Zimbabwe's government has lifted the country's ban on hunting lions, leopards and elephants imposed on August 1 after a big game hunter illegally killed a celebrated lion named Cecil on July 1.
News of the lifting of the ban came as Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe said the country should protect its natural resources from what he called foreign "vandals."
American dentist James Walter Palmer paid to kill Cecil just outside Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Scott and his guide lured the lion out of the national park, then shot him with an arrow. But the shot did not kill the lion, and the hunter and his guide reportedly tracked the wounded animal for more than a day, then killed, skinned, and decapitated Cecil. Zimbabwe's government reported the incident in late July, sparking global outrage and widespread condemnation of trophy hunting.
The news that the Zimbabwe's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority would lift the hunting ban came after the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association (ZPHGA) released a statement over the weekend.
"We are pleased to inform you that, following some useful discussions between operators and the relevant Zimbabwean authorities, the suspension has now been uplifted throughout the country," the organization said.
The Wildlife management authority reportedly ordered that park staff accompany hunters and that the ban on hunting all collared animals remain in place.
Cecil was collared when he was lured out of Hwange National Park and onto private property, and was the fourth or fifth collared lion from Hwange to be killed in the last year.
President Mugabe's statements on Monday seemed to refer to illegal hunters, like the one who killed Cecil, when he implored the country's citizens to care for their natural resources.
"All the natural resources are yours. Even Cecil the lion is yours. He is dead but yours to protect, and you failed to protect him," Mugabe said during a televised speech on Monday marking a national holiday commemorating fighters who died in the fight against white minority rule.
"There are vandals who come from all over…to irregularly and illegally acquire part of those resources. All this wildlife is yours, we should protect them."
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told VICE News that he wasn't surprised by government's decision to lift the ban, and that Cecil's death didn't change the culture of trophy hunting.
"We are still at square one" said Rodrigues "the lions are becoming endangered and they will become extinct if they don't put a stop to it."
Rodrigues believes there should be a long-term moratorium placed on lion hunting, which would extend beyond Zimbabwe into neighboring countries. Rodrigues also wants an international investigation into the hunting industry, to expose what he believes is a corrupting relationship between conservationists and hunting fraternities.
But Rodrigues remains skeptical, and says that the power that trophy hunters and hunting fraternities yield would trump any bans on big-game hunting. "These guys are really rich. They can do what they want."
The Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association did not return VICE News' request for comment by the time of publication.
Big game hunters — who hunt lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and water buffalo — have been on the defensive since news of Cecil's killing was announced.
Airlines such as American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Air Canada, Air France and Qantas have said they will no longer transport lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo trophies.
But many hunters believe that what they do is a legitimate sport, conserves wildlife by funneling funds back into game reserves, and can be the ultimate personal challenge in a natural setting.
"Hunters are normal, living, nature-loving people," Adri Kitshoff, chief executive officer of the Professional Hunters' Association of South Africa, told the Associated Press. "They're not bloodthirsty killers."
Brent Stapelkamp, a field researcher with Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit who tracked Cecil for nine years, told the BBC that he would like to see lion hunting banned, but trophy hunting shouldn't be banned outright.
"Hunting can be a valuable component to conservation," he told the BBC. "If a property has a hunting quota and that money comes back from hunting into the management of the land, it's not going to be at risk," he said.
"So we have to be careful. The world reaction might polarise things and hunting might be banned outright. I think we have to be very cautious about how this momentum can be used."
A Zimbabwean Cabinet minister has called for the extradition of American hunter James Walter Palmer, who says he relied on his professional guides to ensure the hunt was legal.
Two Zimbabweans — a professional hunter and a farm owner — have been charged in Cecil's killing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.