Mugabe Says Zimbabweans Were Meant to Protect Cecil the Lion

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Zimbabwe’s citizens are failing to defend their natural resources from outside “vandals,” President Robert Mugabe said in his first remarks about the killing of Cecil the Lion.

“Even Cecil the Lion is yours. He is dead. He was yours to protect and he, there to protect you,” Mugabe said during a ceremony in the capital Harare, on Monday. “There are vandals who come from all over. Of course some may be just ordinary visitors, but others who want to vandalize, to irregularly and illegally acquire part of these resources.”

The killing of Cecil the Lion by American dentist Walter Palmer in an illegal hunt last month sparked an international outcry that led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to start an investigation. It also prompted some animal-rights activists to renew their calls for an end to trophy hunting.

The black-maned lion was a popular attraction for camera-toting tourists in Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe and he wore a global positioning system, or GPS, collar as part of an Oxford University lion-monitoring project.

Palmer has denied any wrongdoing and said he was made to believe the hunt was legal. A local professional hunter is due in court in September on charges of failing to prevent the hunt.

Mugabe’s remarks came as Zimbabwe’s parks and wildlife authority reversed a ban on hunting lions, elephants and leopards after a suspension was put in place in western parts of the country following the death of Cecil. The hunting ban remains in effect on the farm where Cecil was killed. Zimbabwe has about 2,000 lions in game parks and private reserves.

“We were given creatures. Everything belongs to us,” said Mugabe. “They should not be shot with a gun or with an arrow.”