Death of Cecil the lion brings £500,000 donations to conservation appeal
The death of Cecil the Lion has sparked donations of more than £500,000 to an appeal founded by a team of conservation researchers.
Cecil, shot last month by an American dentist, was being studied by Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) who set up the appeal to fund future big cat research work.
WildCRU announced today that more than £550,000 had been received, meaning the unit's research may be extended beyond Zimbabwe.
WildCRU's director, Prof David Macdonald, said the team would devote themselves to working for the conservation of lions following the "incredible generosity".
"We will devote ourselves, supported by the incredible generosity of these donations, to working for the conservation of lions in Hwange and, with this marvellous support, the surrounding landscapes in adjoining countries.
"I believe that the worldwide engagement with Cecil's story transcends the tragic fate of one lion, and sends a signal that people care about conservation and want it to be reflected in how humanity lives alongside nature in the 21st Century.
He added: "We feel inspired by this support and will work tirelessly to deliver the science and understanding that will enable wildlife and people to co-exist for the wellbeing of both."
American philanthropist Tom Kaplan and his wife Daphne agreed to match donations last week so the fund could reach its £500,000 target.
Mr Kaplan said: "Daphne and I are thrilled that the match has been achieved, and are grateful to all who have given to WildCRU's appeal. Though cat conservation is a global passion, Cecil's story is personal for us as funding the Hwange lion project nearly a decade ago - at a time when Cecil was already a participant - represented our first engagement with Oxford's extraordinary and passionate wildlife conservationists.
"Since Cecil's illegal death, David Macdonald, Andy Loveridge and the WildCRU team have worked tirelessly to turn this tragedy into an historic moment for the conservation of the lion...the big cat that is 'disappearing in plain sight'. To the unprecedented number of fine people from all walks of life who are turning this pivotal moment into a movement... from Jimmy Kimmel to donors big and small... in Cecil's memory, we applaud you all."
Cecil's death sparked widespread outrage as it emerged that Walter Palmer, from Minnesota, had paid 50,000 dollars (£32,000) to track and shoot the lion.
Shipment of big game has been banned on three American airlines following the death of Cecil.
Delta, American and United Airlines have announced that they will no longer transport lion, rhinoceros, leopard, elephant or buffalo remains.
American Airlines tweeted: "Effective immediately, we will no longer transport buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion or rhino trophies."
Delta Airlines released a statement saying: " Effective immediately, Delta will officially ban shipment of all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies worldwide as freight."
Yet in May, Delta said it would continue to allow such shipments.
Conservation charity LionAid said they commended the airlines that are refusing to carry trophies.
A spokeswoman said: " We are grateful to see that US Airlines like Delta, United and American have recently come on board as well. Around 60% of all trophies are shipped to the USA so this laudable decision will hopefully have a major impact on levels of trophy hunting.
"LionAid is strongly opposed to further trophy hunting of Africa's vulnerable and endangered species. Cecil the Lion has exposed to the world that trophy hunting is not a sustainable conservation measure and hunters had to resort to illegal practices to obtain their lion trophy."