HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — An American allegedly paid $50,000 to kill a well-known, protected lion named Cecil, Zimbabwean conservationists said, as authorities on Tuesday said two Zimbabwean men will appear in court for allegedly helping with the hunt.

The two Zimbabwean men ”“ a professional hunter and a farm owner ”“ face poaching charges, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said in a joint statement. Killing the lion was illegal because the farm owner did not have a hunting permit, the joint statement said. If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison in Zimbabwe.

The lion is believed to have been killed on July 1 in western Zimbabwe’s wildlife-rich Hwange region, its carcass discovered days later by trackers, the statement said.

The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority said that it had received the identity of the American hunter from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force but could not immediately confirm the information as accurate. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said in a statement that an American paid the $50,000 for the hunt.

During a nighttime pursuit, the hunters tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. The American is believed to have shot it with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The wounded lion was found 40 hours later, and shot dead with a gun, Rodrigues said in the statement.

The lion was skinned and beheaded. The hunters tried to destroy the lion’s collar, fitted with a tracking device, but failed, said the statement.

“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,” said Rodrigues.

Cecil, recognizable by his black mane, was being studied by an Oxford University research program, the conservation group said.

Tourists regularly spotted his characteristic mane in the park over the last 13 years, said Lion Aid, also a conservation group.



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