By Farai Mutsaka
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a lion appeared in court Wednesday, July 29. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and that it couldn’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion killed by an American dentist was lured into the kill zone.
A professional hunter identified by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority as Theo Bronkhorst and his co-defendant, farm owner Honest Trymore Ndlovu, are accused of helping Walter James Palmer hunt the lion. Zimbabwean police said they are looking for Palmer, the American dentist who reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill the animal.
Zimbabwean prosecutors’ documents accuse Bronkhorst of failing to “prevent an unlawful hunt.” Court documents say Bronkhorst was supervising while his client, Palmer, shot the animal.
During the nighttime hunt, the men tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. The American is believed to have shot it with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The wounded lion was found 40 hours later, and Palmer shot it dead with a gun, Rodrigues said.
Using bait to lure Cecil the lion is deemed unethical by the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, of which Bronkhorst is a member. The association has since revoked his license.
“Ethics are certainly against baiting. Animals are supposed to be given a chance of a fair chase,” Emmanuel Fundira, the association’s president, said on Tuesday. “In fact, it was not a hunt at all. The animal was baited and that is not how we do it. It is not allowed.”
Palmer, a dentist living in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, said in a statement that he was unaware the lion was protected, relying on local guides to ensure a legal hunt.
“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. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” Palmer said in statement through a public relations firm.
Public outrage at the killing grew.
“If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property … he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement Wednesday. The statement, emailed to The Associated Press, came from Ingrid Newkirk, president of the animal rights organization.
Social media — for example on Twitter under #cecilthelion — were also filled with condemnation of the killing of the black-maned lion just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.
Brokhorst and Ndlovu appeared at the Hwange magistrate’s court, about 435 miles (700 kilometers) west of the capital Harare, to face poaching charges. But the proceedings were delayed because prosecutors are “making their assessments,” defense lawyer Givemore Muvhiringi said.
If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison in Zimbabwe.
Ndlovu did not have a hunting permit, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said in a joint statement.
Palmer has several hunts on record with the Pope and Young Club, where archers register big game taken in North America for posterity, said Glenn Hisey, the club’s director of records. Hisey said he didn’t have immediate access to records showing the types and number of animals killed by Palmer, but noted that club records involve legal hunts “taken under our rules of fair chase.”
According to U.S. court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin. Palmer had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorized zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000.
Although African game wouldn’t be eligible, Hisey said he alerted the group’s board that Palmer’s ethics were being called into question. He said Palmer’s domestic records could be jeopardized if he’s found to have done something illegal abroad.
Cecil was being studied by an Oxford University research program. He is believed to have been killed on July 1, its carcass discovered days later by trackers.
In America, late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel paid emotional tribute to Cecil on Tuesday’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
After recounting details of Cecil’s death, Kimmel invited viewers to contribute to a wildlife fund.
“If you want to make this into a positive ” — then, choking up, he halted for a moment to regain his composure — “make a donation and support them. At the very least, maybe we can show the world that not all Americans are like this jack-hole here.”
Associated Press reporters Amy Forliti in Bloomington, Minnesota, Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Frazier Moore in New York contributed to this report.