Walter Palmer, an American dentist from Minnesota, is believed to have paid almost $55,000 to hunt and kill Cecil, a cherished lion from one of Zimbabwe's national parks, according to the Telegraph.
Hunters reportedly used bait to lure Cecil about half a mile out of Hwange National Park and then shot him with a bow and arrow.
"As far as I understand, Walter believes that he might have shot that lion that has been referred to as Cecil," a spokesperson for Palmer told the Guardian. "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."
Following the revelation, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article Tuesday morning in which Palmer says that he is preparing to challenge the report.
"Obviously, some things are being misreported," Palmer is quoted as saying, though the article gives no indication of what elements in the report are in dispute.
The Telegraph cited two unnamed, independent sources who confirmed Palmer's identification as the hunter who killed Cecil. The paper also reviewed a copy of the hunting permit, and Palmer was identified on Tuesday by both the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe.
Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told VICE News that the bow and arrow didn't immediately kill 13-year old Cecil. The lion was tracked for an additional 40 hours, he said, and then finished off with a gun before being beheaded and skinned.
He said that Cecil "was an icon," and called his death "a total loss."
Authorities were reportedly able to locate Cecil's remains because he was tagged with a GPS collar as part of an Oxford University research project that has been tracking the impact of off-park sport hunting on the lion population within the park. The hunters had removed the collar, and Rodrigues believes they tried to destroy it.
The Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association acknowledged that some of its members were involved in the hunt, but insisted that it was legal because it was a private safari. Zimbabwe's government responded that the hunt was illegal because the lion had been on protected land.
Theo Bronkhorst, the professional hunter accompanying Palmer, later informed the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of the killing, which he described as a "mistake." He claims that he was unaware of Cecil's fame.
Bronkhorst and Honest Trymore Ndlovu, the owner of the farm on which Cecil was killed, face criminal poaching charges for illegally hunting Cecil. They are due to appear in court tomorrow,according to a statement issued by the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
"Both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt," it said.
Palmer, who runs River Bluff Dental in Bloomington, Minnesota, was placed on probation in 2008 and fined $2,939 for lying to federal authorities about shooting a black bear with a bow and arrow in northern Wisconsin, according to a local report.
A New York Times article from 2009 about Palmer's hunting group, the Pope and Young Club, describes Palmer as "capable of skewering a playing card from 100 years with his compound bow." He had "cultivated a purist's reputation for his disinclination to carry firearms as backup," it noted. Palmer, now 55, has been hunting since he was five years old.
A professional hunter in Madrid who worked with Palmer described him to the Telegraph as "a real expert shot."
A blog titled "Trophy Hunt America" showcases Palmer's hunting triumphs, including a photo where he is shirtless, holding up a slain 175-pound leopard. Other photos show him with bighorn sheep and Roosevelt elks.
The Pope and Young Club claim to be a "fair chase" group, which refers to "the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit of free-ranging wild game animals in a manner which does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the animal."
Rodrigues told VICE News that the lion population in Hwange Park has dramatically dipped in recent years, due in part to people hunting lions for sport. According to National Geographic, 34 of the 62 lions tagged by the Oxford research project have died, 24 of them at the hands of sport hunters.
Trophy hunting is a powerful industry in much of Africa, and Asian demand for lion bones has recently spiked. The bones are sometimes substituted for tiger bones in traditional remedies.
A National Geographic article published earlier this year noted that "the bones are ground down, boiled, and mixed with other ingredients, such as goat bones, herbs — even opium — to make a 'tiger bone' cake that is believed to have medicinal properties."
Rodrigues believes that a culture of "greed and corruption" in Zimbabwe could eliminate its lions within the next 10 to 15 years.
"These animals, we're supposed to be preserving them for future generations," he said.
Photo via http://brentsinclair.blogspot.co.uk/