tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch how Cecil was found.

"They took the skin and his head to get a trophy," says Rodrigues. He believes Cecil was the target of "very wealthy people around the world who've got an ego. They're bored with their lives". 

"We hear the authorities say that the animals have to pay their way," says Rodrigues, referring to hunting groups and governments that argue that game licences raise funds for conservation. They also say hunting controls populations. "But nobody is enforcing the law." 

Officials now believe they know the hunter who killed Cecil — a Spanish tourist who has yet to be publicly named. (Since the original publication of this post, new allegations have surfaced that the hunter is a dentist from Minnesota, Walter Palmer.)

"I think they're trying to protect the [game hunting] industry. The industry doesn't have a very good name. Zimbabwe should have arrested him, and charged him here in Zimbabwe. But that doesn't happen."

The hunter, along with two local guides who have been arrested, lured Cecil outside of the park. 

Cecil was shot with a cross bow. "He didn't die on the spot," says Rodrigues. "He took forty hours to die." 

"It's inhumane. They knew he lived in the area, and to induce him to come out of the park and then shoot him, in my terms, it's poaching."

While Rodrigues doesn't know the identity of the European suspect, he plans to keep a close eye on developments.

"As soon as we find out the name, we are going to be after him like a swarm of bees," warns Rodrigues. 

Rodrigues points out that one of the two men arrested is related to a government minister. He's skeptical about whether justice will be done. "Let's see what happens when the court case comes about on August 6."

Two small lion cubs playing in and next to a tree in lush Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Getty Images/Gallo Images)

The impact of Cecil's death will hurt local tour operators. The entire pride will be impacted, as any other male lion who takes his place will kill the cubs. 

Rodrigues has seen Cecil many times over the years.

"He was not a vicious type of animal; he accepted humans. You could go past him quite closely. A lot of people have photographs of him," he explains.

"He was one of the proudest animals I've ever seen."