The Current

Cecil the lion 'died in agony' 10 hours after being shot by hunter, says zoologist

What really happened to Cecil the lion? A new book from the conservationist who studied him has new details on what happened the day he was killed by hunters.
While the world didn't learn about Cecil the lion until after his death, Andrew Loveridge knew the animal for years. The zoologist had been studying lions around Hwange National Park since 1999. (A. J. Loveridge)

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Cecil the lion died "in agony" 10 hours after he was first shot, says a zoologist who had fitted him with a tracking collar.

The animal's death made headlines around the world in 2015, after U.S. dentist Walter Palmer shot and killed him, with the help of a local hunting guide.

"We know that Cecil then probably ran away — about 20, 30, 40 metres away — into some bush and survived for the next 10 hours with a devastating arrow wound," says Andrew Loveridge, who has spent his career studying Cecil and the other lions in the Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.

They didn't bother to go and kill it, to put it out of its misery.- Andrew Loveridge

Loveridge was able to piece together the lion's final hours through data from the satellite collar, and testimony from staff at the local hunting camp.

"When we spoke to the hunting tracker, he said that he could hear the animal struggling to breathe," Loveridge tells The Current's guest host Liz Hoath.

"So it was obviously close by, and they didn't bother to go and kill it, to put it out of its misery."

Loveridge thinks Palmer wanted to claim the kill as a bowhunting trophy. But in order to do that, he says that "he would have to kill it with a bow and arrow, he can't go and shoot it." 

"I guess they wanted to wait for the animal to die of its initial wound."

The new claims about the manner in which he died are made in Loveridge's book Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil and the Future of Africa's Iconic Cats, set to be published next week.

For his part, Palmer issued a statement after the outcry over Cecil's death, which said, in part: "I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt."

Palmer never faced charges in the incident, and the charges against his local hunting guide, Theo Bronkhorst, were thrown out by a Zimbabwean court.

Andrew Loveridge argues that conservation efforts have to become a global responsibility, not just paid for by African governments. (Simon & Schuster Canada; Regan Arts)

A species under threat

Loveridge says he was accustomed to seeing the lions he studied be killed in trophy hunts. In fact, Cecil was the 42nd male lion in his study group to be killed by hunters.

According to figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), African lion populations declined by about 43 per cent between 1999 and 2014.

And yet, Loveridge says trophy hunting is not the only, or even the most significant threat to Africa's lion populations.

The lions live in almost constant tension with local people, who see them a danger to their agricultural livestock, and an impediment to economic development.

Andrew Loveridge says hunting is only part of the reason that lions are endangered. They are losing their habitats, and natural prey, as farms increase in size and number. (A. J. Loveridge)

"We can't talk about conserving lions, without understanding that African perspective of lions," says Loveridge.

"Lions are dangerous animals, they kill people's domestic stock, they sometimes kill people, they kill people's kids. And people are frightened of them."

"They have a lot of respect for them — they don't necessarily want to live with them."

With the human population in Africa expected to double in the century from 2000 to 2100, according to United Nations estimates, there's pressure to make sure that the economy can grow, in order to support the people who live there.

But that means the lions' habitat would invariably shrink. 

Habitats will shrink as the human population in Africa grows, bringing lions into greater conflict with farmers. (Jane Hunt)

Global responsibility

Loveridge says much more will need to be done to ensure that wildlife and people can continue to live side-by-side, and that lion populations are preserved.

He says conservation has to become a global responsibility, not just paid for by African governments, which are the least able to devote money to it.

"Western governments could fund conservation in a heartbeat if they wanted to." says Loveridge.

"It's a fraction of the defense and development spending that governments spend all the time."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Alison Masemann.


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