Zimbabwean booked for killing of Cecil the lion
Hwange, July 29
A Zimbabwean court today charged a professional hunter with failing to prevent an American from unlawfully killing 'Cecil', the southern African country's best-known lion, in a case that has triggered widespread revulsion at trophy hunting.
The American, Walter James Palmer, a Minnesota dentist who paid $50,000 to kill the lion, has left Zimbabwe. He says he did kill the animal but believed the hunt was legal.
Local hunter Theo Bronkhorst appeared in a courthouse in Hwange, 800 km west of Harare, and was charged with "failing to supervise, control and take reasonable steps to prevent an unlawful hunt". He pleaded not guilty to the charge and was set free after posting $1,000 bail and depositing his passport with the court. He will return to court on August 5 for trial.
Game park owner Honest Ndlovu, who is also accused of assisting Palmer, was not charged today and park officials said he would first testify for the state and be charged later. While Bronkhorst appeared in court in Zimbabwe, Palmer, who is accused of killing Cecil with a bow and arrow, was being pilloried on the Internet, with many people wishing him dead.
"This is disgusting. I hope you get thrown in a cage with hungry lions," Julie Lu wrote on the Facebook page of his dental practice.
Palmer said yesterday he had hired professional guides who secured hunting permits and deeply regretted taking the lion. He added that he had not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or the United States and would assist in any inquiries.
The Zimbabwe police and government have not commented.
If found guilty, Bronkhorst could be fined $20,000 and possibly jailed for up to 10 years.
Cecil was fitted with a GPS collar for a research project by scientists from Oxford University and was one of the oldest and most famous in Zimbabwe.
The university's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit said it had been tracking Cecil since 2008 and was "deeply saddened" by his death. The unit also said Cecil's death would be likely to trigger a power struggle in the pride, resulting in the death of other male lions as well as Cecil's offspring.
"When a male lion is killed, because of the way their society works, a likely consequence is the overthrow and death of other adult male members of his weakened coalition, and the subsequent infanticide of his cubs," it said.
Palmer's hunting has attracted scrutiny in the past. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to lying to a US wildlife agent about a black bear he killed in Wisconsin two years before. He was accused of killing it 40 miles outside a permitted zone, hauling the carcass back into the approved area and certifying falsely that it was killed there. He was sentenced to one year probation and fined $2,938.
In the Hwange case, Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force chairman Johnny Rodrigues said Cecil was lured out of the park with bait before being shot.
HWANGE: Walter Palmer is well-known in US hunting circles as an expert shot with his bow and arrow, and has travelled across the world in pursuit of leopards, buffalo, rhino, elk and other large mammals.
His Twitter and Facebook accounts and website of his dental practice — in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota — were shut down on Tuesday after being flooded with blistering attacks.
A makeshift memorial formed outside his shuttered office as people outraged by the story dropped off stuffed animals and flowers.