The world has been outraged by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, who paid two men over $54,000 to kill Zimbabwe's beloved 13-year-old lion, Cecil. While many have been left wondering how this could have happened, how it was seemingly so easy for hunters to kill a lion (or any other game animal), the answer is actually quite simple. All you need is one thing: money, and lots of it.
If you have the money, it's relatively easy to get in contact with one of the many hunting companies that sell hunting tours in Africa like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one or this one.
Discount African Hunts, one such company that operates hunting excursions, offers the opportunity to hunt a male lion for a "trophy fee" of $30,000, which includes a hunting permit and an all-inclusive, 18-day hunt.
Another company, African Hunting Sky, offers a range of hunts, including "big five hunting" (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) and "dangerous game." An all-inclusive, seven-day lion package costs $29,130, with the promise of a lion, gemsbok, waterbuck and black wildebeest as trophies.
"Hunters who pursue the mighty lion in South Africa are in for a once in a lifetime experience," African Sky Hunting boasts on their website. They offer hunting tours in Zimbabwe and South Africa and feature numerous pictures on their site of clients with their "trophies."
After signing up and paying, getting the necessary permits can require as little as filling out information forms provided by outfitters and sending them money. Many of these companies will also make the arrangements for hunting and firearm importation permits.
The only permit the hunting outfit can't provide for Americans is the one needed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department to import the "trophies," i.e. body parts. However, customs brokers who will handle the domestic paperwork and permit procurement are also available for hire. Discount African Hunts also suggests you "make sure your will is up to date" on its pre-departure checklist.
No longer the king of the jungle. According to a 2011 International Fund for Animal Welfare report, out of 25,000 lions, approximately 600 lions are killed per annum, accounting for around 2.4% of the population. Though this seems low, it is not a sustainable rate, according to the report.
Given numbers of lions are dwindling, the Obama administration attempted to place the mammals on the endangered species list in October 2014, though they remained classified as "threatened" instead of "endangered." Had lions become an endangered species, it would have prohibited the importation of lion skins and heads as trophies.
"Unless things improve, lions will face extinction. It's up to us and not just the people of Africa to ensure that lions will continue to roam," Daniel M. Ashe, the director of Fish and Wildlife, told the Washington Post at the time.
"With regards to the U.S. government, we would ask that the they list the lions as an endangered species, resulting in an outright ban on bringing back trophies [of skins and heads]," Kathleen Garrigan, media relations manager at the African Wildlife Foundation, told Mic. "And hopefully that would allow some breathing room for the lion population [to procreate]."
Garrigan explained if there is any silver lining to be found in the "unfortunate case" of Cecil the lion, it's the attention it has drawn to the hunting of threatened species and the galvanization of the international community into action.
The locals who facilitated the hunting of Cecil, Theo Bronkhorst and Honest Ndlovu, are facing poaching charges and appeared before the Hwange's magistrate's court on Wednesday morning. It's possible Zimbabwe will charge Palmer, too, who is currently in hiding in response to the international outrage. While this case is exceptional in that the target was a well-known and supposedly protected lion, it is perfectly legal for the remaining hunters who kill hundreds of other lions annually at an unsustainable rate.
"If we don't take steps now to protect lions in Africa, we could find ourselves in a situation where there are literally none left," Garrigan told Mic. "And one of its most iconic species would have disappeared from the continent."