JOHANNESBURG — When Cecil the lion’s carcass was finally found after he was lured out of a Zimbabwe wildlife reserve to be killed by an American hunter, it was a headless, skinless skeleton the vultures had been picking at for about a week.

Conservationists decided the most natural thing was to leave the bones where they were for hyenas to finish off, said Brent Stapelkamp, a lion researcher and part of a team that had tracked and studied Cecil for nine years.

Stapelkamp darted Cecil and put his last GPS collar on in October. He was probably the last person to get up close before Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer used a bow and a gun to kill the now-famous lion with the bushy black mane, its head and skin eventually cut off as trophies. Stapelkamp had first alerted authorities that something might be wrong after Cecil’s GPS collar stopped sending a signal.

The killing of the big cat in early July has unleashed global outrage, sending Palmer into hiding back home in suburban Minneapolis, leading to the arrest of the local hunter he employed, and prompting Zimbabwe’s environment minister to say the southern African country would seek Palmer’s extradition to face charges.

Stapelkamp shares the anger, not just because of the demise of Cecil. Also because, he said, it’s not the first time a lion has been killed illegally around Hwange National Park in northwestern Zimbabwe, a reserve known for its rich wildlife. About a dozen lions in the region were killed illegally in recent years, Stapelkamp said, and no one was caught.

“I think this was just the final straw,” Stapelkamp said in a phone interview from the Hwange reserve. “Everyone locally just thought, no ways, we’re not letting anyone get away with this anymore.”

Cecil had an intriguing story, making him a celebrity in Hwange. He arrived as a kind of lion refugee, alone and wandering after being displaced from another territory. Cecil befriended another male lion, Jericho, and together they grew and watched over two prides, one with three lionesses and seven cubs and another with three lionesses.

The satellite collar on Jericho has been sending normal signals, indicating the lion is alive and moving around, Stapelkamp said.

But Cecil’s killing will have an impact on the area, said Stapelkamp, a field researcher for an Oxford University study on lions.

Jericho may not be able to hold their territory alone and could be chased away by rival lions. Unprotected, the lionesses and cubs would then be under threat and also move away or be killed. Safari operators who invested millions of dollars in the area would lose one of their biggest attractions for tourists.

Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Authority said Saturday it has suspended the hunting of lions, leopards and elephants outside of Hwange National Park, and that bow and arrow hunts have also been suspended unless they are approved by the authority’s director.

The authority also said it is investigating the killing of another lion in April that may have been illegal.

Palmer came “with the intention of getting the biggest lion that he could and getting out. And he got caught,” Stapelkamp said.