National Geographic has published excerpts from a new book that reveal Cecil the lion was baited with an elephant carcass, making him an easy target for the Twin Cities trophy hunter who was perched on a nearby tree stand.
The book offers the most detailed account since July 2015, when Bloomington dentist Walter Palmer killed the prized lion in Zimbabwe.
Cecil’s death provoked international outrage over big-game hunting, and Palmer, 58, of Eden Prairie, was vilified in protests and on social media. The tumult forced him to close his dental practice for several weeks in 2015.
Biologist Andrew Loveridge’s “Lion Hearted: The life and death of Cecil & the future of Africa’s iconic cats” discloses that Palmer was in a tree stand downwind from the elephant carcass, which had been dragged into place before the meal-seeking lion was wounded with one shot from the Minnesotan’s compound bow.
Palmer finished him off nearly a half-day later with another arrow.
Loveridge, who had studied Cecil for the lion’s last eight years on behalf of Oxford University, described in his book the ideal circumstances that made the animal “an easy lion [for Palmer] to hunt — a park lion, well-fed and habituated to people.”
Palmer’s guide and an assistant moved the elephant carcass 300 meters “to a suitable location,” and the stand and hunting blind were built for Palmer to use, the book disclosed.
“The big cat sniffed the clearing,” the excerpt read. “The draw of the elephant meat overcame the lion’s caution, and he approached the carcass. He settled down to feed, tearing at the tough, dry meat with scissor-like teeth. He fed for a few minutes, oblivious to the hunter taking up the tension on his bow.”
Palmer was never charged with a crime for Cecil’s death and said in an interview with the Star Tribune two months after the hunt that the kill was legal, and that he and the others in his guided hunting party had no clue that the lion was the park’s revered 13-year-old with the distinctive coal-black mane.
Baiting lions with food is legal on private land in Zimbabwe. Cecil was killed on private land.
The excerpt did not reveal whether Palmer knew what was being set up on his behalf by the guide, who was paid $50,000.
A high court in Zimbabwe dropped charges against the guide who helped Palmer track and kill Cecil, ruling that the expedition leader didn’t do anything wrong in the killing of the lion on a neighboring farm just outside its protected Hwange National Park.
The Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalism, Africa’s first journalistic investigation unit focusing on environmental issues, reported after Cecil’s death that hunting outfits relied on baiting lions out of Hwange to satisfy their clients.
“Lion Hearted,” scheduled for release in April, is based on Loveridge’s interviews with people involved in the hunt, statements made by those involved, and analysis of the location data collected via satellite from the GPS collar that Cecil wore at the time he was killed.
Among the book’s other details:
• After Cecil was first wounded, members of the hunting party could “hear [the lion] struggling to breathe,” and Palmer was instructed to “finish the lion off.” Cecil most likely was killed 10 to 12 hours after being wounded.
• Cecil’s GPS collar was taken off his neck at some point and never recovered. The guide admitted removing the collar in a moment of panic and hung it on a tree near where Cecil was killed.
The excerpts of “Lion Hearted” were reported by Wildlife Watch, an investigative reporting project between the National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners focusing on wildlife crime and exploitation.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an error. The story incorrectly stated the law in Zimbabwe regarding the baiting of lions for the purposes of hunting. Lions may be baited on private land, and Cecil was killed in July 2015 on private land.