Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe spoke publicly for the first time about Cecil the lion on Monday, suggesting that Zimbabwean citizens were to blame for the beloved animal’s death.
“Cecil the lion was yours, and you failed to protect him,” Mugabe said in his annual speech on Heroes Day, the Washington Post reports. After the lion’s shooting sparked international outrage, his killer, Walter J. Palmer, said he was unaware that the animal was lured off its sanctuary and blamed his guides for causing Cecil’s death.
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study, until the end of the hunt,” Palmer said in a statement. “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”
Mugabe called big-game hunting in Zimbabwe a “sin,” though it is unknown if he plans to change the country’s laws that allow hunters to go after lions, leopards, elephants and other animals. Zimbabwe lifted its hunting ban on the area where Cecil was killed after only 10 days.
While hunting is a lucrative revenue source for Zimbabwe, critics say most of that money ends up in the private hands of Mugabe’s political allies and that his inclusion of Cecil in his speech was meant to divert attention from issues of unemployment and Zimbabwe’s struggling economy.
“We were given a rich inheritance,” said Mugabe during the conclusion of his speech. “Of course, they may bite, but they are ours.”