Authorities in Zimbabwe are searching for a Spaniard who is suspected of paying park guides €50,000 for the opportunity to kill Cecil the lion, The Guardian reports. Cecil, star attraction of the Hwange national park, was found skinned and headless on the edge of the park earlier this month.

Hunters first shot the 13-year-old lion with a bow and arrow, then tracked him for 40 hours, before ending his life with a rifle. A source familiar with the situation told National Geographic that hunters will lure big cats out of protected areas, into areas where it is permissible to hunt, known as “hunting concessions,” using bait.

It “indicates to me a level of desperation by the hunting operators. No big male lions remain in their hunting concession areas, despite their claims of ‘sustainable’ hunting practices,” the source said.

Two people who accompanied the hunter have been arrested, Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told The Guardian, but the Spanish hunter himself is still at large. “Cecil’s death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe but because now we have to give up for dead his six cubs, as a new male won’t allow them to live so as to encourage Cecil’s three females to mate,” Rodrigues said.

The incident came to light just days after the ZCFT revealed that 23 elephant cubs had been separated from their herds in Hwange and exported to zoos in China and the United Arab Emirates, The Guardian reports. The Zimbabwean government claims the practice is legal and regulated.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides association admitted that at least one of its members had been involved in the killing:

ZPHGA confirms the Professional Hunter in charge of the Safari is a member of ZPHGA. Therefore ZPHGA can make a ruling on the aspect of ethics and his membership at this time.

ZPHGA in the follow up of the investigation concludes that in regarding the responsibility of his membership, the PH was is in violation of the ethics of ZPHGA.

ZPHGA therefore with immediate effect, suspend his membership indefinitely.

The professional hunter and company he works for have been co-operative in the investigation.

The ZPHGA claims that the hunt took place on a private safari and was, therefore, not illegal; however, because Cecil lived on the Hwange reserve, the government insists that he was under its protection.

Spanish conservation organization Chelui4lions has asked the government body that oversees the importing of endangered species to bar the hunter from bringing Cecil’s head back to Spain as a trophy. “From 2007 to 2012 Spain was the country that imported the most lion trophies from South Africa. During this period it imported 450 heads, compared to 100 in Germany. Europe needs to ban these lion hunting trophies altogether,” a Chelui4lions spokesman, Luis Muñoz, told The Guardian.

“What hunter, what sort of demented person, would want to kill a magnificent adult lion, known to and photographed by all the park’s visitors?” Muñoz said. “We’re ashamed of the fact that in Spain there are rich madmen who pay for the pleasure of killing wild animals such as lions.”

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