Hwange’s iconic lion killed

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter—
Government has launched an investigation into the killing of the country’s most famous lion in Hwange National Park by a hunter who reportedly paid $55 000 bribe to game guides. The 13-year-old lion was a major tourist pull at the country’s largest wildlife sanctuary. According to reports the “iconic” lion named Cecil was killed by a Spanish national. It was reportedly shot with a crossbow and rifle, before being beheaded and skinned. Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi last night said the tourism sector was disturbed by the heinous act and law enforcement agencies were working round the clock to apprehend the culprits.

“Animal rights are at the centre of our conservation model and clearly shooting or eliminating a tourism pet, which is what Cecil had graduated into, cannot go unpunished,” said Minister Mzembi.

“As a tourism (ministry), we are conscious of the value of wildlife watching and photographic safari, and we are very disturbed by this selfish and heinous act by yet to be apprehended and prosecuted culprits.”

The brutal act comes at a time Zimbabwe is battling to curb illegal hunting and poaching which threaten to wipe out some of its wildlife.

Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force head, Mr Johnny Rodrigues, said the use of a bow and arrow heralded a new trend aimed at avoiding arrest.

“It’s more silent.

“If you want to do anything illegal, that’s the way to do it,” he told BBC’s Newsday programme yesterday.

He said the lion, which had a distinctive black mane, did not die immediately and was followed for more than 40 hours before it was shot with a rifle.

The animal had a GPS collar for a research project by the UK-based Oxford University, allowing authorities to track its movements.

Mr Rodrigues said Cecil’s killing was tragic. “He never bothered anybody. He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at.”

The lion had been “baited” out of the park, a tactic which hunters used to portray their action as legal, Mr Rodrigues said. Two guides have been arrested and if it was confirmed that the hunter was a Spaniard, “we will expose him for what he is”, he added.

Cecil’s six cubs will now be killed, as a new male lion in the pride will not allow them to live in order to encourage the lionesses to mate with him.

“That’s how it works . . . it’s in the wild; it’s nature taking its course,” Mr Rodrigues said.

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