Cecil the lion
Cecil was shot and killed by US big game hunter Walter Palmer on 1 July YouTube

The researcher who led a project studying Cecil the Lion on a game reserve in Zimbabwe has called for lion hunting to be banned.

Brent Stapelkamp, who leads the Hwange Lion research project, said that hunting some species in big game hunts is essential for conservation projects, but lions are too rare to be hunted.

"My personal feeling is lion hunting shouldn't exist. They're too rare, they're too sensitive, and the repercussions felt after that hunt far exceed anything in any other species," Stapelkamp told Sky News.

A much loved tourist attraction and symbol of Zimbabwe's wildlife heritage, Cecil was shot dead by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer after being lured from the reserve. Palmer paid £35,000 to kill the animal, and take its head and pelt as a trophy.

Professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst and landowner Honest Ndlovu have been charged with poaching and not possessing the correct permits. The Zimbabwean government has requested the extradition of Palmer from the US to face charges.

The killing of Cecil has sparked international debate about the morality of big game hunting, with Qatar Airways the latest major airline to ban the transportation of big game hunting trophies. Defenders of the sport claim that the money hunters pay is essential for conservation projects.