What we know about Cecil the lion and how his killing could affect his pride

Cecil the Lion

An American dentist is wanted by police in Zimbabwe after a well-known protected lion was killed.

Walter James Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 (£32,000) to shoot Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe earlier this month.

In a statement, Mr Palmer, from Minnesota, said: "I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt."

He says that he'd believed the hunt had been legal.

So what happened?

Cecil the lion (left) and Walter Palmer, the US dentist who killed the animal
Image caption Walter Palmer said he had no idea that the lion was a "local favourite"

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) says James Palmer and two other men, a professional hunter and a farm owner, tied a dead animal to a car to lure Cecil the lion out of a national park in the middle of the night.

He was then shot with a crossbow.

The wounded lion was found 40 hours later and had been shot dead with a gun.

The lion, which was being studied by researchers at Oxford University, was then skinned and beheaded.

Attempts were made to destroy its collar, which was fitted with a tracking device.

Cecil was a major tourist attraction in Hwange National Park - Zimbabwe's largest game reserve - and the 13-year-old animal had a reputation for being friendly towards visitors.

Hwange attracted 50,000 visitors last year, about half of them from abroad.

Was the killing illegal?

Cecil the Lion

Killing the lion was illegal because the farm owner didn't have a hunting permit, says the ZCTF - a local charity.

The men say they didn't know the lion was protected.

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
Zimbabwean Parks Authority

Professional Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst and local landowner Honest Ndlovu will appear in court in Victoria Falls on Wednesday to face poaching charges.

"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," the Zimbabwean Parks Authority said in a statement.

"[They] are being jointly charged for illegally hunting the lion."

Bronkhorst's son Zane is also wanted for questioning.

Hunting lions is legal in several countries in southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, but groups must obtain a valid permit from authorities.

What will happen to Cecil's pride?

Cecil was the head of two prides, including six lionesses, 12 cubs and another male called Jericho.

ZCTF chairman Johnny Rodrigues said: "The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil's cubs."

The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil's cubs
Johnny Rodrigues
Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force

Professor David Macdonald, who founded the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University, agreed Cecil's death would lead to a "cascade" of other deaths.

"The death of one lion is not just the death of one lion - it is a cascade. It has consequences," he said.

"Cecil was the only male so it is highly likely that the incoming males will kill his offspring."

There are reported to be 30,000 lions left across the whole of Africa, but the professor warned that the figure was likely to be an overestimate.

He said that he hoped there would be a "silver-lining" to Cecil's death with an increase in support for his research.

What's the reaction been like?

James Palmer
Image caption James Palmer is photographed with another lion that he killed

The reaction has been fierce, especially on social media sites.

The Twitter and Facebook accounts and website of James Palmer's dental practice, River Bluff Dental in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, have been shut down after being flooded with negative comments.

River Bluff Dental

Several Yelp reviews were also taken down.

Yelp review
Yelp review

There's also a petition, which has been signed by nearly 250,000 people, called Demand Justice For Cecil The Lion In Zimbabwe.

A makeshift memorial has also been set up outside his office and people have dropped off stuffed animals and flowers.

Stuffed toys outside James Palmer's dental practice

Stars have also been venting their outrage on Twitter.

However, some people on Twitter said the lion's death had to be put into perspective.

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