Authorities in Zimbabwe are reportedly looking to arrest a Spanish hunter who paid guides 50,000 euros to hunt down, decapitate, and skin a famous protected lion named Cecil.
Two Zimbabwean guides who allegedly helped bait a trap for the lion just outside his protected park reserve have already been arrested, according to the Guardian.
Cecil, a 13-year-old male lion, was a popular tourist attraction at the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and the leader of his own pride of lions.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told VICE News that Cecil's death was a "total loss."
"He was an icon, everyone around the world knew him," Rodrigues said. "He's got a pride and now we're going to lose all the cubs. The next male is going to kill the cubs… It's been a total loss." He added that the cubs will likely be killed so that a new male leader can mate with females in the pride.
After the killers lured Cecil from the protected park with bait, they shot him with a crossbow, according to Rodrigues, but the injury didn't immediately kill him. The hunters then tracked the animal for 40 hours until they found him and took his hide and head for trophies. Authorities were able to find Cecil's remains because he was part of an Oxford University Study and had a GPS tracking device.
Rodrigues said the entire hunt was "unethical" and illegal because there was no quota that would allow the lion to be hunted.
The Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association admitted that some of its members were involved in the hunt, but insisted that it was legal because it was a private safari, according to the Guardian. Zimbabwe's government reportedly responded that hunt was illegal because the lion had been on protected land.
Rodrigues said he wants all lion hunting to be banned in the area, and said the lion population in Hwange Park has dramatically dipped in recent years due in part to people hunting lions for sport. He pointed out that while a single hunt can lead to a large payment of 50,000 euros, Cecil brought in far more money as a tourist draw.
"In tourism alone he can bring in $500,000 and $600,000" during his lifetime, Rodrigues said. Government officials are now searching among taxidermists for the lion's head and pelt. A Spanish conservation society is asking the government to ban the import of Cecil's head as a trophy.
"These animals, we're supposed to be preserving them for future generations," Rodrigues said. He added that the creatures are at risk of going extinct in the next 10 to 15 years due to "the greed and corruption in this country."
Follow Gillian Mohney on Twitter: @gillianmohney