Months after Hwange National Park inZimbabwe came under fire for exporting 23 elephant calves to China (National Geographic has published undercover photos), the park is again mired in controversy—this time after a hunter skinned and beheaded Africa’s most famous lion, 13-year-old Cecil. The lion was wearing a GPS tracker, and authorities say he was tricked into leaving the park, shot with a bow and arrow, tracked for 40 hours, and killed with a rifle outside the park on private land. Some hunters claim this means the kill was legal, while his brutal beheading has caused outrage in Zimbabwe and beyond. Authorities are now on the hunt for a Spaniard who allegedly paid a park guide $55,000 to kill the beloved lion, reports the Guardian; two people who accompanied him have been detained.
The Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association has confirmed on Facebook that the professional hunter on the hunting permit was one of its members, and the group has deemed the act unethical and suspended the hunter’s membership “indefinitely.” Meanwhile, conservationists worry that as many as a dozen cubs are now vulnerable to infanticide as other males close in on the two prides led by Cecil and Jericho, a male with whom he was in coalition. There are six lionesses in the prides, and “Jericho as a single male will be unable to defend the two prides and cubs from new males that invade the territory,” a principal researcher from Oxford who studies these lions tells National Geographic. A conservationist in Spain says “we’re ashamed” that “in Spain there are rich madmen who pay for the pleasure of killing wild animals such as lions.” (A Game of Thrones editor, recently killed by a lioness in South Africa, was raising money to combat poaching.)