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Investigation Underway Into Killing Of Cecil, Zimbabwe's Best Known Lion

Conservationists are lamenting the hunting and killing of a well-known lion from western Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.

The black-maned lion, named Cecil, was 13 years old and had become popular among tourists from around the world.

"He was very, very popular," Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "He's been around for 13 years and a lot of people have seen him."

Conservationists estimate there are fewer than 30,000 lions living in the wild in Africa.

Authorities say Cecil was lured away from the protected park, wounded with a crossbow and shot dead some 40 hours later. Then he was skinned and his head was removed. The lion been been tracked for years via a GPS collar, as part of an Oxford University study of the effects of overhunting in the area.

According to a joint statementby the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, "Ongoing investigations to date suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal ... Therefore, all persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges."

Two Zimbabwean men have already been arrested in connection with the lion's killing, which has reignited debate about trophy hunting in Zimbabwe. Such hunting, while controversial, can be done legally in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, and is intended toraise moneyfor wildlife conservation because of the huge sums paid to engage in the hunts.

An American dentist from Minnesota allegedly paid $50,000 to hunt Cecil. He issued a statementon Tuesday saying, "To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted. I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt."

Interview Highlights

On the killing's aftermath

[Cecil] left some cubs behind. And the pity is now he's gone, the next male will come along, kill all the cubs and take over the pride for his bloodline.

On how the hunt was carried out

They lured the lion out of the national park and baited an area. And then they came in when the lion was feeding at night and they shot it with a bow and arrow, with a spotlight.

We got the information that ... there was no quota, no license or permit for that area and that the people that actually lured the animal didn't have a permit. There was no allocation for these animals in that area and that's how it was found out.

On Zimbabwe's big game hunting industry

It's very big. And the whole thing, this has been going on too long. We've already lost about 23 lions, collared lions, which are being studied and researched on. And this is where the problem comes in.

[Some hunters] are not abiding by the rules. You've got unethical hunters and people do what they like because they can bribe their way out of a crime.

We have to bring in [hunting] bans on certain species of animals, like the lion and the endangered animals, so that this doesn't occur again.

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