An American Dentist Killed Zimbabwe’s Famous Lion

New reports reveal that Cecil's killer was a U.S. citizen who paid $50,000 to have the 13-year-old male lured out of the park with bait.

(Photo: Trophy Hunt America)

Jul 28, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Cecil the lion, a famous black-maned resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, died at the hands of an American dentist, conservationists claim.

They say Walter Palmer paid $50,000 to hunt and kill Cecil with a bow and arrow. The incident occurred around July 6, with a professional hunting outfit reportedly luring Cecil outside the boundaries of the protected reserve using a dead animal as bait.

“Mr. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but this shot didn’t kill him,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in a statement. “They tracked him down and found him 40 hours later when they shot him with a gun. Cecil, who was known all over the world would have earned millions of dollars just from sightseeing. Walter Palmer apparently paid $50,000 for the kill."

It wasn’t the first kill for Palmer, who has multiple photos posted on the website Trophy Hunt America showing the Minnesota resident posing with dead lions, rhinos, water buffalo, warthogs, and other animals.

The Telegraph is reporting from two independent sources that Palmer was indeed the hunter listed on the permit documents, and a spokesperson for Palmer told the news outlet that Palmer believes he is the one responsible for the lion’s death.

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“As far as I understand, Walter believes that he might have shot that lion that has been referred to as Cecil,” the spokesperson said. “What he’ll tell you is that he had the proper legal permits and he had hired several professional guides, so he’s not denying that he may be the person who shot this lion. He is a big game hunter; he hunts the world over.”

In a statement sent to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Walter said he didn’t know the lion he killed was a local favorite or that it was radio-collared for study by Oxford University professors.

“I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” the statement said. “Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”

Theo Bronkhorst—the professional hunter who led Palmer to Cecil—and another hunter associated with the baiting have reportedly been arrested by Zimbabwe police. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said it is trying to reach Palmer regarding the illegal hunt, and he could face poaching charges.

The Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association said it has suspended Bronkhorst indefinitely from the organization for the way the hunt was carried out.

Palmer (right) with a white rhino he shot in South Africa. (Photo: Trophy Hunt America)

“ZPHGA reiterates it will not tolerate any illegal hunting or any unethical practices by any of its members and their staff,” the organization said in a statement. “We will await the completion of the current investigation by Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife Management Authority before commenting any further.”

Park rangers and regular visitors knew the 13-year-old lion as a tourist attraction, easily approached by safari guide jeeps for photo opportunities. Cecil had a propensity for lounging in the middle of roads, said Bryan Orford, a former park guide and a longtime visitor to Hwange. Hunting such an easy target only made the killing of Cecil more wrong, he said.

Palmer (center) with a Cape buffalo. (Photo: Trophy Hunt America)

“I used to drive down the railway line road following Cecil and had to wait for him to get off the road,” Orford told TakePart last week. “This walking in front of the vehicle would go on for ages. Other times he would lie in the road, and you had to drive off the road to go around him.”

The death of Cecil not only means one less endangered African lion in the world but also could mean the demise of a whole line of cubs sired by the leader of the Hwange pride.

“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 so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females,” Rodrigues said. “This is standard procedure for lions.”

Palmer posing with a warthog. (Photo: Trophy Hunt America)

Conservationists and animal activists are flocking to a petition asking Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to stop issuing hunting permits that allow for the killing of endangered animals. The petition was started July 22 and has picked up steam with the revealing of the hunter’s name. More than 90,000 had signed the Care2 petition as of Tuesday afternoon.