A safari guide was mauled to death as he tried to protect his group from a charging lion.

Quinn Swales was killed in the same Zimbabwean park where Cecil the lion was illegally hunted by an American dentist last month.

The 40-year-old was tracking lions with a tour party during a dawn safari when they were suddenly targeted by the large male.

According to statement from the camp where he worked, the professional guide "did everything he could to successfully protect his guests and ensure their safety" during the attack.

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No one else was hurt in the unexpected incident which took place this morning in Hwange National Park, western Zimbabwe.

Shelley Cox, of African Bush Camps, which owns the Camp Hwange operation, said: 'Quinn's actions in successfully protecting the lives of his guests is heroic and reminiscent of his outstanding guiding skills, experience and training.

"It is certainly a tragedy and a loss to the guiding fraternity and tourism industry."

Mr Swales, a fully qualified and experienced Zimbabwe Professional Guide and former pilot, was leading a group of Camp Hwange guests on a photographic walking safari.

In a recent review Mr Swales was described as being a "fantastic guide, incredibly knowledgeable and very personable".

Swales had this picture of Cecil the lion on his Facebook page. Photo / Supplied
Swales had this picture of Cecil the lion on his Facebook page. Photo / Supplied

A keen photographer himself, he had a picture of Cecil, the park's most famous lion as his Facebook cover photo.

The 13-year-old animal was recognisable because of his large size and distinctive black mane and was being monitored as part of an Oxford University study into lion conservation.

Cecil was illegally hunted last month by dentist Walter Palmer which prompted an international outcry.

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Mr Palmer is believed to have paid about $50,000 (£32,000) to hunt Cecil.

The prized lion was shot with a bow and arrow and then tracked for more than 40 hours in agony before Palmer eventually caught up with him and shot him with a rifle. He was then beheaded to conclude the sickening attack.

- Daily Mail