Cecil The Lion's Killing Could See Up To 200 Lions Being Culled In Zimbabwe Due To Overpopulation

23/02/2016 14:55 | Updated 24 February 2016

Wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe may kill up to 200 lions due to a drop in the number of trophy hunters venturing to the country following Cecil the Lion's death last year.

Walter Palmer, the American dentist who paid to kill the 13-year-old beast, was heavily condemned for his actions, which has driven trophy hunters - and their cash - away from the southern African state, claim conservationists.

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Walter Palmer (left) sparked international outrage after killing Cecil the Lion

Bubye Valley Conservancy has more than 500 lions, believed to be the largest number in Zimbabwe's wildlife areas.

Bubye, which was created and is sustained by sport hunting operations, has dubbed the lack of trophy hunters due to the lion's killing last year as "the Cecil effect".

It is now appealing for other institutions or wildlife sanctuaries to take some of its lions.

Blondie Leathem, general manager of Bubye Valley Conservancy, told The Telegraph: “I wish we could give about 200 of our lions away to ease the overpopulation.

“If anyone knows of a suitable habitat for them where they will not land up in human conflict, or in wildlife areas where they will not be beaten up because of existing prides, please let us know and help us raise the money to move them.”

Some 200 lions face being killed if no other location is found for them.

But animal protection groups have raised concerns about the proposed cull, saying that Bubye Valley Conservancy should not have relied on trophy hunting to manage animal populations.

A spokesman from World Animal Protection told the Huffington Post UK: “Culling of wild animals should always be a last resort and only used when evidence suggests that it is needed to protect an ecosystem and all of the animals in it.

“Bubye Valley Conservancy should never have relied on commercial big game hunting to manage its wild lion populations. This is not only cruel but entirely unnecessary.

“For example, education programmes can help to increase community tolerance for lions, preventing unnecessary deaths of people and their livestock.”

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The protected lion known as Cecil strolls around in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe in 2012

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) lambasted the Bubye Valley Conservancy's stance, saying that hunters who the ones responsible for the extinction of so many species.

PETA’s Director Mimi Bekhechi said to the Huffington Post UK: "The idea that lions need humans to control their numbers is arrogance.

"Nature always has maintained animal populations by gauging the amount of food available, not by considering the number of hunters. Hunters are responsible for extinctions of all manner of animals, from mammals to birds, all over the world.

"Hunting for sport, often under the guise of trying to help feed people or help nature achieve a 'balance', is selfish, sickening and abhorrently cruel, and when shot, many lions, like the famous Cecil, endure lingering, painful deaths.

"In their natural savannah homelands, lions live in prides, roam miles of territory, dutifully and responsibly raise their young and, as best they can, avoid all contact with humans.

"It is the captive-breeding programmes designed to give tourists photo ops with lion cubs, who are turned into shooting targets when they grow up, that need to be culled, not lions."

Cecil's death sparked international outrage last summer and renewed calls for trophy hunting to cease.

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Tributes to Cecil the Lion were left outside Walter Palmer's dentist practice

Palmer is believed to have paid wildlife guides £35,000 to let him hunt and kill Zimbabwe's beloved lion in Hwange National Park in July last year.

Cecil's decapitated, skinned body was found about half a mile out of the national park, after being lured out at night with bait. Animals can only be killed within the park during the day - and with a permit.

The animal was wounded by Palmer's bow and arrow before finally being shot dead 40 hours later. The animal's collar was also removed, breaking the park's rules.

Johnny Rodrigues, the head of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said at the time: "He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at. He never bothered anybody."

Palmer, who was convicted of poaching a bear in the US several years ago, escaped being charged in Zimbabwe after a cabinet minister said that he had not broken any of the country's hunting laws.

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Walter Palmer escaped being charged in Zimbabwe

Palmer always maintained that, as far as he was aware, the hunt was legal and he had secured the proper documents.

He released a statement saying: "I hired several professional guides, and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.

"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. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt."

Despite Palmer's protestations, he faced a vitriolic backlash and was forced to close his dental practice for weeks in order to avoid abuse.

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