HWANGE, Zimbabwe — An unexpected voice has joined in the chorus of condemnation over the killing of Cecil the lion: the association which oversees hunting in Zimbabwe.
Emmanuel Fundira, head of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, told NBC News that the animal's killing was far from sport.
"We believe that the people who are the culprits lured Cecil outside the national park by…dragging that bait to an area where he was then murdered," Fundira said late Tuesday.
"And I say 'murdered' because that was not hunting," Fundira added.
Professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst was charged with assisting the kill and was due to appear in court in Hwange, Zimbabwe, on Wednesday. Bronkhort told NBC News he did not feel he had done anything wrong and has already pleaded not guilty.
Members of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, or SOAZ, include licensed hunters and photographic safari guides. The SOAZ told NBC News last week that Bronkhorst had been one of his members but was suspended following the allegations.
Fundira said that hunting contributes $100 million to Zimbabwe's economy each year and stressed there was a clear difference between his organization's work and the killing of Cecil.
"As far as we are concerned, we uphold the highest levels of ethics in terms of hunting," he said. "We only want to promote what we call a 'fair chase' when we carry out hunting."
Fundira likened Cecil's death to "the demise of an icon," saying the lion was a "draw card" for tourists and calling his departure "a big loss" for Zimbabwe.
"We had a lot of people, in terms of visitors, coming in to the country to enjoy and view Cecil, so really this was a great loss," he added.