As if the indignity of being lured into the open just to be shot with a crossbow by an American dentist looking to boost his ego wasn’t enough, it seems likely that Cecil the lion wandered injured for hours before finally being put out of his misery.
These new details about the suffering that Cecil likely experienced in his last few moments of life have been revealed in a new book about the now famous lion, written by a biologist who has dedicated his time to studying the big cats (including Cecil) in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
In an extract from the new book Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil and the Future of Africa's Iconic Cats, published on National Geographic, Oxford University’s Andrew Loveridge pieces together the events leading up to Cecil’s death – and the tragic aftermath – using a mixture of interviews with those involved, the GPS collar he was wearing, and his knowledge of the animals.
The picture it paints is not for the faint-hearted.
The Minnesotan dentist, quickly revealed to be a man called Walter Palmer, did not have a permit to hunt lions on the land where the killing took place. Still, the hunting lodge he was paying placed the carcass of an elephant out in the bush in the hopes of attracting male lions.
The promise of a free meal, needless to say, proved irresistible. Lying in wait on a purposely built hunting platform halfway up a tree, Palmer and his Zimbabwean guide Theo Bronkhorst didn’t have to wait long for Cecil to turn up. At 12 years old, he was a male lion in his prime with a pride of half a dozen females. The best known lion in the national park, he was well loved and well-studied by the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.
But in the evening of July 1, 2015, Palmer took aim and let an arrow fly. Initially, Bronkhorst claimed that the arrow missed, but it now seems certain that this was a lie. Wounded by this shot, Cecil spent the next few hours slowly and painfully making his way through the bush. In eight hours, he travelled only 160 meters (525 feet). One report says that in the darkness they could “hear [the lion] struggling to breathe.”
Thinking that the lion would die on its own, Palmer and Bronkhorst returned to their camp. Setting out in the morning once more, they managed to catch up with Cecil (not difficult considering he had moved a total of 350 meters/1,250 feet) and finished him off. It was at this point the pair removed the collar from the lion, and then moved the carcass to another tract of land where hunting was legal.
The sad final moments of Cecil were almost certainly ones filled with suffering and pain. But in their wake, they have at least helped to raise awareness of the uncertain future faced by the big cats in Africa.