27/07/2015 12:39 BST | Updated 27/07/2015 12:59 BST

MEP Calls For EU Ban On Trophy Lion Imports After Zimbabwe's Cecil The Lion Was Killed

A Liberal Democrat MEP has called for a ban on importing hunted lions after the iconic Cecil the Lion, Zimbabwe's most famous big cat, was killed.

Reports suggest Cecil's body was found skinned and decapitated outside Hwange National Park after being killed by a sports hunter and his head taken as trophy.

The BBC claimed a hunter paid a $55,000 (£35,000) bribe to wildlife guides to kill the animal.

The animal was shot with a bow and arrow, before being stalked for two days, "baited" out of the park and shot with a rifle.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder has tabled an urgent parliamentary question to the European Commission calling for lion trophy imports into the EU to be banned.

EU rules say lion hunting trophies are only permitted from countries where hunting can be shown to be legal and sustainable.

But the exports continue from a limited number African countries, including Zimbabwe, despite scant scientific data on the number of surviving lions there.

The LionAid charity claims between 2008 and 2012 more than 1,166 lions were killed and imported into the EU as hunting trophies, including 434 to Spain alone.

The 13-year-old lion, known for its distinctive black mane, was a major tourist attraction at Zimbabwe's famous park. Its six cubs will have to be killed as a another lion will not accept them in his pride.

Ms Bearder said: "The shooting of Cecil the lion was tragic and cruel, but it has at least shone a spotlight on the absurdity of the current situation.

"Despite the number of lions across Africa plummeting in recent years, hunters are still allowed to import lion hunting trophies into the EU from several African countries.

"In countries where there is no recent and independent data on lion populations, including Zimbabwe, imports of hunting trophies into Europe must be immediately banned.

"In the long-term, I want to see the EU follow the lead of Australia and ban all imports of lion hunting trophies to end this abhorrent practice."

The 13-year-old lion, known for its distinctive black mane, was a major tourist attraction at Zimbabwe's famous Hwange National Park.

Johnny Rodrigues, the head of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told the BBC's Newsday programme the use of a bow and arrow heralded a new trend aimed at avoiding arrest.

"It's more silent. If you want to do anything illegal, that's the way to do it," he said.