"I've had a hard time talking about this and not losing it," said Carol Petersen choking back tears. "I'm sad because I'm not going to see him again. I'm sad because I know him and he was a real character."
Petersen operates Nature Encounter Tours and has led 76 safaris in the past 25 years. She recalls seeing Cecil two years ago while leading a tour in Zimbabwe. After hearing a male lion call early one morning she scrambled out of bed to find him marking territory close by.
"He was magnificent," said Petersen." We were afforded these wonderful views and photographs."
Earlier this week came the news that Cecil had been killed by American trophy hunter Walter Palmer. The 13-year-old lion was lured out of the protective boundaries of the Hwange National Park at night with bait. Palmer then shot him with a compound bow. The wounded lion had to be tracked for another 40 hours before finally being killed.
Palmer, a dentist frm Minnesota, claimed he paid for and attained all the necessary permits to hunt lions in Zimbabwe.
But baiting and hunting in the dark is illegal.
Petersen thinks Palmer likely gave his guides extra money to break the rules.
"In my own personal opinion the guides were given bigger tips to do hunting at night. Hunting at night is poaching. You're shining a spotlight on the animal to blind them."
Zimbabwe outfitter Theo Bronkhorst has been charged with "failing to supervise, control and take reasonable steps to prevent an unlawful hunt", and is currently out on bail.
Palmer is not facing charges at this time, but has become the subject of widespread revulsion.
Petersen hopes the death of Cecil won't be in vain and that the fallout might ultimately bring an end to trophy hunting.
"Maybe this is going to make people aware and make them stop hunting trophies,`she said. "Maybe this is going to make a difference."Suggest a correction