Foreign hunter accused of killing much-loved Zimbabwe lion

Cecil was born in Hwange National Park in northwestern Zimbabwe about 13 years ago (AFP Photo/Martin Bureau)

Harare (AFP) - A Zimbabwean conservation charity said Monday that a foreign tourist could face criminal charges after allegedly using a bow and arrow to kill a much-loved lion called Cecil.

The lion, which was a popular attraction for visitors to the Hwange National Park, was shot outside the park two weeks ago by the tourist, who was reported to have paid $50,000 (45,000 euros) to the holder of the local hunting rights.

Police and Zimbabwe Parks Authority both declined to comment on the allegations, which were made by the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce.

"We are still to establish the name and nationality of the hunter who is from Europe, but we believe they are likely to face criminal charges," Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the charity, told AFP.

"We've got allegations that $50,000 exchanged hands between the hunter and the concession owner. We have not got confirmation yet."

Park authority sources said the hunter, who was released after questioning, was thought to be Spanish, but some media reports said he was American.

His whereabouts are not known.

Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, confirmed that Cecil had been killed in a hunt.

"An iconic lion was shot and killed. This is a real loss to our tourism industry and it has caused a lot of anxiety," Fundira told AFP.

"Cecil was collared, indicating that he was selected for research purposes.

"He was popular with visitors to Hwange National Park who were fascinated by his black mane and always wanted to know his whereabouts."

Local media reports said Cecil, aged about 13, was lured out of the national park with bait and had been beheaded and skinned after his death.

A US hunter shot an elderly black rhinoceros in Namibia in May after buying a government-issued licence for $350,000.